Our agency founder reflects on the importance of culture and how it leads to direct results for clients. Plus, she offers some nuggets of wisdom she’s picked up over the years.
We recently did an internal audit of our “KCees” (affectionate shorthand for KC employees) on how long they’ve worked at the agency. I was pleasantly surprised to see that over 40% had been here ten years or longer. That tenure is almost unheard of in any industry, but it’s especially impressive when you consider that agency years are counted kind of like dog years. Wow.
I have always believed—and lived by—the line: Culture eats strategy for breakfast. In fact, I see it as one of my most important jobs at the agency. I strive every day to create and maintain a culture where people feel that they matter. Where we have fun, but know we have to dig ditches sometimes. Where we all fail or fly together.
So why does this matter to clients? Simple. Happy people do great work. And great work makes clients’ businesses grow. And clients want agencies that get results.
I never went to school to learn how to run a successful agency. So life in general—and how I was raised—has been my only guide. But here are a few bits of wisdom I’ve picked up over the last 30 years. And—spoiler alert—none of them involve instituting an agency-wide Crazy Hat Day.
- Treat other people how you want to be treated. My mother always told me this and it rings true today. People stick around if you value them and treat them with respect.
- The fish stinks from the head. That’s why this is all on me. I set the tone and if it is dysfunctional, it is my fault.
- Be generous. If you treat people well in the good times, they will stick around through bad times.
- If you can’t admit your mistakes, you’re destined to repeat them. I have messed up. A lot. We all do. Best to just admit it and move on. We are all human right?
- Never blame or point fingers. We are all in this together. We succeed or fail together. If someone makes a mistake, always give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Always hire the brightest people you can. They will give it back to you in spades.
- Keep an open mind to new thoughts and ideas. “This is the way we’ve always done it” is a death sentence for creativity.
- Hire slow. Fire fast. Take your time. Choose new employees wisely. And if you make a bad decision in hiring, deal with it as quickly as possible. Bad eggs permeate your culture and create lingering problems.
- Ask people you admire lots of questions about how they did it. When I look back, I’m somewhat embarrassed at the people I’ve asked to have coffee with. They were much higher up in the Ivory Tower than I was. But many of them said yes and the advice I got was gold.
- Have fun. Life is too short. I have been at this 30 years and I still have some good laughs just about every day. It keeps you young.