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Why The Cultures of Your Clients And Partners Matter

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 22/03/2016 Advertising Week

By Shane Atchison, CEO, POSSIBLE and Jason Burby, President, POSSIBLE Americas

There is a story about a small advertising agency in Los Angeles that was surprised to win a huge bid for a major manufacturing brand. For weeks, they walked around marveling that they must have beaten out the best agencies in the city.

Then the work started. They learned that in spite of having a globally recognized name, the client’s team was invariably behind schedule. They made incoherent requests for changes. And even though they were often the ones dragging their feet, they demanded the agency work late nights to meet their deadlines. Then, when the agency failed to perform miracles, the client refused to pay for work it didn’t like (and it didn’t like anything). Eventually, it fired the agency and asked it to send back everything it had.

This was in the days when agencies often hosted servers for their clients onsite. So the agency came up with a creative approach. They unplugged the machines, put them in the back of a van, and made a pyramid of them on the lawn in front of the client’s offices. On top of it they put a huge sign warning others not to do business with the company.

Of course, this wasn’t us, and their actions were pretty childish. But it shows a big challenge for companies that want to maintain a strong culture. Your work environment is not the only thing that impacts your culture. You may have the best culture in the world, but if your clients and partners don’t, that can be a big problem.

In fact, culture is something we look for every time we enter a relationship with a new client. Most clients are fine. But a few will drive your team crazy with unreasonable demands, last minute requests, and disorganized processes that lead to panicked sprints that tie your people up weekend after weekend. You simply can’t have that. Their culture will become your culture at some point, and you have to keep your culture safe and intact.

The elements of good culture

So how can you build a flexible team of people who can work together great and move seamlessly to new ideas and process? You’ll find many different kinds of cultures are successful, but for modern digitally-enabled businesses, we think these are the most important steps:

Stay flexible. Digital is not a place where job titles should limit individual contributions. If you’re going to come up with great ideas, you need a continuous learning environment with flexibility and a certain disdain for roles. No one should ever be allowed to say, “That’s not my job description.” Or, “Who asked the engineer for his opinion?” Instead, you should give everyone plenty of chances to step up and be everything they can be.

Hire learners. You want your team to be curious and willing to learn things. Software coders are famous for this. Because their tools and platforms are always changing, good development teams are also collaborative learners. Marketers need to adopt this model so that their organizations have an innate flexibility to meet change when it comes.

Empower people to share. Everyone’s opinion matters because brilliant ideas can come from anywhere. As a result, people have to feel comfortable bringing up bold ideas. You should encourage them to speak up, share their thoughts, and help push projects forward. And seriously listen. Even that brilliant creative director you have once interned somewhere.

Encourage thinking outside roles. If the data guy has an interesting way to look at a design problem, you want the art director to hear it. Your project manager may have a good creative idea. That’s certainly possible since she hangs out with creative people all day. Your technologist may have uncovered a process that can feed into a cool creative idea. You want to capture every perspective.

Make sure problems come with solutions. Every company has a group of whiners who can point out what’s wrong. But they spend all their time complaining, and none of it actually addressing the problem. This is not how unicorns (or anyone else) should operate in digital. Digital always brings new challenges. We need to find ways to solve them.

To do that, you have to start somewhere. So you should never allow people merely to point out problems. Instead they should come with a proposed solutions. Even if it doesn’t work, it might trigger better ideas from someone else.

Make it ok to fail. As we’ve seen before, failure promotes learning, and the faster you can fail the better. Organizations that don’t accept and punish failure make it difficult to shift gears and come up with new ideas that work.

Foster a culture of achievement. If you ask any of our people why they like working for us, somewhere on the list, they’ll bring up the fact that we have Does It Work criteria. At the end of a day or a campaign, they know if they’ve made a difference. They can prove they’ve achieved measurable results. Awards are given out by the bundle in our industry, and while awards are one way to measure effectiveness, people know they are an imperfect measure. That’s why it’s important to give them real data that shows they’ve accomplished something. Recognition is nice, but results are real.

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