The Secret to a High-Performing Culture

By Swim Creative Staff

In recent years, the business publishing world has been awash in books on the power of culture. Culture, the thinking goes, is the single best indicator of corporate health, employee engagement and overall performance.

Put another way, if your people want to be there, chances are they’re gonna work harder.

Nowhere is the care and feeding of culture more important and more apparent than in an advertising agency. In our world, culture is really the only thing we have. In most businesses, if you take away the machines, the production stops. But if your business is producing creative solutions to business problems, really, all you need is to connect your brain with other brains.

Usually, we achieve this mild meld with a little something we like to call “talking.”

“Writing stuff down” is another super important part of creative ideation. As the writer Dale Dauten said, “It’s called a pen. It’s like a printer, hooked straight into my brain.”

Everything else—the computers, the phones, the tablets, the platforms, the technology, the you name it—is just a way to bring the ideas to life.

So, if your product is ideas and your production is human brains, culture is pretty much the whole shootin’ match.

Which is why chemistry is so important.

Chemistry is that hard-to-define, I-know-it-when-I-feel-it glue that creates and defines culture. It’s the space between employer and employee, between co-workers, between clients and agency. It’s the bond between our molecules, holding the system in place. And if you’re not careful, if you’re not diligent, if you expect chemistry to just take care of itself, well…

Your culture can get pretty screwy, pretty quickly.

At Swim, we don’t always get it right. Sometimes, in the crush of deadlines, or under the pressure of ideation, we take our focus off of deliberately protecting our culture. And we can feel the effects almost immediately. But mostly, we are our culture’s fiercest advocates. We can point to a coffee table and say, “That’s a Swim coffee table,” because we know who we are. Our people know it. Our clients know it.

Like we say all the time in our industry, “If you can cover the logo in the ad and it could be an ad for your competitor, it’s a crappy ad.” The same is true for agencies.

If you take the name off the door, culture should let you know that you’re in the right place.

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