In my business over the last ten years, I've tried so many different things to make our working environment ideal. I buck trends when it comes to the way things are normally done and conforming to the the 9am - 9pm drum of activity that is consistent with most creative agencies is just not my thing.
The rhythm of our day-to-day and how we deliver what we do to clients constantly weighs on my mind.
Not because I'm immensely passionate about the work I do for clients, but rather, I think to myself that if I choose to do something for a living, then I can choose to do it in a way that is mindful, meaningful and responsible.
Seeking a better way to work is something that I'm driven to find.
I've been passionate about work/life balance for a while; more so since first becoming a father and even more so since becoming a father for the second and third time.
I also figure that working for yourself is both a privilege and a choice — and if you get to choose to do the work you do, then you can choose to do it in a way that is wonderful.
Over the years I've tried to find better ways of working, believe me, I've tried so many different things and most of them have failed.
Through this, I've arrived at a point in my career where:
- We receive multiple requests each day from potential employees and collaborators
- Potential employees and collaborators contact us because of values-alignment saying that they have 'been seeking a place to work that has empathy' for quite some time
- People in my business are happy. Truly happy, not the false 'we're all in this together happy' but the nourished type of happy
- Stress levels have gone from toxic many years ago, to a rally of small teams mobilising to get things fixed once a spot fire is spotted
- Employees tell me that they leave their working day feeling grateful
- We attract leaders who have amazing side-hustles — authors, product owners, entrepreneurs, published writers, journalists, social impact warriors; the list goes on
- There is no junior, mid-weight, senior hierarchy job title system
- Our teams come and go as the please throughout the day and we don't work later than 6pm
- Accountability and responsibility are high on the agenda and everyone knows this and loves it
- On any given day, you'll find at least two or three people working together on a regular meet-up where they help one another with their side-hustles. This is encouraged
I could keep going, but you get the picture.
But as Michael Jordan once said:
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games.
26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Here is a longer list of failures on my search for better ways of working:
- Structuring our people into client-based teams
- Structuring our people into discipline-based teams
- Adding layers of Account Management to create a buffer between us and the client
- 1:1 leadership coaching with senior management
- Regular social occasions with our employees
- A 'happiness' survey that measured each person's happiness at random intervals throughout the week
- Free lunches on Fridays
- Free breakfasts on Mondays
- Performance reviews
- Movie nights
- Hiring for skill not attitude or values
- Appealing to employees interests when allocating training budgets, rather than focussing on what the business needs
- Performance managing for results
- Working with high-profile clients
- Keeping people even when they weren't performing the basic KPIs of their role
- Being unaware of the negative impact our work had
- Donating my time, rather than charging for it
- Paying for company-wide association memberships
- Creativity excursions to exercise our creative muscles
- An annual, subsidised health and wellbeing fund for all staff
All of these were fruitless efforts in my search to create a positive, welcoming and rewarding working environment. I look back on them and consider them viable experiments that taught me that there is in fact a better way of working.
I'm not sure I've cracked it as yet and I'm not sure I ever will. But being on this journey has taught me a few things in what makes people happy and goes a long way towards creating a positive, better working culture:
- Create a simple, compelling and meaningful purpose for the business. Hire people who believe in and are on board with it — exit people who don't. You'll find that they'll leave anyway.
- Give good people autonomy and accountability — and be prepared to hold them accountable.
- Give them freedom to be who they are and who they aspire to be with a clear understand of what the business needs from them.
- Celebrate their lives and entrepreneurial achievements outside of work.
- Hire for values and like-mindedness — yes, skill counts too but it's third in line.
- Nip things in the bud — if someone isn't performing after numerous attempts of managing them, remove them.
- Set clear guidelines for behaviour. Write them down.
- Be truthful, be honest, be transparent, be humble and be kind.
- Always communicate.
- As a leader it's your job to create leaders.
- Lead by example. In the end, if it's not working it's on you.
Our time is now.
So we better spend it wisely.