Why ‘Culture’ is More than a Buzzword

The word ‘culture’, which used to strictly apply to things like art galleries, symphonies and cheese, has entered the mainstream workplace. It’s a buzz word that makes even the word ‘content’ look underused. People on trend-watch associate culture with start-up greats like Apple and Google. Today culture is even trickling into the corporate world, with “Chief Culture Officer” as one of the business buzzwords of 2015. Yet just like the culture behind a good brie, culture has always been there in the creative agency world. This doesn’t mean that agency cultures are always good, nor that culture is all about having a kickass espresso machine or lunch-time yoga classes. Yes, creative spaces definitely make creative people more creative, yet that’s not all there is to culture.

As we see it, culture is the keystone from which everything we do radiates. It informs us as a design agency that this is what we give people, in our work, our service and our quality. Ours is about giving clients layers of delight. Cheesy as it may sound, it’s true. The process behind this layers of delight-making is 100% dependant on collaboration. But rather than just deliver INFESTATION’S spiel, we put some questions on the importance of culture to our team, from the young guns to those of us who have been around the agency block a few times. Here’s what they had to say:

Q. How do you define culture in an agency environment and what are its major characteristics?

Louis: Just look at your staff. Are they happy and balanced? If yes, then you’re on the right path. Respecting one another as people and as employees. Setting company goals and having a company vision. Get that balance right between goals and respect and the coffee will taste better, the collaboration will come naturally and the hierarchy will dissolve.

Q. Why is culture so important in a creative agency?

Nix: Culture shapes our creative outputs. When there is negativity in a studio, creativity suffers. Positivity breeds inspired ideas, happy teams and gives our staff the confidence to explore ideas that are way outside the box. This culture extends beyond our designers: it’s how our receptionist chooses to answer the phone, and how our project managers manage their projects.

Q. Is culture something that just happens, or is it cultivated?

Lesley: Culture is definitely cultivated. It’s an ongoing learning process by the entire business and leadership’s responsibility to ensure that momentum is not lost.
Nix: Culture is important in every work environment and every work environment has it, whether it is cultivated or not. When it is not cultivated, a culture could turn negative, as negativity tends to have a louder voice than positivity. We choose to craft our culture positively, as we see it as an opportunity to be better at everything we apply ourselves to.

Q. Is culture a major consideration for you, as a design professional?

Louis: Yes, you spend 40+ hours a week at work. It will affect your happiness in a major way.
Lesley: Yes it is. It determines greatly the leadership style of the organisation and the value placed on each individual. And who doesn’t enjoy being part of something that great anyway!
Nix: Gone are the days of card punching. Our work requires our engagement and participation and what better way to inspire these behaviours than by working in an environment in which you have helped to shape?

Q: What do you gravitate towards when it comes to agency culture?

Louis: Collaboration. It helps bolster ideas and artwork so that work moves from good to great.
Leslie: Collaboration is definitely key to me. The growth opportunities are within each one’s reach, with the help of each individual. The whole is better than the sum of the parts.
Nix: Collaboration, a unique working environment, a flat hierarchy system where each individual is the boss, a place where it is safe to explore, where vulnerable creativity can mature. Where leaders empower the team to act on what they believe.
Sam: A collaborative space where people are encouraged to think for themselves. Everyone’s input matters, and everything we do, from the ground up, must point to our collective vision.
Spot the theme?

One more thought to close:

Agency culture is a well choreographed company dance in which every dancer shines. You’ve got the quirky individual dancers who need to express their unique creativity; they’ve been carefully selected to fit into this creative company. And you’ve got the choreographer who gently yet steadily guides the company towards a shared vision, leading them by example rather than force and bringing out the best in each dancer. It takes months of rehearsals before the company is performance-ready. When they finally perform to an audience, the dancers are on a creative high, even before the thunderous applause begins. The next day, they regroup and start rehearsing for the next show.


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