Creating a culture of accomplishment
Say the words ‘company culture’ and you’re likely to get a mixed bag of strong emotions paired with a few choice words that would raise the eyebrows of any HR manager. We all know culture is important, but most leaders are scared to death of it, like a mythical creature that’s beautiful and terrifying at the same moment. If you upset it, you risk losing your top performers or causing an internal collapse of morale that could take months to pull out of, but if you can capture it, you have the power to create an amazing company that drives innovation, improvements, and, ultimately, commerce.
For a creative agency such as ours, culture is paramount. A little over a year ago, we began the process of redefining Gravitate to more accurately reflect our values and goals, and thus the chase for culture began.
In the late ’90s I was just starting to get my career off the ground. I focused on helping nonprofits to become sustainable through smart marketing. I was in my early twenties and full of ideas with all the confidence that comes from having never done anything myself. I would enter into board rooms and partner with executive teams as a consultant for companies that were in tough positions or were facing new opportunities. I would deliver pitches with (if you ask me) slick presentations and exciting speeches. Executives and staff alike would get pumped and everyone would begin to believe they could accomplish anything. I was empowered and I was empowering!
Then I watched as idea after idea failed.
Within months, as deferred hope and exhaustion set in, morale at these companies began to drop lower than it was when I started. By this point, however, I had already finished my contract and moved on to other companies, yielding the same results and essentially leaving a path of burned dreams in my wake.
Once the truth caught up with me, I took a hard look at what I was preaching. In the end I realized that no matter how great the idea, if the company culture or infrastructure couldn’t support it, it would fail.
Ideas are like babies—conception is the easy part! Giving birth to them, pushing them into existence, is the hard part.
Therefore, I shifted my focus. Rather than coming in as the on-fire idea guy, I began to downplay the importance of ideas and instead pushed the importance of follow-through, communication, and discipline. Career-minded people naturally care about their jobs and they also know better than anyone how to improve the company. Thus, if I could successfully develop an infrastructure that makes the realization of ideas possible, the company would naturally thrive off the motivation of its own staff. Over time, as I learned what worked and what didn’t work, I became more effective and finally began to see real business results, rather than hype.
(For some inspirational and radical management, check out the Valve employee handbook; but beware, you may have your mind blown!)
Over the last year here at Gravitate, we have pushed hard at all levels to create a culture where ideas naturally occur and where the staff has all the tools necessary to carry those ideas through to completion. The exciting part is that we are in the business of making ideas come to pass. The better we are at this skill, the more our clients benefit.
We’ve had our share of bumps in the road, but overall we’ve grown tremendously as a result. We crafted the following manifesto to help continually enforce our values. We adhere to this philosophy and use these principles daily to shore each other up, constantly reinforcing a culture of doing. So far, it’s been an epic ride, but now I can say we all believe the sky is the limit!
The Manifesto of Doing
Dreams and ideas are a dime a dozen. Talent, intelligence, and foresight are common and easy to find in any crowd. In scientific terms they are masses of potential energy like rocks on a hill, growing moss over the years as they rest in place. Potential energy is common and virtually worthless. Kinetic energy, energy in motion—this is what makes a difference.
Ideas without action are meaningless, perhaps even wasteful.
In this age of innovation and technology, ideas abound. In past eras such as the Renaissance or the Industrial age people believed anything was possible, how much more so now that we have virtually limitless knowledge at our fingertips. It’s an exciting time; it may just be the golden age of human knowledge.
Yet despite all this potential energy surrounding us, there exists a significant lack of action and drive to actually accomplish something. Perhaps it’s the level of convenience that surrounds us or perhaps it’s just human nature; whatever the reason, a person with the will to take action is immensely more effective, her work enormously more meaningful than a dozen people with nothing but ideas.
As professionals working in the economy of ideas, we must recognize that one person filled with kinetic energy, one “doer”, can accomplish more than one hundred people with potential.
What does it mean to be a doer, to be a person of action, filled with kinetic energy? A doer follows these principles:
- An idea is nothing without action.
- I will personally ensure an idea is carried out.
- I will fill any role necessary to see an idea through to completion.
- I am more concerned with seeing the idea through, rather than with who came up with it in the first place.
- I will overcome all obstacles and excuses until the idea is realized.
- I am not satisfied with the realization of a single idea.
- The birth of an idea is infinitely more important than its conception.
- The success of an idea is more motivating than the praise or disdain of my peers.
- An idea that yields no results is nothing more than an exercise for the next idea.
- I would rather make a difference, than come up with ideas that COULD make a difference.
When a person with ideas follows these principles they can make a real impact in the world around them. When a company is filled with doers like that, they make an impact on everything they touch. They don’t just stand out in the crowd, they draw the crowd, they move the crowd, and they enact real change.
Therefore, fill yourself with kinetic energy. Grab an idea and run with it. Fight for it, work for it, make the idea happen, and then watch as your imprint on the world grows.