Company Culture: The Root of Your Managerial Success (or failure)

Since the conception of SonderMedia as a digital/social agency, there were a few things which were abundantly clear to me in the midst of all the excitement and uncertainty of starting a new “project” (read: launching a new company). First off, I knew that I wanted to remain eternally committed to the concept of “digital” and would never run something as silly as a print ad or billboard. Second, I knew that as the young punks new to the scene we needed to constantly push boundaries and establish a true personality behind both our own brand and the brands of our clients. Thirdly, there was zero doubt in my mind that since day one there was one thing that I needed to focus on before all else — culture.

As seen on SonderMedia’s Instagram (October 24, 2016): “Company culture matters, and we’re focusing on that from the start.”

Profits matter. Sales matter. Data and analytics — they matter. I support these ideas with all the weight of my own personal reputation as well as the company’s. But there’s one thing that can’t be reduced to a number or be analyzed, and that’s a human being. We’re in the business of making money, but before that we’re in the business of understanding human emotion and perspective. We’re in the business of relating with other human beings and understanding their motivations and perspectives. There’s a reason why people would rather work at Facebook or Google than at your law office. What do you think the whole appeal was with The Wolf of Wall Street or other similar films and the environments represented in them? But I digress — there’s an abundance of research behind this thesis, and I’ll admit there’s nothing original about it. But there’s theory, and then there’s execution, and I have zero doubt in my mind that you guys know what really matters to me. So let’s get real practical here for a second and figure out exactly what “establishing culture” means beyond being a simple tagline.

  1. Know your employees as well as you know yourself.

Look, this is very simple. I’m not telling you to study their Facebooks and to turn on notifications for every Snap, Instagram post and Tweet. You only need to know a few things in order to begin to develop a profile for an employee. First: “Tell me about where you want to ultimately find yourself.” This is where you establish what the finish line looks like for them. This may surprise you, but not everybody is concerned with making half a million a year. Figure out who and where they want to be in 5, 10, and 15 years. Second: “Are you happy with where you find yourself today?” If the answer is yes, commend them (in an honest way, not to check off “Commend Employee” from your list) and move on. If not, then you need to determine what it takes to put them in a comfortable position today so that they can be in a position to truly benefit your organization. Third: Figure out the gap between where they are, and where they want to be. This is where you determine what kind of value you can bring them, either personally or professionally. Guess what? Mike wants to go into PR, so I need to figure out how I can put him in a position to develop real world skills within our organization. It’s absolutely necessary that you’re honest with yourself about your own capabilities, so that you can understand how you can bring each individual disproportionate amounts of value. Here’s the real punch line: Although you’re paying them, you need to understand that you also work for them.

2. Bring them more value than they bring you.

This is no joke, I work for my employees more than they work for me. With every person that I’ve hired to work on a project, whether it was for two weeks or for several months, as a manager I need to put myself in every single one of their shoes. You need to remain empathetic to every single individual’s unique circumstances, because it’s that understanding that truly begins to foster trust. What that also means is designing a unique path for every one of your employees that’s designed to meet their long term wants and needs. On a macro level, when you value each individual’s long term desires more than the micro of each individual project, an interesting thing happens. It’s difficult to care about anything that you don’t see as benefitting the greater good, especially your own. The key here is this — you need to align your employees’ individual values with the company’s. I’m responsible for these people, ultimately, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to potentially make some sort of impact on their professional or even personal lives. Don’t squander that opportunity.

3. Listen, idiot.

This ties in with the original point, because it’s really just that important. Do you have any idea how frequently people confuse and interchange “leader” and “boss”? Being in a position where you manage employees, you need to understand that you’re leading 95% of the time and you’re bossing people around 5% of the time. I have extreme faith in individuals’ natural tendencies for progression. Unless you’ve chained your employees to their desks, please understand that they want to be there and there’s no need to rule over them with an iron fist as much as you’d imagine (or prefer). From day one, it’s absolutely imperative that you make it clear that they can approach you with absolutely anything. Make this clear verbally, but also show them through your actions. Ask questions. Be genuine. Be interested in them. Be a little curious! They are, after all, co-workers in the sense that you spend a great deal of time together within a collaborative environment. The best communicators listen just as much as they speak, and when you’re running a human-based and human-driven business, this is the root of all success.


Thanks for checking us out guys, I really appreciate it. If you’d like to learn more about SonderMedia, feel free to check out our site! If you have any questions or comments or concerns at all (or if you’d just like to say hey) please feel free to leave us a response down below!

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