An agency without walls, silos or hierarchy is a happy agency. And a profitable one, writes Nadim Khoury.
An agency will live and die by its culture.
Often written off by agencies, ‘culture’ is regrettably one of the most overlooked and neglected aspects of the workplace in the corporate world. And leadership’s justification? It’s unscientific, unquantifiable and doesn’t add value to the bottom line.
Although agency leaders may be right about the first point, the second is highly debatable and the third is just utterly wrong. Time and again agencies that have chosen to put people first have demonstrated that the right office culture can transform an entire business and take it to new heights, more so than any of its other assets. This is even more monumental in creative businesses, where employees’ innovation is directly linked to the company’s performance, output, client satisfaction and, ultimately, its bottom line.
We are all aligned on the fact that the industry is ever-evolving, and we have witnessed rapid changes in media habits over the last few years. What this means is that we need to quickly do something that will potentially allow agencies to thrive as others struggle to survive across markets. And this thing we must do has nothing to do with strategy or talent.
Don’t get me wrong, strategy is crucial and talent is an absolute necessity. But without the right culture, the former might struggle and the latter will hiccup. At the other end of the spectrum, adopting a culture that fosters innovation and encourages communication naturally leads to better strategies and empowers brighter talent that can collectively tackle challenges, improve performance and help agencies not only think, but act outside the box. It will help an agency not only stay on top of market changes, but become a trend-setter too.
The question that presents itself is this: how do we build a workplace that skips traditional hierarchy and does away with conventional wisdom while fostering innovation, meeting clients’ expectations, improving margins and maintaining an agency’s edge over its competition?
The answer that stares us in the face is – and will remain – by fostering an open culture. It is an easy thing to state, yet hard to implement. Silos must go, walls must disappear, and hierarchy has to take a back seat. Anything and everything that hinders innovation and performance has to go. It is a big challenge, but a necessary one.
A business model will live and die by where we put people on our priority list. By placing them right at the top and creating an environment that encourages open communication, values collaboration over responsibilities and harnesses staff’s unique skills and talents, we build something that is almost impossible to replicate.
When walls were torn down and desks faced one another, magic started happening. The work place instantly became livelier and more vibrant. That is to say that by scrapping hierarchy and placing more value on input and communication we no longer have employees; we have active team players. A truly diverse team that approaches challenges with equally diverse pairs of eyes and a broad set of skills.
Adopting an open culture means that an agency’s vision, mission and core values do not remain inanimate words on paper. They become an innate part of our day-to-day lives. It means that our team members are no longer tackling tasks, but working towards the realisation of a common goal and a shared vision they all believe in. Titles are trivial, while collective contribution and effective collaboration are not. And all should be done in a way that is unique to individual agencies, giving each a culture that we can call our own.
Looking back, we can easily say that building an open office culture has had a direct impact on our agency’s balance sheets and makes an evident contribution to the smiles on clients’ and employees’ faces.
Agencies that fail to adopt an open office culture will be left behind. Meanwhile, those that recognise the value of creating the right culture and take active steps towards developing one will continue to thrive, innovate and lead the pack. It will take time and effort, but it will pay off well – very well in fact, and in the very near future.
Nadim Khoury is chief operating officer of Grey Group MENA