Category Archives: Employee engagement

Purposeful play

In one month at my agency, SicolaMartin, we had… a talent show (the rappers won), an ugly tie contest in honor of Father’s Day, held a rooftop happy hour with a V8 Supercar driver (long story), toasted random Tuesday morning mimosas, hand delivered ice cream to employees (it was hot!), hosted a reunion so current and former Martians could swap stories, had an “Avengers” showing and enjoyed a watermelon keg while watching a co-worker kick off her new show for the Food Network’s YouTube channel, HUNGRY. And this is not a-typical. We like to have fun. And we do this on the clock. We’re not goofing off. We’re working.


Research out of California State University shows that “people who have fun at work are more creative, more productive, work better with others and call in sick less often.” And yet a William M. Mercer survey shows that “only 29 percent of employers nationwide encourage humor as part of their company culture, and only eight percent have a policy of using fun to reduce employee stress.”

That makes no sense to me. Fun is one of our core values; right alongside respect, honesty, passion and accountability.

We work incredibly hard. We are incredibly strategic and partner with our clients to produce award-winning work. But to keep producing exceptional work we must foster creativity. Which is why our art directors have a couple punching bags and an Xbox set up. It’s why we have Martians painted on the walls and an intranet named Uranus. When you are free to be open – to be silly – and not be judged, trust is established. And trust makes way for greater creative risks.

Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, gave a great TED Talk on “Creativity and Play”. One thing he talks about is how companies known for their innovation have a symbol of fun. Google has dinosaur statues on the lawn and Pixar employees have elaborate workstations. IDEO created a foam finger rocket.

At SicolaMartin we give everyone a collectable KidRobot Dunny. What this does is set the stage for every new Martian.

“Welcome to SicolaMartin. Here’s your toy.”


It gives permission to anyone joining the agency – from copywriters to accountants – that we’re here to enjoy what we do, enjoy each other and as a result create great work. Because at the end of the day, it’s still about the work. All the playfulness does is allow you to get to more creative solutions. Which is exactly what we’re hired to do.

Originally published July 2, 2012, on

Creating Culture Enthusiasts: Part 3

In the past two posts, we’ve identified our culture and discussed three opportunities to help create company enthusiasts. Today, we’re going to talk about why it’s important to your bottom line.

Over the past few decades, both academics and practitioners have spent time focusing on the issue of corporate culture and whether a company’s culture does, in fact, impact its overall performance and effectiveness. In 1983, a study of organizational change called The Change Masters, Innovation for Productivity in the American Corporation demonstrated how companies with progressive HR management practices outperformed those with less progressive practices. In 1984, using survey-based measures, another study by the name ofCorporate Culture and Organizational Effectiveness showed that apparent involvement and participation on the part of a company’s employees predicted current and future financialperformance. And then in 2005, a book entitled The Future of Human Resource Managementnoted, based on research, that culture not only drives behavior and unites employees but that 46% of a business’ financial performance results from corporate culture. That’s impressive. Your leadership will think so, too. Show them this isn’t just feel-good stuff. More and more companies are starting to believe it. And why wouldn’t they? Look at this graph from a 2009 Towers Perrin study. It shows clearly that companies that scored high in employee engagement had greater financial success.


In 2011, research out of the UK reported 96% of employers interviewed would hire someone who did not have a complete set of skills but displayed the right attitude over an applicant with the perfect skills but who lacked the right mindset. That’s a corporate attitude I can get behind.

Ron Finklestein is an author and business coach and I recently came across this quote of his that I think sums up this post nicely.

“When you take the time to define and create your corporate culture, you are telling others what kinds of people will flourish in your company; it tells the market the companies you want to do business with, and it defines the behaviors that will be accepted in your organization.”

I’ll go one step further and say it creates enthusiasts, from both within your company and in the marketplace.

And that, my friends, is win-win.

Originally published February 9, 2012, on

Creating Culture Enthusiasts: Part 2

In the previous post we talked about utilizing your culture to ignite enthusiasm in your employees. Let’s get into three key opportunities I see as critical to accomplishing this goal through recruitment, onboarding and continued career development.

