Creating culture without breaking the bank

Possible's global chief talent officer and global chief financial officer share their tips on how to create agency culture and increase profitability

With competition for talent at an all-time high, office life is not what it used to be. Employees now choose from a multitude of perks; everything from ping-pong tables and posh workout facilities, to catered lunches, wine on tap and a parade of dogs.

The bill for these perks can add up for an agency, and at the end of the day, is there any real correlation between what’s on tap and your quarterly earnings?

In an era where "culture" is much discussed and loosely defined, agency leaders are wise to question what serves their bottom line versus what serves as a distraction.

We’ve found putting culture first does make us more profitable. Here are six ways to make sure that connection happens.

Hire and live by your value
Skills and experience are undeniably important, but attitude counts just as much. We hire candidates who are already living and working by our agency’s values.

Knowing and promoting our values goes a long way in finding people who fit our culture, and that goes a long way in minimizing turnover.

Invest in people
Culture is much more than a series of Instagrammable perks, and investing in people means more than what’s stocked in your kitchen. As of late, it even means more than just what you’re paying. Flexibility, work-life harmony, training, and mentorship — these are hugely important in building a people-first culture. And they’re becoming more and more standard as younger staff enters the workforce.

Show your appreciation
An often-overlooked part of a healthy culture is employee recognition. Studies show that one of the most common reasons Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated.

It doesn’t cost a lot to engage with people and show your gratitude, so it’s amazing how few companies take the time to do so. Especially considering that organizations with mature recognition approaches are 12 times more likely to have strong business results.

Your employees work hard on your behalf. Take time to recognize and thank them.

Be transparent
It’s no secret that management plays a huge role in shaping and maintaining culture. A fascinating 2013 study by MIT, "The Value of Corporate Culture," found a strong correlation between management’s perceived integrity and "good outcomes" for a business. In short, the more integrity employees felt management had, the more profitable and productive the business often was.

We work to be transparent with our employees about our numbers, the state of our business, and what the leadership team is working on. Everyone has a stake in what’s happening. In a big, global agency, open communication is one way we build trust and accountability.

Build KPIs (and conversations) around more than just numbers. It’s hard, especially in a publicly-traded company, to get away from numbers. Agencies are often measured largely by their returns for shareholders. But working in a place that’s driven by profit alone doesn’t inspire people. And there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it’s not good for your bottom line either.

Your entire leadership team — including the CFO — is responsible for making quality of work and innovation an integral measure of success.

Measure and collaborate
The CFO used to be a more segregated role, more concerned with compliance and numbers than the overall strategy. That’s changed a lot, and for good reason. Collaboration with other business leaders is necessary for a CFO to make decisions based on more than dollars and cents.

Looking at financials is one major success metric, but it’s not the only one. Nor are the numbers always indicative of the long-term health of an organization. That’s why we work together to look at other measurements: employee satisfaction and exit surveys, retention, referrals, productivity, and customer relationships. All of these are important indicators of how we’re doing. Tracking these helps us make choices about how to invest in our people in the long haul, while still delivering on our short-term KPIs.

Culture doesn’t have to be a nebulous or mystical part of your company. Nor is it a box that you check off through a series of perks. It’s much bigger and more important.

Think of it this way: if talent is your agency’s potential, then culture is what sets your talent up to reach that potential. It’s a direct link to sustainable growth and profitability.

The way we see it, that’s absolutely worth investing in.

Martha Hiefield and Diane Holland are Global Chief Talent Officer and Global CFO, respectively, with Possible.

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