Business Columns & Blogs

Nancy Napier: Why do employees join a firm? It could be culture

What would happen in your organization if you asked your employees to talk about culture? One leader did and here's what he heard.

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Drake Cooper consistently wins advertising awards throughout the Pacific Northwest, and has been a multiyear winner of Outside Magazine’s “best places to work” designation. In spite of the professional successes, though, many employees say the firm’s values and culture were the major reasons they joined—not the golden reputation.

After a recent short meeting about values and culture at the agency, CEO Jamie Cooper sent an email asking employees what culture meant for them. Over the next week, many employees wrote in. It was clear they wanted to talk about culture. Brand manager Malia Cramer, listed many ways Drake Cooper’s culture shows up, including ways that might seem funky to outsiders:

"Friday 9:00 a.m. smoothies or mimosas, BrADDYs [internal awards], FB posts and groups, cyclepubs, raft trips, Outside magazine [award], Christmas parties, writable surfaces, soup potluck throwdowns, wine-days, friendly MiM competition [i.e. May in Motion: a competition of who travels the most miles by bike or alternative transportation], standing and sitting desks, bike corrals, and more ..."

Cramer also noted employees’ trust and respect for each other—and their legitimate enjoyment of the people around them:

"People here like people. We purposely didn't choose to be in a dark room alone. We are a ‘please and thank you’ culture and a ‘smile and say hello’ culture. We are friendly and kind by nature, albeit sarcastically sardonic for good measure. We're a family, especially in the sense that we can talk about our problems and how we're going to fix them, but no one else is allowed to say it or we'll beat you up."

But it took a relative newcomer to the firm, Matt Shifley, a few days to build up the courage to share his thoughts. He says he still has “that new-guy-at-the-office smell on me.” So he was fascinated by the email stream and jumped in to explain why he joined Drake Cooper. Shifley had been a stay-at-home dad for nearly five years, working from his home office in sweatpants. He was skeptical about giving up that sort of freedom when he heard about the Search Marketing Coordinator position. But during the interview process and after spending time at the firm, he “felt a good vibe.” As he says, “I decided to take a leap of faith and gave it a shot.” He hasn’t looked back.

In the emails that flew around the company for a week, a clear sense of warmth and wit comes through. It’s obvious the Drake Cooper employees are sharing experiences that make them happy, but also makes them productive. They’ve bonded, have their own inside jokes, and call themselves a “tribe.”

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Now ask yourself: What would you discover if you asked employees what they think about your organization's culture?

Excepted from LIVEculture: How creative leaders grow the cultures they want, coming out in May 2015.