Don't Risk Destroying Your Culture: Know and Live Your Values in These 3 Areas

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Heather Whaling
Heather Whaling



It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutia of tasks, meetings, and emails when you’re running an agency. But what happens when you get so busy sweating the small stuff that you lose sight of the bigger picture? Suddenly, the agency you’re running is far from what you wanted it to be -- and that’s not good for anyone involved.

Why do people want to work for you? Why do clients want to work with you? What are those beliefs and nuances that make you, you? If you want to ensure your agency grows in the right direction, you have to crystallize those values first. Then, use them to guide how you make decisions and approach your business.

Living your values is about more than writing them out and publishing them on an internal wiki. They should influence every decision and infiltrate your work. Consider these three areas and how your values can affect the way you work with clients, hire, and provide benefits:

Business Development

The new business process is just as much an opportunity for your agency to interview prospects as it is for them to get to know you, so use this time to gauge if a client’s values align with yours -- not just whether you’re capable of doing the work they’re asking you to do. For example, one my agency’s "house rules" (our version of a values statement) that we often reference while evaluating new business opportunities is “No jerks allowed.” So, if we notice a potential client has too many jerk-like tendencies, we can safely assume that person probably isn’t someone we want to work with. 

Another thing to consider is what type of relationship you’re looking for with clients. If you value building long-term partnerships but a prospect is simply looking for someone to sporadically complete one-off projects, you’re likely not a good fit for each other.

Team Building

Since all of our team members are big believers in giving back, another rule we’ve established is “Do well by doing good.” So, every once in a while, we step away from our to-do lists and spend a few hours volunteering for a local non-profit. Not only are we able to do some good in the community, but spending time together outside of the office also helps strengthen relationships between our team.

How do your employees like to spend their free time? Do they value giving back and getting involved in the community? Or, do they prefer to attend cultural events such as the opera, museum exhibits, or the theater? Find out what types of activities interest your employees individually, and then work them in to your company-wide culture. (For example: SHIFT Communications gifts each employee $250 per year for cultural events.)

Hiring and Firing

When I faced a difficult HR situation earlier this year, I pulled up our trusted house rules to see which ones the person involved was following. When it was less than a handful, the decision became crystal clear: This person didn’t buy into our values and therefore wasn’t a good fit for our team. 

In my opinion, hiring for values and culture is equally important, if not more so, than hiring for skill. After all, you can show someone how to research a trend or pitch a story, but you can’t teach someone how to act like a team player or value quick thinking, especially if they don’t really see the importance of doing so.

Having a defined set of values in place to guide you will ensure that your company culture remains consistent whether your team is two, 20, or 200 people. That way, you can always take comfort in knowing that everything you do will keep you on course toward building the agency you’ve always wanted.

Topics: Company Culture

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