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Building a Culture and Teams for the Long Haul

We work in an industry whose business model is built on human capital. Yet we continue to be amazed by the high turnover, layoffs and politics that plague most agencies.
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We work in an industry whose business model is built on human capital. Yet we continue to be amazed by the high turnover, layoffs and politics that plague most agencies. The reasons are many -- from losing a big account to career stagnation to toxic work environments. All underscored by the pervasive message that you are only as good as your last win... and that was yesterday.

Having worked inside large organizations and falling prey to those inevitable "if only I were in charge" thoughts, we were clear from day one that we wanted to build a culture that valued its most important asset: the people. In the thirteen years since, our team has grown from just the two of us to a thriving group spread across two large floors, our commitment has only gotten stronger. Our ability to attract and retain the best talent is truly our secret sauce and has helped to both fuel our growth and deepen client relationships. Here are a couple of pages from our playbook on how to create a sticky culture that attracts the best to come play and stay. • Leave the politics to Colbert - Political work environments are not motivating, they're passion killers. Creating a boiler room culture attracts toxic talent -- individuals who are in it only for themselves, hardly ever make great team members and rarely serve clients well. They also are amazingly effective at driving other talented team members away so you are left with a few borderline personalities and a lot of mediocre people who don't have the motivation to go anywhere else. Conversely, hiring people whose goal is to stay in the background, shuffle papers and do the least work possible is equally disheartening to those who are left picking up the slack. That's a lot of time and energy that could be spent on creating and delivering great work to clients going to simply keeping the peace. We set up our shop to keep hierarchy to a minimum and actively foster both teamwork and transparency -- two of the best proven politic killers. We are also very thoughtful about new hires. Cultural fit is our number one lens and we are all on the same page about what that means for us. People who thrive at Grow are natural born doers who bring their best self to any task, look out for colleagues, are excited to do and try new things and, most importantly, are eager to grow.

Reward and foster growth - We hear stories all the time; an agency has a great performer who they hired young, trained to know every nuance of their business and whom their clients love. This person is now ready for the next step in their career but their supervisors can't get past the fact this is their "first job," even though they have now been at the company for five years. But guess what, another agency sees a motivated professional who is ready for the next step -- and they're exactly right. The financial costs of replacing a good employee are well documented, but there are also intangible costs that can be hard to quantify. For instance, the impact on client relationships and team morale. Keep in mind that the way you treat each team member sends a message to the rest about the potential of their own careers. If someone is highly motivated and learns and grows quickly that is something to be celebrated and rewarded, not avoided and delayed. Paramount to this system working is clarity about expectations for every role and proactive goal setting and feedback, which happens annually at a minimum but can happen as frequently as the team member requests it. Our overall goal at our agency is that everyone always knows how they're doing, what is needed to get to the next step, and feels empowered to get there on their own timing and trajectory.

Create an inspiring environment - As experiential marketers we are big believers in the power of a thoughtfully curated space to set the right tone. This extends to our own environment where fostering both creativity and collaboration are paramount. Last year we invested in buying a building and transformed it so that it was filled with natural light, curated yet functional furnishings and interesting fabrics and lighting fixtures to reflect our unique and decidedly feminine aesthetic. Within our bustling open floor plan teams sit together so there is energy and collaboration. But we also know it is important to sometimes dig-in, so we have lots of comfortable nooks and crannies where a little solitude and room to create can be found. Our office is filled with well-curated art & design books, not only because we like the warmth books bring to a space, but because they are an easy, hands-on creativity igniter.

Have an open door - Our entire floor plan is open and it sends a message to our team and clients that we value conversation and collaboration. As our business has grown it has become even more important to us to ensure we remain connected to the teams and the work we produce. While at some agencies the founders are names on the door or figureheads that show up for select meetings, we are in it shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone, just how we like it. Team members at all levels are invited and encouraged to contribute to the discussion and throw out their ideas, whether we are brainstorming for a new client program, creating a system to streamline things internally, considering expanding our staff or planning our own open house. We are keenly aware that the next great idea can come from anywhere within Grow and we always want our ears to be open to those voices.

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