Organizational Culture: Not Just a Buzzword

Blog, Boelter + Lincoln, Organizational Culture, Agency Culture

“Organizational culture” is a buzzword that I used to be skeptical of, particularly in relation to agency management. In the dog-eat-dog world of advertising, it just seemed too squishy. Why not let hard data (like billing projections and balance statements) drive management discussions? Certainly, that’s the safe, CYA approach; having a quantitative rationale makes any decision seem safer and more defensible. Analyzing a company’s culture, on the other hand, struck me as a secondary concern, and basing big-picture decisions on it seemed crazy.

Fortunately, my opinion has evolved.

A growing body of research has shown what gut-instinct managers have known for decades: a company’s culture has a direct impact on its bottom line. For some clients of ours in the manufacturing world – where there are severe labor shortages – company culture has become a key recruiting tool. In fact, there are now software programs and boutique consulting firms like The Good Jobs that help companies analyze and even quantify their offerings within different categories of organizational culture. Given everything we know about the “its not just the money” mindset of millennials, I’d anticipate that corporate culture’s role in typical company recruitment processes will continue to grow.

I certainly know that it will from the B+L standpoint. We place a high priority on finding employees who fit our culture, not just a job opening. This is a lesson we’ve learned the hard way and one we’ve built our current team from. It is estimated that a bad hiring decision costs a company 2.5 times that person’s salary, and I don’t dispute that number one bit.

Showcasing a desirable culture doesn’t just benefit recruiting, however. It can be equally beneficial for employee retention and new client acquisition – things that are critically important in industries like advertising or PR (where there is no labor shortage). Although marketing professionals are notorious for changing jobs frequently, they are no longer in the minority; 75% of currently employed people report they are either actively looking for new jobs or would be open to a new job opportunity. Clearly, the days of staying in one place forever are long gone. Employees who feel aligned with a company’s culture are more engaged… which means more productive and ultimately more profitable.

From a new business standpoint, a well-defined and articulated agency culture can be an important point of differentiation from other agencies who – on the surface – may seem to have similar services and credentials. Every prospective client I’ve met considered client/agency “chemistry” to be essential, and there can be no chemistry if the client and agency have incompatible cultures. Defining and articulating that culture is thus a key not only to gaining new clients, but managing their expectations and creating working relationships with them that will last well into the future.

Knowing who you are, what you stand for and how you do things is an essential platform on which to build all aspects of agency management – from employee recruitment and retention to new business acquisition. Building “culture” may sound like just another management-speak buzzword… but from my perspective, it’s a very real way to build the bottom line.