2021: Focus On Culture

January 4, 2021 | blog | By Mike Sullivan
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There’s never been a year we all wanted to put in the rearview mirror quicker than 2020, or a year we were more eager to get to than 2021. To a person, inside LOOMIS and out, everyone I’ve talked to is excited about what the new year will bring and the opportunity to start fresh after a long, tough, unprecedented year. Granted, there’s nothing magical about physically turning the calendar from December 31 to January 1. But this year, the opportunity we all have to mentally, professionally and spiritually reset is not only a gift, it’s a necessity.

Many of us still find ourselves separated from our offices and working primarily, or partially, from home. That’s not likely to change any time soon. Sure, we’ve gotten used to Zoom and for the most part, have worn the rough edges off meeting remotely and being apart. But we’re still missing our colleagues and the closeness of physically working together. The shared laughter. The collisions in the hallway. Voices bouncing off conference room walls.

Now, more than ever, we’re all feeling the need to reconnect. Whether that’s an easy or a difficult thing to do depends largely on the culture you’ve built. Maybe it’s the book we just wrote on the subject or the focus we’ve always given to the environment we work in, but I’m convinced the companies and brands that emerge from 2020 with the greatest chances for success will be the ones that focus on their company culture first – not in neglect of clients and customers, but in service to them.

As we move into the new year, I’m curious about the plans you have for the coming 12 months. What are you prepared to focus on to make this year of recovery one for the record books? Do you have a plan? Have you talked to your staff? Or, like many, are you idling with a wait-and-see mentality before committing to one direction or the other?

This week of the year is notorious for New Year’s resolutions and, if history is any teacher, most won’t make it to February. This year, I’d like to invite you to join us in trading empty resolutions for a commitment to culture. A commitment to building the kind of company that’s a beacon to talented people looking for a place to make a difference. A commitment to building a company that will still be here 100 years from now.

Lofty goals? Absolutely. But if you spend the next year focusing on the following seven elements for building a transcendent culture, I firmly believe you’ll be astounded at the effect it has on your staff, your clients, and even your new business efforts.

We’ve seen it happen. Companies that focus on culture win.

SAFETY

Everyone wants to feel safe – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When most of us start our careers, we take that for granted. Why wouldn’t a company provide a safe environment? Why wouldn’t they allow me to ask questions and voice my opinion? Why wouldn’t leadership provide a nurturing, supportive environment that’s inclusive and encourages everyone’s best work? The longer you’ve worked in this business (or any business), the more you understand the answers to those questions aren’t as simple as they should be. Safety at work is required to build an exemplary culture.

When people feel safer, they also feel more confident. Conversations and brainstorms will be freer and more robust. People will be more open to sharing ideas both with each other and with management. Culturally, you will feel a greater sense of collective empowerment and renewed confidence as, together, your team looks for ways to support each other, deliver for your clients, build your company, and share in your success.

VULNERABILITY

Of all the qualities that make for a great leader, vulnerability has to be the hardest. Even if you buy into why being vulnerable is important and valuable to your company’s big picture, letting down your guard, taking off your armor, and allowing yourself to be completely open with those you’re leading still flies in the face of human nature. Stripping off a layer of protection can be seen as weakness, but it can also be seen as the ultimate sign of authenticity and trust. It’s not a switch you can just flip on. Opening yourself up takes time, introspection, and a lot of conversation with people you trust. But it’s worth it.

When you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your team and when you are honest enough to say, “I don’t have all the answers,” and, “I need you to help make this thing go,” when culturally, “I don’t know,” and, “I need help,” become acceptable answers, a powerful shift will start to happen. As you lower your guard, so will others. As you increase your empathy, so will others. As you begin leading from a place of we rather than me, you will find collective buy-in like you’ve never seen. The shift from “here’s what you need to do” to “here’s what we need to do” is subtle but powerful. But when your company becomes their company, your forward progress will be exponential.

PURPOSE

Of all the elements a transcendent culture comprises, purpose may be the most galvanizing. It’s also the one we overthink the most. How many times have you and your management team gathered to discuss your company’s purpose? Your direction? Who you want to be when you grow up? We bring in consultants, we go on retreats, and we grind to figure out who it is we’re meant to be. It’s a worthy quest, but sometimes it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees. If the goal is to build a lasting, engaging, inspiring company that people want to spend their careers being a part of, what lies at the heart of that for you? What do want to be known for? What lighthouse beacon of an idea would you be proud to grow your company around?

When you invest the time and energy to figure out your purpose, you give your team something noble to align with. And for maybe the first time ever, you will all begin to row in the exact same direction. Pieces that seemed fractured will start to come together.

When you and your team are congruent to your core values, you will be better, more authentic, and effective leaders, and the people you work with at every level will notice.

BELONGING

We all have a deep-down need to belong. Not a want. A need. It goes without saying why we need the love and connection that comes with belonging in our private lives. But make no mistake, we also need it when we walk into the office. And so does every person who has committed themselves to your company. When people feel a bond and a friendship with their co-workers, they stay. They work harder. They contribute more.

Belonging isn’t about fitting in or acclimating. It’s about genuine connection. It’s about being a valued part of something bigger than yourself. When cultures foster a healthy sense of belonging and embrace inclusion and diversity, the people in them no longer focus on what makes them different, instead harnessing the power of shared vision and what they can accomplish together.

CREATIVITY

Every great culture embraces creativity or it dies. Plain and simple. Of all the elements that make for transcendent culture, creativity is the most dynamic. No matter what kind of business you lead, your success and your survival depends on generating great ideas and their ability to move you forward. The largely untapped secret is that creativity can come from anywhere in your organization.

Empowering every member of your team to contribute creatively does more than give them permission to create. It makes them feel safer, encourages them to be vulnerable, gives them purpose, and helps them feel connected to the rest of your company.

Empowering creativity supports every other element that makes for great culture. And it allows you to ask the two most important questions in business: “What if?” and “Why not?”

Make creativity your competitive advantage. Let the brand leaders outspend you all day long. As long as they aren’t outthinking you, you’re still in the game.

CONNECTION

Connection is one of the most essential elements to building a transcendent culture. Where belonging feels more emotional, connection connotes a more tangible, physical bond that can only be measured in relationships. Real connection happens when the people inside your culture feel included, trusted, and invited to be a genuine part of something bigger than themselves. Connection is personal. And it’s lasting.

When your team feels connected, the company atmosphere will be more positive. People will be more agreeable. Disagreements will be resolved more quickly. And you’ll feel a strong sense that everyone is pulling in the same direction. When people are truly connected, they don’t just fight for themselves. They fight for each other. They fight for leadership and their clients. And they fight for everything they believe your company or your brand can be.

NORTH STAR LEADERSHIP

Of the seven essential elements for building a great culture — safety, vulnerability, purpose, belonging, creativity, connection, and North Star Leadership — this last one is all you. That’s not to say you’re the only leader, even if you are the leader at the top of your organization. What it means is that only you can do what it takes to become a person worthy of leading your team, your clients, and your organization.

Exceptional leadership hinges as much on how we are, as who we are. That’s why the most effective leaders view leading their companies and brands as a journey and not a destination. North Star Leadership is about understanding the privilege and opportunity you’ve been given. It’s about building a culture that will not only attract the best talent, but keep them for years to come.

Being an exceptional leader isn’t easy. It takes extraordinary, sustained attention, focus, and effort. But when you can build a company with safety, vulnerability, purpose, belonging, creativity, connection, and leadership at its core, you will be in rarefied air where few ever fly.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO of  LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency

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