Agencies and marketing departments alike often want to be at the forefront of trends due to the nature of their need to stay ahead of creative and tech curves, and stay in tune with their audiences. Therefore to keep marketers engaged and retained, it’s important to cultivate a team culture for your agency or your marketing department that appeals deeper to their values, and stays ahead of the curve of the rest of the organization, if not other competitors as well.
A Post-Pandemic Culture Shift
Focusing on culture has been an employee engagement strategy for more than a decade now, and a deciding factor for candidates as well as critical for employee retention. We’ve watched the trends evolve from the basics like injecting more fun into the workplace, creating open workspaces, adding fringe benefits, and more. Now with the physical office spaces being less of a tool in employer’s toolboxes due to the pandemic and a large shift to remote work, mixed with employees struggling with different environmental stressors means how organizations approach cultivating a modern culture needs to shift as well. It’s no longer about the material things offered to team members nor can focusing on a comprehensive total compensation package be the only prong of a company’s employee satisfaction approach. The way people interact with one another and brands has changed, which has led to an evolution in storytelling, social engagement, and generational and cultural influence on consumerism and thus marketers are the most in tune with these changes.
A Values-Based Approach to a Team Culture
Most strong company cultures start with vision, values, and mission. The best cultures lead with, engrain, and exhibit their core values in their everyday lives. However, to attract and retain top marketing talent in this modern, post-pandemic market, it’s important to appeal to specific values-sets and issues that marketers are concerned with. When working with your teams to strengthen the culture of your team dynamics in 2022, try to intentionally and specifically address the following concerns of your people by instilling a concentration on these values:
Marketers are wired to research and pay mind to modern consumerism and messages. It’s how they study, implement new ideas, stay creative, and know what strategies to avoid. They’re consciously and subconsciously, just as is the consumer, exposed to many cutting edge ideas of what other companies are doing to appeal to their audience, and want to do better. They’re inversely exposed to shady advertising, noise saturation, unethical marketing practices, and consumer horror stories. The modern marketer, especially as new generations enter the workforce, care about the impact their work and their company has on the environment, the consumer, the community, and the world alike.
To ensure you’re drawing a purpose to your team’s work, and doing better as an organization, it is important to put your 2022 marketing plan through an integrity filter. Is there a plan for your brand to be more socially responsible? PWC’s 2021 ESG Consumer Intelligence report cites that 86% of employees prefer to work for companies that care about the same issues they do. Ask your team to contribute their ideas and create a grassroots approach to a social impact strategy, something that they’re proud of, that ties to the brand story. At an agency, give your team the autonomy to pitch recommendations to your clients on how to tie their ESG (environmental, social and governance) efforts into their messaging.
Also, your team doesn’t want to be responsible for gray area tactics and deliverables. It’s important as a marketing, revenue, or agency leader that you stay apprised of privacy laws, digital privacy best practices, and more. For example, if you were a marketing leader in the UK a few years back still purchasing and blasting to large email lists without keeping up with GDPR and other data regulations, and proceeding to ask your marketing all-stars to continue to practice email marketing in the same manner, unbeknownst to you you’d be putting that team member in an unethical situation. Talk to your team about a plan to review privacy policies, encourage them to keep up with GDPR standards, and always trust their push back if they feel like your cookie tracking or remarketing strategies (for example) are pushing the boundaries.
The more your team is able to evolve ethical digital marketing practices and lead with social impact of the brand(s) they serve, the more connected they’ll become to the culture of the organization, and the brand itself.
Autonomy & Trust
Marketers also value autonomy and trust - the ability to showcase the experts they are. They desire the space and time to ideate and collaborate in order to elevate creativity, and pitch ideas they’re proud of. To build a culture of autonomy, offer timeblocks of focus and prevent interruptions so they can get into a state of flow. Another idea is to encourage ‘digital war room’ meetings that provide space for creativity and don’t inhibit thinking with the pressure of time limits or strict meeting structure. Offering this time and space exhibits trust, and overtime will encourage the autonomy to deliver as they see fit, improving their work product.
