Posted: January 17, 2012

Tony Poillucci Vice President & Creative Director


Culture is HUGE!

Cultural traditions of a country or region bring people together by way of shared foods, music, languages, literature, etc. And for the most part, you’re born into this type of culture. Not much of a choice.

Sub-cultures also exist in larger, umbrella cultures. They can be based on shared interests in things like music (rock, pop, country, hip-hop), where you go to school (red school, light blue school, dark blue school), social ‘class’ (or lack thereof), and all types of other strange little proclivities that draw like people together.

Office culture is a bit of a combination of these two things. While we ultimately have the freedom to choose our professions and workplace, we are largely grouped together by our chosen profession. So what do you do for a living? is often the first thing you’ll ask someone you’re meeting for the first time. The culture at a high-tech, innovation machine like Google is going to be quite different than that of a CPA office where things have been done pretty much the same way for decades if not centuries.

So while online marketing firms tend to be closer to the Googles of the world in terms of where they sit on the cultural spectrum, there are enough variances between these types firms – the services they offer, the people that work in them and the approach they take – that a number of sub-cultures exist.

A focus on culture at VisionPoint

At VisionPoint, we’ve placed a lot of attention on our culture over the past few years. Starting out 10 years ago as a very small company (3 employees) the culture was the people that worked here. This is common in small companies. They really don’t take on a life of their own until they hit a certain critical mass of employees. VisionPoint hit that mass a few years ago.

We’ve grown quite a bit, and we’ve had our share of personalities on the team. When a culture is not established by ‘the company’, you can guarantee that the individuals within the organization will begin to establish a culture (or maybe sub-sub-cultures) of their own. And that’s not always a good thing. Strong personalities tend to take charge, and this can lead to others on the team feeling less empowered. When individuals on your team feel disempowered, they tend to lose passion and eventually things go south.

The challenge of establishing a solid culture, in a safe environment for your team lies in the ability to balance the flexibility and autonomy that creative individuals feed off, with the structure and cultural guidelines that keep an organization strong.

At VisionPoint, we’ve addressed this challenge head on over the past few years. We’ve learned some good lessons along the way, and we think we’ve come up with a nice balance that works for our own unique subbacultcha.

The top 5 things we’ve done to foster a healthy environment and culture at VisionPoint Marketing:

1. Establish a clear vision.

Even the strongest leader will have a hard time getting their team to go down a path if that team is unclear on where the path leads. If you have a clear idea of your organization’s vision, write it down clearly and share it with your team. If you’re unclear on your vision, spend as much time as you need to figure it out.

2. Establish organizational values (aka: attributes or beliefs).

Knowing where you’re headed is one thing. Knowing how to behave as you travel that path is another. Do you weave through the brush, taking care not to disturb the indigenous fauna, or do you get a big ‘ol steamroller and tear your way through, stopping for nothing? Values can help you and your team understand what you stand for and who you are as an organization.

3. Involve the team in the creation of your vision and values.

There’s something about a brainstorming session in which you start with something (or nothing at all) and collaboratively build off the ideas, perspectives and experiences of your team mates. 1 + 1 = so much more than 2 when it’s done right. Collaboration is actually one of VisionPoint’s values.

4. Hire people that fit.

This is easier said than done, especially when you’re hiring for a unique position like ‘Search Marketing Strategist’ and you come across someone with the exact skill set you need, but they just don’t fit your culture. The temptation to hire them and ‘see how it works out’ will be huge, but it’s best to avoid this. It won’t work out. Trust me.

5. Part with the people that don’t fit.

This too can be very difficult. You may absolutely love someone that works in your company. They might do outstanding work or be incredibly smart, but the fact of the matter is that if they don’t fit your culture, they’ll never be happy working within your organization. And when someone isn’t happy with their situation, it ultimately affects everyone around them. The best thing to do in this case is to take decisive action and help transition that person out of your organization and into a situation in which they’ll thrive and be happy.