Earlier this year when I started iMod Digital officially, I was faced with a huge number of decisions, but a handful of the decisions were more important than the others as they didn’t simply have quick answers, but were rather part of a learning curve that would exist more than likely for a number of years. These sorts of decisions I feel should be dealt with as soon as possible, as the sooner you start, the sooner the benefits/rewards will be seen. I am also a believer in not letting difficult tasks turn into procrastination.
One such task was that of company culture. Now, I’ve got 6 or 7 years of experience running teams and operations for digital agencies and such, I’ve also got a lot of experience with out sourcing and the likes, so I felt that that experience combined with, “just be a cool boss”, would make it incredibly easy. Surely? Unfortunately not. I’m not saying I’ve done something wrong, I’m merely saying that it’s a lot harder than one would think, and when you’re actually in the thick of it, it’s very difficult to create a balance between being too friendly (and getting taken advantage of) and not being friendly enough (and being disliked).
I’ve done a few things that appear to be working – I really hope they are, I’m yet to have a team member complain:
Anyone who says they aren’t in business to make money isn’t being entirely truthful, not unless they come from money or have a lot of money invested or something to that nature. We all work to make money, to live. That being said, running a business from a financial point of view is difficult, well, it has been for me: You land a new client, they pay you R50,000 for an assortment of services and you immediately think that you’re able to buy new gadgets, spoil members of the team and so forth, but once you break down that money into salaries, running costs, taxes and so forth, you realise there isn’t that much left over. What I do, in general, is try to calculate the profit when landing a new client and then look at how long that profit would effectively span over X number of months and see how much I could immediately pull from the profit to reward staff members. It may not be a big rewards, but a reward is something that makes someone feel great. I’ve worked in a few companies where I received a little thing here or there, and I can tell you, as small as the rewards were, the amount of dedication, commitment and effort I put in following, resulted in a huge return to the company. I’ve been working hard to reward the members of the team, just the other day I sent all members (excluding myself) a voucher to an online gadget store, allowing them to get something techy for themselves. Of course, I’d love to do this every month, but I feel that creating an expectation is a really bad move, for obvious reasons. I also carefully calculate everything against being able to give all members of staff a 20-30% increase at the end of the year. Now, before you jump about this, the company is still in its first year, all members have pulled out all stops to make it a big one and it’s only a small team, so although a 20-30% increase will hit the bank account and running costs hard, I feel that all parties involved deserve this and going back to my original point – business is about making money, but I’d rather break even or make less profit than not be able to have my team mates smiling and feeling passionate and inspired.
Here’s the wonderful response I received the other day:
Goodness me, strangely enough, this is one of the hardest tasks that I face. I’m incredibly busy during the day and I always put my clients before anyone else, which I realise now shouldn’t be the case – what I mean by this is that I should never put clients before the team, because it’s the team that does the incredible work and keeps the clients smiling and happy. There’s a balance naturally, but I’ve found myself slipping and pushing my available time into client work and not being as available as I could be. I told myself that during the month of October I would make myself more available to discuss topics, hear opinions and get views on certain operational aspects of the company. The team is highly intelligent, their views on business, finance, marketing and the likes are often better than mine and I’ve recognised that this information could be priceless to the company and in the long term, we’d all benefit from a crowd sourced approach to running iMod Digital.
I’ve worked in several companies and the one’s I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones that create an environment that accepts pranksters and laughing sessions. A team that laughs is a team that will succeed – I truly believe that and I’ve seen it happen right before my eyes on more than one occasion – I’ve also seen the opposite and failure follow shortly behind it. The balance between fun and hard work is so crucial, it keeps people feeling creative, passionate and inspired, but it also builds the team in knowing each other, which leads to trust amongst the team, which is something you cannot buy regardless of how much money is available. I’m often in and out of the office visiting clients, workshops and conferences, and the team often like to tease me about playing Dota whilst I’m gone. On Thursday I went to a long meeting, 5 hours if I remember correctly and I sent an email through to the team saying I was on my way home but stuck in awful traffic, I received an email back saying, “Don’t worry, we’ve been playing Dota all afternoon, we’ll wait” – I had a good laugh to myself and enjoyed my drive back to the office knowing that my colleagues have the guts to say such things – I must have done something right? This email was sent to the gents in the team earlier today:
The Digital Marketing space is a space filled with a great deal of creative people. I see programmers, designers, marketers and the likes as creative people. Programmers are logical thinkers, but they need to be creative in the way they assemble code to achieve the end result. Designers and marketers have to be creative, no explanation required there. As the months go by, I realise that operational staff and management need to be creative as well, I don’t believe you can create good company culture without being creative? Creative people (and honestly, people in general) aren’t built to work flat out from 8am to 5pm with an hours break in the middle and perhaps a tea break – I’m yet to come across someone (who doesn’t run their own company), who’s stoked to be working a flat out day at the office, it’s just not practical and it’s not human nature. When I worked as the marketing manager at a leading mobile VOIP company, my hours were quite flexible, I came and went as I pleased and I honestly produced results that were nothing short of excellent. If I was working fixed hours I don’t believe I would have achieve the same results. I should just mention that I still worked the same number of hours, I just didn’t do them in sets of 9 every single day. On the flip side, I’ve worked in 8 to 5 and 9 to 6 positions and I’ve achieved good results, but I haven’t felt as passionate or as inspired. At iMod Digital we work fairly fixed hours, the idea is to work from 09h30 through to 18h00, or something like that, but I’ve been very open about everyone being able to work somewhat flexible hours – sometimes I work from 7 through to 1, then take the afternoon off and pick work up again between 8 and midnight in the evening – the hours add up equally, deadlines are delivered and so forth, but the happiness factor and the level and quality of production is higher because I’m working when I feel inspired, and the other team members feel the same way. An important thing here to note is that everyone is aware of when things are due and everyone has a communications line that is always available – So, when I’m afk between 1 and 7, all members know a channel of communication that will get a response from me.
It’s been an incredible journey for the first 6 months of living my dream as a company owner, but it’s been a learning curve that is so up and to the right that I wished I could apply it to some of my client’s Analytics accounts ;) Company Culture I believe is something that has to grow over the years and there isn’t a way of simply nailing it down, but I think I’m going in the right direction, the difficulty will come when the team grows, Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz actually did a White Board Friday on this very topic the other day if you’re interested:
I wouldn’t give up what I do for anything and I’m truly blessed to have the team that I do!