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Combating Culture Chaos


We wrote last year about the need to take care of your team during difficult times (https://bit.ly/CareAndFeeding). We warned that your employees are getting burned-out, feeling abandoned, and are starting to question everything about their work life. Well, if anything, things are even worse than we imagined as the pandemic has greatly impacted a myriad of aspects of agency life, and particularly the all-important agency culture.


Over the years, many of us have implemented initiatives to ensure a positive and supportive culture - one that keeps employees engaged and attracts new employees. We’ve worked hard to address issues like work/life balance, to instill fun into the agency grind, to ensure employees have a clear career path and are given good feedback and support. We’ve developed many best practices in these areas to maximize the potential and loyalty of our people – because we know our people are our lifeblood.


Covid has impacted all of this. Work/life balance when working from home is harder than ever, and how returning to the office will work is still up for grabs (Full-time? Hybrid? What office?). Fun doesn’t stand a chance against the anxiety and frustration we all feel today. Career paths have been shaken due to furloughs, down-sizing, and then rapid up-sizing. Support is given mostly in response to fires. As a result, everyone is reevaluating everything, from where they work to what they do as a career (and there’s even a name for it: “The Great Resignation https://bit.ly/GrtResgntn). Culture – the glue that holds an agency together - has been decimated, resulting in what we’re calling: Culture Chaos.


What’s Culture Chaos? It occurs when many of the established tools and approaches that have been used to create a positive, enjoyable, and attractive agency culture are no longer effective. Dedication dissipates, questioning increases, loyalty goes out the window along with treasured employees.


So, Culture Chaos can be an agency killer and the question is: what can agency leaders do to address it? We’ve been talking to many leaders about this, and here are some ways we’ve identified that can help ameliorate Culture Chaos.


Leadership Communication

This is always a best practice at any time. We’ve often said that our job as leaders is to: 1) communicate, and 2) make decisions. This is what every employee wants from their leadership. This is particularly true, and even more valuable, in challenging times like these. Open, honest, and consistent leadership communication that gives employees an understanding of the current status, the vision, the challenges, and the actions you’re taking can generate engagement and positive energy throughout the organization. It’ll also prevent your team from making up their own answers as a result of a communication vacuum. You just can’t do this enough.


Mission, Values & Purpose

We’re betting you have a framework for what your firm’s about, what you believe in and how your work creates value for your clients. Are they words on a PowerPoint, or do you really live them? Now’s the time to lean into them, bringing them to life and using them as your guide for decisions, who you hire and how you/your team behaves. We all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves and creating purpose for your team is a significant tool in combating Culture Chaos.


Office Hours

It’s impossible to count how many minutes we’ve given to employees who’ve knocked on our doors asking, “do you have a minute” (when we all know, it’s going to take much more than a minute). Yet, these conversations were sometimes the most valuable as they were 1-1, focused, and provided a great opportunity for mentoring, coaching, and supporting. The challenge of doing this in our current situation is certainly adding to culture chaos.


We’ve found that employees have responded positively to leaders offering “office hours” – set times that the leader is available for anything. This generally is not project specific problem-solving since that occurs whenever necessary. These “office hours” are for everything else: personal issues like work/life balance and career progression, inter-personal issues between workmates, vendors or clients, random process issues, or just chats that allow leaders to get to know their employees better. The hour(s) are surprisingly filled all the time.


Mentors

At this point, many of you have hired new employees. They’ve likely been (and may still be) remote and haven’t had the chance to work or meet with a broad range of your team. You’ve worked hard to introduce them to others online. Hopefully their manager, with other fellow employees, on-boarded them as well as possible into the agency. These are tactical solutions to remote on-boarding, but they do not address Culture Chaos.


We’ve seen that assigning an existing staff member as a mentor to an employee brings a different level of connection and communication and generates greater loyalty and job satisfaction, for both the mentee and the mentor. The conversations are wide-ranging, and the knowledge the mentor provides is invaluable to a new employee and rewarding to the provider. An additional benefit is that sometimes things are discussed that identify ways the agency can work better/smarter since the conversation can flow more easily between peers.


Surprise and Delight

As we all know, random hallway meetings, cupcakes in the kitchen, birthday celebrations, dog and child visits, all contribute to adding unexpected fun to agency life. And unexpected fun is often the best, most influential fun. So, the question becomes how can you surprise and delight your remote employees? We’ve heard of several fun things that leaders have done including sending swag, coffee and meals, introducing new employees in a fun way by encouraging them to share a hidden talent or surprising ability, or encouraging the spontaneous sharing of pictures of children, dogs, and hobby outputs.


1:1 Outreach and Support

It’s more important than ever for leaders to support their employees. Leaders need to be very close to their employees to ensure continuity of staff, which is a critical part of any agency’s success. The best way that leaders can achieve this is through regular 1:1 conversations. Think about starting with the employee furthest away from you on the org chart (assuming you’re already talking with your leadership regularly) and reach out to them. Listen to their thoughts and answer their questions. It’s said that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers, and your ability to genuinely connect with your team, demonstrating empathy, understanding and realistic positive energy will help each employee to feel valued and secure.


As we’ve seen throughout this crisis, addressing challenging times requires strong leadership. It’s up to you to ensure you and your leadership team are doing everything possible to build culture within your employee base. We also think leadership may need some help here as well, so we’re thinking about creating a leadership work group focused on developing best practices that address Culture Chaos (and anything else that the group wants to discuss). If you’re interested, you can reach us through www.tonicconsultinggroup.com or on LinkedIn. We’re here to help you build strong agencies.



Tonic Consulting Group works with live event agencies and related companies providing the insights, expertise and direction necessary to create enduring competitive advantage. We work with leaders to build new pathways to growth, create high-performing operations and develop companies people love working for.