DDB Melbourne’s MD Kate Sterling: How To Manage Culture Through Transformation

DDB Melbourne’s MD Kate Sterling: How To Manage Culture Through Transformation

In this guest post, DDB Melbourne managing director Kate Sterling (main photo) shares her experience around the importance of holding on tight to culture…

We’re living in an age of disruption where almost every industry is being challenged by global players and or newer, more innovative versions of themselves.

As businesses embark on their mission to reinvigorate, reposition and compete more seriously to remain relevant many seem to be forgetting about the one thing that will ultimately determine their long-term success – a thriving culture.

Too often I see organisations go through large digital and data transformations while all the time forgetting to invest in the people who will help them deliver against it. Changes are made with little or no consultation to staff who are then expected to buy into a future vision without having contributed to the direction.

At DDB Group Melbourne we’ve been on our journey in the hope we can drive greater creativity, collaboration and, of course, operational efficiencies.

Throughout this process, one thing we never faulted on was our ongoing commitment toward building a strong high performing and engaged culture. Our values became our north star, helping guide us around how we wanted to structure the business, reignite the brand and, of course, people.

DDB’s values go back 60 years and there’s a reason they have stood the test of time. Freedom from fear, freedom to be, freedom from chaos and freedom to fail are still as relevant today as they were back in the 1960s.

These values, in an industry that’s being disrupted every other week, have and will always be integral to our culture and help determine how well we manage the impact of change.

Our own journey has also made us reflect on who should really own our agency culture. Company culture should be set top down, but what role can every other employee play when they come to work every day?

We decided to empower our teams to take greater ownership in helping us evolve the agency’s culture, so the management team outsourced and created culture teams both in mid to senior and junior ranks level to help determine what we needed to do better.

Diversity, flexible working hours, maternity and paternity leave and embracing return to work mothers were a given, but what else could we do?

The insight out of this process was it was some of the smaller initiatives that our people felt could make DDB a better place to work; from celebrating successes more frequently, formalising strong training and development plans upfront, creating “open mic” panels so staff could better understand how teams are personalising contributing to the agency growth and more frequent, informal get togethers.

Open communication from the entire management team was also key. We didn’t want any surprises and wanted to make sure staff were on the same journey as the leadership team.

We also recognised staff feedback would be paramount so shifted our yearly staff surveys to quarterly as a result. That way we could work out more quickly what was and wasn’t working for our staff.

Twelve months later, despite the significant changes across the business, we saw a six per cent increase in almost all of our engagement metrics – no mean feat given the changes we’ve undergone. Throughout my career, I’ve always valued the importance of culture, but our recent journey showed me the true power it has and the role it can must play during a time of change.

Ultimately, values shape culture and the strength of a culture will determine how well an organisation handles change. It drives teams during uncertainty but, more importantly, turns them into far stronger team players when it’s all said and done.

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DDB Melbourne Kate Sterling

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