Building A Culture Of Collaborative Drive


Building A Culture Of Collaborative Drive

June 24, 2015

Gabrey Means and Cassie Hughes Co-founders, Grow Marketing

Co-founders of Grow Marketing, an experiential marketing and amplification agency headquartered in San Francisco. Means serves as the creative director and Hughes is the strategy director.

People often categorize companies into two camps:

1. Those comprised of a team of cutthroat-doers willing to throw an elbow or shove a foot into the face of competitors and colleagues alike in their quest to get to the top.

2. Those who put ethics and treating others with respect at the center of their company values, often at the expense of their own success.

The truth is that being driven and being a jerk don’t need to go hand in hand.  And we’d venture to say most people don’t actually enjoy acting mercenary in the name of career advancement. But too often their company cultures are such that it’s assumed to be the only path to success.

We had never led a company prior to founding our experiential marketing agency, Grow Marketing, fourteen years ago. But we’d spent several years working in corporate America and experiencing firsthand what we did and didn’t like about those environments. A cafeteria with a variety of healthy food options–great. A backstabbing co-worker who steals your ideas and takes the credit–not so great.

Many businesses put their focus solely on the customer. In an industry fueled by talent, we committed from the beginning to giving our culture equal weight. The way we see it is, if your team isn’t fulfilled, the level and quality of service your company provides will suffer–which affects client retention and the overall health of your business. Chicken. Egg. Chicken. Egg. You get the idea. Plus, it makes going to work a hell of a lot more enjoyable for everyone.

Here are a few of our culture mantras:

Politics unwelcome
When people are worried about working towards a new position, getting credit for a job well done or ensuring they’re picked for the next great assignment, half of the team energy is used on unproductive issues that don’t do a thing to move the business forward. As the leaders of the company, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we don’t create a political environment. We divide the work in a fair and equitable way, creating opportunities for teams to work cross-functionally, valuing a range of contributions to the business. This ensures that there is not one star account, person or project, but rather rock star opportunities for everyone to have lots of moments to shine.

Set your own pace
Many companies have cumbersome HR rules about how long an employee should be in a role before moving to the next level, or a rigidity to job descriptions that doesn’t allow for leveraging untapped individual talents. A commitment we make to our team is that each person has the opportunity to grow at his or her personal trajectory. If employees are consistently working above their level then they should have the appropriate title and salary, regardless of the time spent in their current position. For leadership positions in our agency, we customize elements of each role to complement each individual’s strengths versus being one size fits all. This area is where companies often lose talented people. Not everyone is cut out for new business, but is that truly critical to every senior role? What if an individual who reaches that level has great team development skills instead? How can those talents be leveraged? There’s a balance between making employees fit the system and making the system fit employees. We choose to opt for the latter.

Collaboration first
Simply put, we are better together. The ideas are better, the energy is better and the work is better. We collaborate within and across teams, both formally and informally. Because our clients’ work is mostly tied to their business cycles, various teams can be under pressure at different times. When this happens, everyone takes notice and offers to pitch in, whether by doing research, jumping into a brainstorm or proofing a deck. The collaboration happens organically and is modeled at all levels of the agency. If there is a certain level within a company that employees stop rolling up their sleeves to help, the message the rest of the team receives is that being helpful is a trait that people move beyond rather than being an integral part of the company’s ethos.

Nowhere to hide
High performers appreciate being surrounded by people who share the same work ethic. It’s beyond frustrating to work in an environment where there are different expectations for different individuals in similar roles. Those who are great at their jobs are given more work, while those who have a knack for ducking accountability leave at 5pm on the dot. One of the most important commitments we make to our people is that they are part of a larger community of team members who are equally committed to doing and giving their best. We are very thoughtful about our hiring process to ensure a great cultural fit and that we are not over or understaffed. We ensure that everyone is contributing, and that ducking responsibility is not an option.

No one should have to leave in order to grow
It amazes us how many companies lose great employees because they have an inflexible system that creates bottlenecks at key levels of the organization, forcing employees to leave in order to take the next step in their careers. We commit to growing our team from within and actively think about people’s growth path at every level. We ask ourselves, where are the holes in each of our employee’s professional development? Are we ensuring they each have a well-rounded experience? What additional opportunities will allow them to further build their individual skills? Of course there are some types of experiences we can’t offer within our business–if you’re dying to create ads you will have to go somewhere else. But within the areas we can offer, we want to have done everything we reasonably can to ensure that our team can spend their entire career with us and have a well rounded, challenging and rewarding experience at every level.

Gabrey Means and Cassie Hughes Co-founders, Grow Marketing

Co-founders of Grow Marketing, an experiential marketing and amplification agency headquartered in San Francisco. Means serves as the creative director and Hughes is the strategy director.

Get Naked by Mia West
The JCPenney Company, IBM and The Golden Rule by Peter Greulich

“Get off your assets.” #UncommonSense