In this guest post, co-founder and creative partner at independent agency The Works, Kevin Macmillan (pictured below), argues an agency’s success might have less to do with the customer experience and far more to do with the employee one…!
‘We are a people business’. It’s a common refrain spouted by most agencies and companies working in marketing communications and finally many have woken up to the fact that building and sustaining a good culture can be a defining point of difference against the competition. But the positive impacts of culture on business isn’t a new thing, so why has it taken so long for people to see the opportunity?
We live in interesting times. There is rapid social change taking place, particularly with the youngest entrants to our industry who are apathetic towards politics and have a wariness around corporate greed.
This underlying social impact is creeping into corporate culture as people readdress their personal priorities. Employees are seeking work/life integration and are increasingly looking to work for an employer who supports these priorities with actions, rather than just talk. Whether that’s leaving early to go to the gym or the freedom to work remotely from home, employees want flexibility and support to make their careers work in harmony with their personal life.
It’s music to my ears, because the benefits to a business of a great culture are enormous. But knowing it and wanting it are one thing. Making it happen is completely different.
When I started out creating my own company I had every intention of building the very best culture. But it’s only now, 15 years later, that I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I am part of a world class culture and feel comfortable sharing our story.
There have been periods in the first ten years of our existence that our culture was brilliant. And at other times terrible. I remember one instance in 2008 where a senior project manager stood up from his desk and announced he was popping to the chemist. We never saw or heard from him again.
Rewind to 2002. I was 29 and quit a decent job as an art director at a safe cushy global network to start my own agency. I could draw, write a bit and I could convince, to some degree, that my ambition alone was enough for a client to trust with me with their marketing budget.
In the early years of the agency the motivation to succeed came from having no money, too many kids and a mortgage. My other motivation was my childhood. Watching my mum raise my brother and I on her own and holding down two jobs at the same time. She taught me there is no substitute for hard work. She taught me, importantly, the meaning of respect.
My mum wasn’t religious, but ‘treat unto others as you wish to be treated’ was how she lived her life. So, in the first few years of running a business when the occasional person went to the chemist it would concern me that my agency, the one I had the chance to mould and nurture, didn’t have a culture I was 100 per cent proud of.
Was I not treating people as I would like to be treated?
I guess the truth is, I wasn’t trained to be a people manager. I had zero experience and was more of a talker than a listener. These are not excuses. But I look back, even now, and try to figure out where I could and should have done better.
Any authentic entrepreneur will admit to this… when you start your own company, despite the fact that you recognise the need to build an outstanding culture, it’s incredibly hard to do. Is the company making money? Can we attract the best thinkers? How will we win the next pitch with a tenth of the resources of our competitors? These are all ongoing concerns for a young agency which often take priority over people, their careers, their training and development and their welfare.
It’s been an up and down journey to reach where we are today, and it has taken so much more than simply making up the next best ‘award winning’ company HR policy to garner the recognition we wanted.
The most important lesson for me has been waking up to the fact that a great culture doesn’t rest solely on my shoulders. Rather it rests on the shoulders of many. I have also learned to treat it with the same rigour and commitment we apply to our clients’ business.
In March this year we were honoured to be named AdNews CX agency of the year. Each day we apply CX modelling to our clients’ customer bases, identifying ways to create loyalty, increase customer retention and reduce churn. Testing, incentivising and rewarding. We then assess the results and use the learnings to constantly improve the customer experience.
What if businesses applied the same thinking to their own staff? Turning the endless conversations about culture impacting business into real life results.
Which is exactly what we have done by introducing ‘EX’ to our business. It’s our very own Employee Experience platform. Using the same basic principles which led us to win CX Agency of the Year, we have turned around the culture and agency’s performance by listening and most importantly, acting on, the feedback from our staff. This ensures we are constantly evolving how to deliver the best user experience for our people, who in turn are the powerhouses that deliver for our clients.
We now have in place all the things I so badly wanted on day one. We have a culture which makes me proud. A culture born out of ‘Treat unto others as you wish to be treated’.