Culture Crush

Do Values Matter?

How important is your company culture, really?

“Real Art has a unique personality, comprised of the hearts and souls of the partners, our team of creatives and our administrative staff. When someone new joins our team, our personality changes. Each time that happens, it makes us better and stronger. Know that you are not just an employee at Real Art; you are part of our personality, and your opinion will always be considered.”

-Real Art Handbook

A company culture is more than free snacks, happy hour Fridays, and unlimited table tennis. It’s a personality, and when a company is successful at cultivating a genuine character, it’s obvious and infectious. But it’s not by accident. The strongest cultures are the result of thoughtful consideration and ongoing effort.

Getting Down to Business
From a business perspective, if we think of company culture as a set of basic beliefs and values that have been internalized by the organization’s members, research shows that companies with strong cultures consistently perform at a higher level. Which makes sense. In unpredictable environments, across various managers and inevitable turnover, culture plays a normalizing role. A strong culture encourages consistency, helping a company deliver on its business strategy much in the same way as formal reporting relationships, auditing programs, and incentive systems.

It compensates for the emotional dimension of human behavior. Most people resist change and no matter how inspiring top-down messaging may be, it rarely has a lasting effect on how we perceive what we do. In this way, goal alignment facilitates employee motivation as the shared perception becomes that behavior is freely chosen and collectively monitored.

Your Culture is Your Brand
From a marketing perspective, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and leading proponent of values-based culture, argues that culture actually represents the best way to build your brand in the long term. The social web has created an environment in which companies are more transparent than ever. Organizations can’t possibly anticipate every touchpoint that might affect the perception of their brand, and a bad review can spread faster than ever before. Hsieh’s solution then is to embrace the transparency, turning employees into brand ambassadors both inside and outside the office.

“At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff—like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers—will happen naturally on its own.”

Today there has to be more truth behind what you project in your advertising.

Simply put, today there has to be more truth behind what you project in your advertising. Adweek published the results of a study that polled over 700 executives, finding that for two out of three, human factors outweigh analytical factors when making business decisions. While data played a role, they placed their trust in softer qualities like culture and values, with 70% citing reputation as the most influential factor when choosing a company to partner with. The article points out that as marketers we are often overtaken by the sheer quality and quantity of available data, becoming overly dependent on analytics to inform our campaigns.

The great danger of this burgeoning obsession with quantification is that marketing becomes little more than a process of holding up a mirror to the audience, and reflection is not true insight. It misses a crucial point about human relationships: Having things in common is important, but we aren’t looking for replicas of ourselves when we choose friends and lovers. We are drawn to people with passions, thoughts and feelings that complement our own. We love in them what we can’t find in ourselves. That’s why the best advice for anyone on a first date is ‘just be yourself’.

Anatomy of a Strong Culture
Although he does offer a few tips for developing a set of values, Hsieh points out that the specific values themselves don’t actually even matter. The power comes from the alignment, from getting everyone on the same page. So how does this happen? Two key players are selection and socialization—giving great care to who is brought on and developing an effective training program for new hires. The Stanford article referenced earlier points to the relationship between strategy, culture, and organizational design. “Cultures are much more likely to persist if the basic assumptions are expressed concretely in organizational practices, espoused values and cultural artifacts. The culture has much greater force if it is tied to visible symbols, and these symbols are used to remind people of the organization’s core beliefs and values.”

The specific values themselves don’t actually even matter. The power comes from the alignment, from getting everyone on the same page.

For Real Art, those basic assumptions are made visible through our 12 Absolutes, displayed in each office and given to every new hire in the form of a written manifesto. Mark Kargl, a producer at Real Art, has been with the company for almost 20 years and describes a core set of values that endure even as the company has grown. He points to a fine-tuned balance between business and creative that is genuinely supported by leadership.

“Our 12 Absolutes really come from Chris Wire’s personality. When we started, he was more of a young maverick getting into fun, creative projects. Over the years he has also embraced the business side of things while still constantly encouraging people to have fun, push the limits, do something new and interesting, and grow.”

Sam Parker, an account executive who has been at Real Art for a year, says, “Clients ask all the time how we retain talent and how we generate creative, never-before-seen ideas. It’s really not that complicated. Creative people cannot thrive and produce fresh ideas in an environment that doesn’t support curiosity and play.”  She continues, “That childlike spirit is woven through the employee experience here. Every member of the team–and I mean everyone, print designers, accountants, developers, the whole crew–is encouraged to explore new interests. That’s where our best ideas and most successful client projects come from. It’s because a highly-skilled developer is exploring woodworking and has a way to incorporate both of those art forms into something captivating.”

Creative people cannot thrive and produce fresh ideas in an environment that doesn’t support curiosity and play.

“Real Art has such a great balance of satisfying the need to learn and evolve with the desire to have fun,” says Jenn Gobrail, a designer who has been with the agency for 11 years. “Working hard to create something and then seeing the results of your hard work in print, on the web, or at the Super Bowl is just really cool. To make someone else smile and know that you were a little piece of that is fun,” she adds.

“I think what initially attracts people—what initially attracted me at least—was the quality of work Real Art’s known for,” Parker says. “All companies claim to only do quality work, but at Real Art, it’s the core of everything we do. Nothing good comes out of our doors. Only great.”

“What keeps people here for years, or for many, decades, is the culture. I’ll read articles about how to keep millennials happy in the workplace, and Real Art’s been doing those things for 30 years. Continued education and focus on growth, flexible work environments, authenticity from management, employees feeling like they truly make an impact—people talk about these things like they’re innovative additions to workplace culture, but at Real Art, they’re just normal. ”


Got you hooked? here’s more:

Authentic Values
Corporate Culture Has Become a Powerful Force in Forging Partnerships

The Case of GiveForward
How This Startup’s Culture Won it Funding and Partnerships

A Culture Strategy
The Critical Few: Components of a Truly Effective Culture

icon-instagram icon-twitter icon-linkedin icon-news icon-vimeo icon-realmart