If you’re an agency struggling with building bilateral team trust, consider some of the practices you have in place. For example, we understand how important tracking time and profitability by project or account is in an agency setting, but consider how this feels to your team members. Do they have clear expectations on time tracking? Do they understand the ‘why’ behind the practice? Beyond educating them on the practice, are they involved in how to better the system in order to dispel the common misperception that they’re “under the looking glass” at all times? Can you create a committee that helps to improve the data collected and brings ideas on how to reduce team member stress around the idea of tracking enough time, producing enough incredible ideas and deliverables, all while being profitable?
Also consider what other team practices or deliverables that can be improved with team member feedback? What practices no longer serve the team? The New Year is a great time to reset.
Marketers are very hard on themselves, and they pride their work on results. In order for them to be able to keep up with this standard, and continue to drive results, they need to be armed with the arenas to continuously improve. Consider creating intentional forums for your marketing team to bring new ideas, and for them to have the ability to work on the business instead of just for the business. In an agency setting, encourage core teams to cross-collaborate to provide new perspectives, and feel valuable on fresh accounts, while getting them the same feedback for theirs.
Also ensure your organization is investing the time and resources on the tech and tools that allow them to learn, grow, and elevate their skill set beyond standard learning and development. For instance, your HubSpot experts will be able to try out their complex ideas in the new Hub Sandboxes, provided they have the tech and the encouragement to push past boundaries, and put their ideas to the test. The more they're able to put ideas into action, the more they can offer better solutions, and increased quality of work.
What are some other ways you can encourage continuous improvement and growth for your marketing rockstars? Are you talking to them about their career paths? Are you encouraging them to take a Masterclass or investing in them to go to a conference? Ask your team members 1:1 for more ideas.
Be Team Member Centric
Putting team members first is no new concept, but for a post-pandemic culture, this approach should look a lot different. Burnout is caused by such different stressors now such as isolation, a lack of environmental boundaries between work and personal life, tech fatigue, and more. It’s important that in order to strengthen a team, 1:1 conversations and group conversations become team-member centric to show that you care and want to help prevent their burnout or them slipping into a bad headspace.
Ensure you’re creating a safe place to check in on their mental health, help to calibrate excessive expectations they may be placing on themselves, and provide permission and advice for team members to set their own boundaries to prevent burnout. Ensure you’re talking to your team about the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) by helping them keep a pulse on the four components of EI: checking in with themselves, checking in on their relationships with the team, evaluating their social awareness, and how they are self managing. This will create dialogue on how you and your team can assist each team member, as well as build a sense of security that it’s safe in the workplace to tap into emotions to express oneself in order to maintain a good headspace.
- We found an incredible guide for managers to improve emotional intelligence in the workplace, and it provides actionable steps to offer your team members to get started, so be sure to check it out.
It is also super important to ensure your team members know about the mental health benefits they have at their disposal. If you offer counseling coverage, an employee assistance program, wellness reimbursements, digital counseling reimbursement, or any mix of these benefits, reminding your teams regularly how to access these benefits is often the reminder they need to check in with themselves. As more and more of the workforce learns to deal with complex societal and global health concerns, while adjusting to reduced human interaction, helping team members stay mentally fit is nothing to shy away from as a modern employer. In fact, Paychex’s 2021 Mental Health in the Workplace Report stated that 60% of those surveyed stated that mental health benefits would factor into their job search, so stay on top of that competitive advantage so you don’t lose your top talent!
Don’t Get Caught up in Contrived Culture Practices
Before trying to scratch your head to come up with crazy ways to amp up digital interactions with your team this year or plan to invest in wildly expensive team building events, consider working on strengthening your core team’s culture. As we’ve learned in the last decade or so, the fun and the team building can oftentimes backfire (even in the best of cultures, with the best of intentions) as “contrived culture” if team members don’t feel heard, and taken care of on a basic human level. And if you haven’t established core values in your organization or want to develop core values for a team or department, the Harvard Business Review put out a simple resource to frame the exercise if you need a jumping off point.
So in 2022, let’s take it back to basics, and educate ourselves as marketing leaders, and/or agency leaders on what it is marketers and our team members as people care about. Ask them, get together, plan together, and work to build a marketing team and growth plan that is values-centric to our modern, post-pandemic work culture.