It is the elephant in the room that nobody knows is there until it moves in the wrong direction. A healthy corporate culture can be one of the most, if not the most, valuable assets to a Creative Executive. The quantifiable outcomes of a healthy corporate culture can be tied to increased productivity, higher employee retention, accelerated learning, and more consistent innovation. If the culture is healthy and has been that way for a long period of time, you may never even realize how much you're benefiting from it. However, when the cultural health of a creative organization goes south, you'll quickly begin realizing its negative impact. Playing an active role in maintaining and building culture is an important aspect of being a leader.

A lot has been written and spoken about regarding the unique cultural characteristics of the creative services department, as compared to other "less subjective" and "more performance driven" functions. There are indeed unique characteristics to our field that require Creative Executives to take equally unique approaches to managing corporate culture. Our field has different personality types, subjective measures of achievement, and non-traditional career paths, among other characteristics. All are very important to focus on when managing creative culture, but it's also important to recognize that our teams aren't completely different from other organizations within our companies.

In working for a consulting company, I understand the value our expertise and outsider's perspective brings to our clients. Which is why I chose to speak to someone outside of the creative industry to learn more about commonalities across corporate cultures. David Olson is President of Walton Consulting, Inc., a CEO Coaching firm focused on optimizing leadership performance and improving corporate culture. He has worked with a very broad list of industries and functional areas, so I was curious to hear his answers to a few questions.

Brendon Derr: The creative industry has always had a rather significant career path problem. People in our industry tend to reach the highest rung of the corporate ladder much more quickly than other fields. When the opportunity for advancement doesn't exist for team members, what suggestions might you make to the executive who manages them?


David Olson: The key word is not "advancement" but "contribution." Most companies from every industry under the sun have this problem. Intrinsically, employees want advancement so they can feel like they are growing and contributing. In an organization that is flat in the area of advancement, you need to engage the employees in other forms of growth, measure the contributions, and encourage them and reward them when their contributions grow.



BD: We work with a lot of internal creative departments who feel isolated from the rest of the company. The creative department goes by a different set of marching orders than say, an accounting department, leaving the creatives to feel very misunderstood in many cases. How might you start off tackling this kind of a culture issue?



DO: This is a leadership discussion. It is the leader's job to show how each department plays a role toward helping the organization succeed, hit its goals, win the game, reach its vision, fulfill its mission, etc. It's also important, when relevant, to show each department how they serve one another so they feel like they're on the same team. Bottom line, leadership in any corporate function needs to define company and departmental objectives and then become evangelists in the effort to communicate it on a regular and consistent basis.



BD: As a corporate culture expert, how do you, or your clients go about identifying whether or not there is room for improvement in the area of culture?



DO: There is ALWAYS room for improvement in this area. It is very important to encourage regular input from your employees about culture, in an environment where they'll feel safe to share their thoughts. If you're just starting off with a culture improvement initiative like this, you'll want to communicate with your employees yearly to track culture changes. As this data is collected, you can then align those culture changes with other financial and operational metrics to see the correlation. One of the ways to gather the data is to utilize a third party survey tool. As an example, Walton employs a high-value measuring solution called the Culture Compass(tm) when kicking off a culture study with our clients.



BD: I'm sure that you've read more than almost anyone on the subject of corporate culture. Of all the information that is available to us about building a healthy corporate culture, what are your favorite resources that creative executives can purchase to learn more about this practice area?



DO: All of Bob Nelson's work, particularly "1001 Ways to Reward Employees" and Hal Rosenbluth's "The Customer Comes 2nd."


If you suspect your team may have a culture challenge, embrace the challenge. Seek the support of your team to address the challenge and move forward in creating a more mutually beneficial culture. Often your high-potential and high-performing employees are as invested in creating and fostering a positive creative culture as your leaders are, and generally they have a better ability to impact it more quickly. Creating a standing task force to support team bonding and engagement relieves the burden from you and your leadership and puts morale building in the hands of team members who are deeply invested in creating a positive work culture. Consider allotting the task force a budget to spend across the year on large and small activities, such as pizza lunches, happy hours, Wii bowling tournaments, a pumpkin painting contest at Halloween, and other activities that promote bonding through social or creative outlets. In addition, promote cross-department events to facilitate a stronger tie to the corporate mission and the teams across your organization.

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