First, I’m a big fan of just putting it out there. Be authentic. Through all of your recruitment efforts speak about not only the skill requirements, but also the qualities needed for success at your organization. Be honest about expectations from the beginning. Tell your company story. More importantly, have other employees—other company enthusiasts—tell the story for you. Give candidates the opportunity to interview you. Let them talk with others on their potential team or department. Make this part of your recruitment process. Our economy has not yet fully recovered, but it is recovering—and talent placement and retention is going to become more competitive. As such, you need to take every advantage. Genuinely being able to set your organization apart based on your culture is a huge plus. Beyond just getting the hire, you’re setting this employee up for greater success in the long-run because you’ve kept the organization in its entirety in mind. Again, you’re hiring in addition to a specific skill set. You’re also looking to make a culture match.

From the beginning at SicolaMartin, we would talk about Mars and Martians. We’d talk about summer days and being a best place to work. We’d give tours to candidates and let them meet lots of people. We may take them to lunch. We may meet for drinks. It does take time. And it is an investment, but it can pay off. We had an average tenure of 7.5 years. The average in the advertising industry is a little less than two. Two years is all most in our field get out of talent. I wanted us to be an exception. We were an exception. We had an attrition rate of less than 5%. This came from my strategic goal of making SicolaMartin a career destination for really smart, really creative people. And I would tell everyone who came on board that it was a commitment I’d make.

The next step in creating culture enthusiasts is to onboard all new employees with a consistent company message. I would take new hires through a two-day orientation. Not training… training comes from the departments and teams and that goes on quite a bit longer than two days. But we would specifically orient for two days. All teams, all managers know they don’t get their employee until orientation is complete. Included in this process, of course, is all of the paperwork, policy overview and benefit information that HR has to do. But that’s not the meat of it. What’s more important is that we’d take every new hire through the “great 8”. It’s an eight-slide presentation that sets the foundation for “making the complex compelling.” It’s a capabilities presentation, one that we would give to new clients, and so every Martian on day one could tell that story. We’d go through the history of SicolaMartin. We’d talk about our leadership and our departmental organization. We’d define our recognition programs, get them enthusiastic about receiving an award and let them know how to nominate their co-workers. We’d talk about our communication channels—like our blog, our twitter and FB feeds, our intranet, staff and department meetings. We’d discuss schedules and expectations. We’d review the performance planning process. And every new hire would sit down with our Leadership Team. They’d sit down with representatives of every department. Every department. Because every agency, every company’s process is a bit different and we wanted to educate from day one on how we operate. There are several benefits to this: 1) we’re setting the employee up for success. They are going to know how to do their job. 2) Because of that, there aren’t any excuses. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but we’re decreasing it exponentially. 3)By placing current employees in the position of representing SicolaMartin, and specifically their department, to new hires, they are organically becoming company enthusiasts. Yes, you have to keep your company in mind and, granted, you may have to scale this, but it can work. Think about how this type of submersion orientation may benefit your company.

Ok, so you’ve hired with your culture in mind and you’ve fully saturated them with your company story, now comes the follow though. You have to do all the things you’ve promised. You have to be who you said you are. Education is going to be crucial. Continued training through the department, ongoing performance conversations with managers, outside development opportunities to build skill sets. And theseare important, not just for those recently hired, but for all employees. I would argue they’re even more critical for those that have been with the company for an extended time. Don’t lose sight of your super stars. Don’t get complacent. If you are enthusiastic about them, they will continue to be enthusiastic about you.

I know you all can agree with me that this is good practice. But will all of your management teams agree with me? And that’s the trick, I know. Getting your leadership on board with these practices. Next, I’ll conclude with some statistics that may surprise you and help you impress your boss.

Originally published February 8, 2012, on

Creating Culture Enthusiasts: Part 1

Who do you believe more? The paid spokesman telling you that “Brand X” is the best or your neighbor who spent the entire dinner talking about how she can’t live without it? Enthusiasts influence.

So, how do we go about instilling enthusiasm for our brand within our workforce?

Let’s look at what enthusiasm is: 1) a lively interest 2) something inspiring zeal or fervor 3) strong excitement of feeling.

Can you imagine if all your employees had zeal for your organization? Not just for their specific job—although job satisfaction plays into this. But real fervor and excitement for your company. For your mission. For your story. Just think about what could be accomplished if employees became an advocate of your brand.

It’s truly win-win. Employees are happy, productive and committed, which leads to great success for the corporation.

