Working at a startup taught me a great deal about fast pace and being okay with uncertainty. Plus I got to work with and learn from a group of highly skilled pros that is still unequaled to this day. I did not know it at the time that I would eventually join the agency world, yet startup life prepared me to be in constant do mode — tinkering and experimenting with purpose.
But it was in an older corporate business that I had the good fortune of experiencing the value of culture to achieve results. I was reminded of those years reading what Mark Addicks, who retired as CMO of General Mills in January, says in his good-bye message: [h/t Tom Fishburne]
People matter. A lot. A community of great people create and achieve incredible things. Great people make all the difference in strategies, ideas, executions. And great people need your encouragement, commitment and support.
Our community—and the culture that defines this community–needs to be differentially great so that we can make a difference out there where it counts. So, please never stop believing and investing in each other. Please don’t leave culture for someone else to define. Jump in with both feet. Take the opportunity in front of you to define the community and culture you want to be a part of.
To me this translates into not getting killed in the process. Because burning out does not benefit anyone.
Culture is the difference in the nature of purpose
The difference between the startup, established organization, and agency environments, now that I've had the chance to experience all — working in and with several — is the nature of purpose.
- startups are much closer to the question of why we do what we do — and, if you get to work with a strong founding team, they get how people matter at every level of the company
- established companies, the good ones (and there are still many), act on why we do what we do — and to be in it for the long-er run, making space for the type of set up that encourages investing in people
- while culture is part of the promise agencies make to clients, often why we do what we do is communicated poorly or not understood internally — starting with the behaviors the firm values and models at the highest levels (this is key)
It applies to all forms of organized work. A strong culture helps navigate chaos. Understanding and articulating why we do what we do is much easier when followed by action. Because walking the talk is a more direct way of having an impact on performance.