Want a great culture? Start planning before your first employee walks through the door.
In many ways when my partner and I left the big ad agency world to start our own shop it was a typical start-up story: Five-year business plans were developed, spreadsheets were created, and it all was revised hundreds of times.
There was another element of our initial planning efforts that I believe has been equally important in our success: We spent just as much time focusing on our culture and discussing what it would be like to work at Launchpad five years down the road as we did talking about the present.
In the ad agency world, egos and attitudes seem to dominate day-to-day life. If you’ve ever worked at an agency, big or small, you know what I’m referring to. While most people I’ve worked with at agencies are great, there are always a few that bring their own brand of "I am awesome and you are not." That attitude can set the tone for an entire office. They make things miserable for everyone. We wanted to create something different--an agency that people actually wanted to work at--and started that effort on day one. Long before we had employees, we envisioned a day in the life at the Launchpad of the future. What would the culture be like? How would people feel about working at this agency? What would they say to their friends about the agency?
We created an objective that goes something like this:
"Like any job, there are good days and not so good days. But we want to create an agency where each and every person who works there can come to work every day believing that today can be a great day."
From this strategic objective was born what has become our primary rule: the Launchpad No Jerks Policy. It’s born of the belief that there are talented people out there who are also nice people, so there’s no reason to hire someone with a negative attitude, huge ego or destructive personality.
It was a year later we hired our first employee, and we’ve since staffed up to become a 50-plus person shop. From day one our No Jerks Policy has driven every hiring decision we’ve ever made. Even contractors and freelancers are held to this standard. The result is an agency that delivers a great creative product and is great to work at. There’s more collaboration, ideas really can come from anyone and the environment is more "drama free" than any company I’ve ever worked at before. We’re an agency where the owners hold themselves to the same standards as everyone else.
Too often a company’s culture happens by accident rather than design. The next time you are working on business plans, step back from the spreadsheets and product design for a while and think about what it will be like to work there in five years. What you can do to ensure the culture you envision becomes a reality? This is true whether you are starting a business, running a business or even running a department at a large company.