So, how do you get there? First things first, you have to have something people can get excited about. There has to be something they can rally around. Maybe it’s your product that drives it. Maybe it’s your leader. Maybe it’s a service you provide. Those specifics can vary. But all of those things go into making up the culture. And that, we all have. Whether it be good, bad or stagnant. Your company culture is there. In the most simplistic of terms, the culture is simply the personality of the organization.

The cultural core of a company is composed of the beliefs, values, standards, worldviews, moods, and communication of the people that are part of the group. These are the invisible manifestations of culture. They are the really powerful stuff. Some of the tangibles, or visible manifestations, that your culture may help define are the dress code, the work environment, the benefits and perks and so on.

Take a moment and think about your organization. What are the intangibles? The tangibles?

My judgment would be that if you immediately had several responses come to mind, that were positive, then you have a pretty healthy culture. You’re in a good spot to continue building. If you had to struggle a bit, think a little bit harder, then a culture exploration might be a good initiative for you and your leaders to work through. I’ve blogged on that before.

Once you identify your culture components, how do you make sure those on staff are aware? Because even though something exists, that does not mean that people are actively aware of it—engaged and enthusiastic.

The first step is this exercise. Putting concrete definition around your organization’s culture. It can be pulled from internal attributes or taken from the public mission of the company, or both. Again, this is examined more closely in my blog. I also know you can find other resources to help in this process. The culture at my agency SicolaMartin certainly represents both—internal and external components. Every single employee will tell you that SicolaMartin make the complex compelling. It’s the positioning statement. But they’ll also talk about the Flying Saucer, the Ninja Awards, the 3 I’d Martian, the core values of respect and honesty, monthly staff meetings, the People Team and the fact that the President kicked everyone else’s ass in Wii Olympics.

You want to make sure that whatever your culture is, you have people on board who will embrace it. This concept has to be a key point of strategy in recruiting, onboarding and throughout career development.

I utilize three key opportunities for culture installation. Simply put, be authentic, be consistent and follow through. We’ll dive deeper into how to make each of these work for you in the next section.

Originally published February 7, 2012, on

Communicating Culture: Part 2

Hello again. If you’re new to my blog postings, may I suggest you take a couple minutes and check out Part 1 of this topic exploration on corporate culture. In it, I talk about what culture is and suggest ways to help define your company story. It sets this post up nicely (I think).

Here, I want to discuss the concept of culture change. I say “concept,” because each organization is so unique in its practices and goals that there’s really no easy formula to guarantee a positive culture shift. But I will attempt to lay out a broad roadmap that those not faint of heart might want to travel. But I warn you, it’ll be fraught with danger. Ok, maybe not danger (there’s really no need to be that dramatic) but it will be hard, frustrating and possibly take a long time.

The first thing I suggest is to get buy in from management. This can be tricky, depending on if the leadership agrees or not with your assessment of the culture. If you feel you might have a challenging time effecting change—due to roadblocks from above—then do your homework and build a case. You don’t want to walk in unprepared. Create informal focus groups and talk to employees and trusted members of your industry. If you can solicit information anonymously, then great, as folks tend to be a bit more honest in that format. Once you feel like you’ve got a good cross-section of data, analyze it with an eye towards specific improvement projects. And wear your skin thick. You asked for this, so don’t get bent out of shape at all the negative comments. Then buck up and advocate an action plan. Sell it into leadership and move forward, openly communicating with employees. Be as transparent as possible, communicating often and consistently on how these changes will benefit the WHOLE. I can’t stress the importance of this enough because you are going to face resistance. Remember, your culture is a reflection of your people. There’s a reason your culture is what it is. This is why it’s so hard. But change can happen, as long as you and your management teams are persistent and consistent. You just have to keep moving forward and repeat the exercise with the entire organization in mind. Broaden your focus groups. Get those that are resistant to change in your core group of change drivers. If you can get them on board, the rest will come easier. Continue to analyze your data and stay focused on a few items that will have the biggest impact. There’s most likely no need to start from scratch, and in fact, trying to do so will probably alienate the very folks you’re attempting to motivate. So, stay focused and take it chunk by chunk, story by story. And if you can, evolve your stories. Get people telling a different, more positive narrative about your organization. In time your culture as a whole will evolve, as well.

Originally published June 7, 2010, on