I never thought I’d end up starting (or working at) an agency. In 2008, when I left my job at a start-up, I viewed agencies as parasites hell-bent on trying to sell you stuff you don’t need, making big promises against which they couldn’t deliver.
And actually, I still feel that way about most agencies. So many of my team members have shared their horror stories about life at other agencies and so many of our clients have expressed so much gratitude to me about 3Q that I know – sadly – there are indeed lots of agencies out there that aren’t delivering great results or service to clients.
So when I think about culture, I think about it through this lens: what culture do we need to be a different type of an agency: an agency that actually cares about client success, gives team members incredible opportunities, and generally makes a positive impact on the lives of everyone with whom we interact?
I believe we’ve already created a culture that does a really good job of living up to those ideals (though we can always improve). Call it “The 3Q Way” – there’s no doubt that we are much different (and better) than the average agency, and that’s because of our culture.
Writing this document has taken many months. It turns out that culture is actually pretty difficult to define. Is it what we expect of each other? What we deliver to clients? What we want to be? What we are today? (It’s all of those and more!) Ultimately, as I thought about how to define culture, I came up with four attributes:
1. Our mission
2. Our focus
3. Our values
4. Our promise to team members
My hope is that an outline of these attributes will help create concreteness around our culture. So here goes.
Mission is important to culture because it helps us all understand “why we fight.” We all put in a lot of hard work; sometimes it feels like life is an endless parade of client meetings. Without an understanding of the mission, all this hard work just seems like, well, hard work!
Someone once described three types of employment to me:
1. A job – that’s hard work for the sake of hard work. A job is something that pays you money and helps you survive – no more, no less.
2. A career – a career is a job that gives you skills and connections to advance. Thus, beyond just money, it also provides value that will benefit you later in life.
3. A calling – a calling is a job that gives you fulfillment and meaning. In the words of Maslow, it creates “self-actualization.”
To me, 3Q is a calling. I like to say “we’re on a mission to save companies from inept agencies”; that’s a calling. Every time a client sees revenue spike after switching to 3Q, or we help a struggling start-up gain traction and success, we are fulfilling our mission.
So that is the mission: to be a beacon of light in an otherwise dark agency world; to save clients. I think we are already there, by the way. Testament to this fact is the sheer volume of referrals we get from clients, past clients, and partners. Think of us like Robin Hood – we are stealing from the rich (agencies) and giving to the poor (clients).
My dream is to have every team member share this calling with me. To feel that the work we do is driving positive change. Every time I hear of an incredible client success story, it really has an emotional impact on me. I hope all of our team members can find this sort of “self-actualization” at 3Q.
So how do we achieve our mission and vision? With focus. Our focus is short and sweet:
1. Team satisfaction. If we create an environment where team members thrive, we will be able to recruit and retain the best marketers in the world.
2. Client satisfaction. If we wow clients with great results, clients will stick with us and refer us more business.
3. Bottom-line profit. If we retain great team members and clients, we will achieve great financial results. Yes, we are a business – we have to make money along the way.
Of course, it’s easy to say we care about team members and clients. There are a lot of companies with horrific work environments and terrible customer service with plaques on the wall that claim “the customer is always right”! So it is crucially important that we support focal points with promises that we live up to.
We have identified five core values that we see over and over again in our best team members. Our goal is to have everyone on the team live these values. These values, in order of importance, are:
1. Own It!: The best team members at 3Q act like small business owners – they are proactive, passionate, have a strong point-of-view, over-communicate, and don’t take no for an answer!
2. Act for the Greater Good: We value people who are constantly thinking about what is good for the team before they think about their own self-interest. People who volunteer to mentor younger teammates, help a team member on a tough assignment, or who seek to build positivity and teamwork throughout the organization are those we value the most.
3. Everyone is a Client: We are a client-services business, so it is vital to have team members who are passionate about service. This not only means service to clients (which is a given), but service to vendors, teammates, and peers as well.
4. Innovate: Our success has a company has been built on a foundation of innovative processes, like the Lin-Rodnitzky Ratio, Alpha-Beta Process, and Social Pyramid. To continue to grow, we need to continue to innovate. We value team members who can drive innovation across the company.
5. Do the Math: We love data, and we love digging into it. Math and data are at the core of what we do. Team members who can use statistics and information for the betterment of clients and their peers are highly valued.
I cannot emphasize enough how important these values are. Our willingness to go above and beyond a typical agency – via proactivity, strategy, passion, honesty, and communication – are non-negotiable standards of excellence. This is why clients hire us and why we have an incredible reputation both in the online marketing industry and Silicon Valley.
Our culture depends on buy-in across the board around these ideals. If we bring in team members who don’t embrace our values, the culture will fall apart.
Our Promise to Team Members
Great clients without great team members is a recipe for failure. And again, if we want to achieve our mission and vision, we need to transcend the mediocrity of so many agencies by recruiting and retaining the absolute best team members. So to that end, here are our promises to our team. We will:
1. Operate a meritocracy. As we grow bigger, the risk of politics and favoritism increases. We will work hard to quash any signs of this. We will hire slow and fire fast. Ultimately, we believe A players deserve to be surrounded by A players and will thrive in such a culture.
2. Trust team members to make smart decisions. Our culture puts as much power as possible in team members, not the executive team. That’s why we have unlimited PTO and let offices choose the perks they want. We decentralize and create a culture of trust and accountability.
3. Not work with jerks. Life is too short to work with jerks. This means both team members and clients. We have fired numerous clients in the past because they did not treat our team with respect or as partners. We will do our best to not let our team work with jerks.
4. Be transparent. We don’t believe in double-speak. We expect transparency from all team members. This means honesty from management when things are going great (or when they aren’t), and honesty from teams during similar circumstances. We have implemented weekly All Hands meetings, weekly one-on-ones with managers, quarterly one-on-ones with the CEO, and open office plans to encourage as much transparency as possible.
5. Create opportunities to grow and learn. We want to continually get better! We’ve created a dedicated training team, comprehensive training materials and workshops, and monthly brown bag lunches. In the future, we’ll continue to expand on our internal training resources and introduce conference and training ‘scholarships’ to help everyone at 3Q get better and better.
I do believe that culture is a top-down phenomenon, so if we are not living up to one of the promises above, the buck stops with me.
How did I do? Does this all makes sense? Do you have a better understanding of what we are trying to achieve, and why it matters? I hope so. I fundamentally believe we are a different and better agency than anyone else out there. When I think about “3Q Digital”, I literally think “Man, those guys are awesome. I’d hire them!” I’m excited every morning to show up for work. I love working with our team and with our many great clients. And I’m excited to keep building our culture every day.