How much does culture matter?
Does an investment in people ever yield a meaningful ROI?
Culture may contribute more to your bottom line than you can imagine.
Building a work culture where employees actively feel valued and understand how their individual contribution benefits the company is vital to engagement, and, ultimately profitability.
Our guest this week on the What Culture Could Be podcast was Jon Cook, CEO of VML. Jon, like most of the senior leadership at VML, has been with the company for more than 22 years; a feat he attributes directly to the company’s inclusive and empathetic culture.
Here are the highlights from our chat with Jon as he gave us the rundown on what kind of culture a business has to have for long-standing retention and growth during market uncertainty.
The Strength of Diversity
For the last 23 years, VML has held a company meeting at 9am on a Tuesday morning in their head office in Kansas City.
It’s been a continued tradition that brings employees together and is a cultural mainstay of that location, so Jon and his team were puzzled when they found that their global VML offices weren’t getting the same work-culture response from those meetings as they had in Kansas City.
In fact, many of the practices and traditions that worked in the United State’s midwest weren’t translating the same way in offices located in places like NYC or Tokyo.
What they quickly had to learn was that, in order to foster culture, they had draw from the underlying DNA of VML’s culture, particularly from their core values such as togetherness and sharing. Each location had to find their own expression of those values, rather than try to mimic culture by replicating what worked for one specific location.
Says Jon, “It’s one of our strengths, having so many offices in the US. We have to let the advantages that come with so many locations outweigh the work it takes to keep up a unified culture.”
There is a balance that has to be achieved of individual office culture and a central, company culture and it happens through time and, often, trial and error. The common thread, though, needs to be shared core values, expressed in the most appropriate way for each unique location.
A Culture Based on Empathy and Inclusiveness
VML was hit hard during the economic downturn, as were so many others in the industry.
Logically speaking, one of the easiest and most tangible ways to cut back on spending is to put the reins on travel expenses, but, in those years, VML actually doubled their travel budget.
Never has anyone said ‘It was a mistake to get together and talk in person.’
— Jon Cook, CEO, VML
In a difficult and unsettling time, VML placed a priority on bringing their people together even more, fulfilling one of their core values. At that time, it was a big decision that came with a lot of risks, but ended up paying off and VML grew during a period when their industry did not.
There’s always pressure to reduce spending, and to cancel things like celebrations and parties, but those events are important. It’s important to put a premium put on values like empathy and inclusiveness.
“I’m proud of fighting for those things — they contribute to not only a great culture, but a great business.”
A Forum For Impact
At VML, there is a company culture and an expectation that it’s not only your job to bring your whole self to work, it’s also your job to help those around bring their whole selves, too.
VML wants to know what their people enjoy doing when they’re not at work, for no reason other than, if you’re doing something outside of work that makes you truly happy, usually, you love it and are good at it — and that is something that VML can capitalize on.
For example, they discovered one of their employees was a stand-up comic on the side and saw his potential to bring value to one of their major clients through that talent and moved him to their social media team, which scored a huge win for their client.
It’s a core value that asks, “What are you good at? What are you passionate about? How do we leverage you that so you’re more engaged and you benefit as well?”
VML wants to bring in those things that people love in their personal lives and put it to use at work.
As Jon says, if they can’t create an environment for their employees to bring their whole selves to work, then there’s nothing that sets them apart from anyone else in the industry.
They have created, and continue to create, a forum where their people know, believe, and see the proof that they, as individuals, have the ability to impact their company. It’s a forum that feeds into a culture of inclusiveness and empowerment.
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