With so much of our lives spent at work, it’s no wonder that creating a company culture that excites and stimulates employees is fundamental to attracting and retaining the best talent and building your brand’s identity. When Nadine Cole first took over Cossette’s western offices, she took a different approach to building up the culture of her team at the integrated marketing and communications agency. The results have been astounding with the region now reporting the highest engagement scores in the network. Since then, she hasn’t looked back as the office culture has evolved organically and taken on a life of its own. Here are some lessons to learn from her approach.
Why is Culture Important to you?
Work is such a big part of your life from a time standpoint, you really should be passionate about it. I want my team to wake up feeling driven and excited about what they are going to accomplish at work that day and I know that we as a company need to play a pivotal role in creating the best environment possible. It’s about investing in people, not just on a work level but as individuals.
How do a positive culture and a strong employee engagement impact the success of a business?
They impact energy thus output in its simplest form. Those who are engaged are more invested in what Cossette is about, and this translates to their accountability and the quality of work they produce. When people feel valued and happy in their role, you can see it in their productivity and the quality of their work. Not only are they more likely to stay and grow with the company in the long term, but they will also become ambassadors for your brand, helping to build up your company’s reputation and attract new talent and business through word-of-mouth referrals.
Tell us about what makes your offices special.
When I first took on the leadership role, we had just completed a reorganization where the majority of staff moved into a newly created company. I had 21 staff from four different disciplines and one key client. I made it a priority to build our culture up from scratch by engineering events and activities to bring people together. At first it was just two of us leading the charge, but eventually it turned into something organic and took on a life of its own.
Now we have a whole team of people who meet regularly to map out an annual calendar of events and initiatives that meet the needs of our 60 employees. Balance is important— it’s not just about parties—so we take a strategic approach to ensure a healthy mix of social, community outreach, creative, personal growth, and training sessions are considered.
Some of our creative initiatives include an annual Talent Show and a Cossette Film Fest, where people can create their own short films complete with movie posters and a screening event. Something we’re really proud of is our creative C project where people can pitch an idea that they don’t have the resources to implement on their own. The best ideas receive up to $5,000 in funding to support people in their passions outside of these four walls.
A while back some of the team also expressed a desire to do more to give back, so Cossette Karma, our community outreach committee, was created and is now a thriving initiative.
How do you put your own personal stamp on your team's culture?
I participate in everything—whether it’s a Halloween costume contest or team building activity—and really give it my all. Even if I don’t always feel like it, it means a lot for me to play a big role in our company culture. You can’t expect culture to happen if you don’t show up or lead by example. It leaves an impression on people.
How do you keep your employees motivated and engaged in the company?
We run three surveys a year to collect anonymous feedback from our staff. This allows us to measure engagement year over year. It’s imperative that as many people as possible participate in these surveys—otherwise their perspective cannot be taken into account when implementing change—so we strive for and often receive 100 percent participation.
Once all responses are collected, I hold an all-agency meeting to go through the feedback with a focus on the top three areas for improvement (based on recurring themes). The office is then broken up into smaller groups to develop solutions, which they then present back to the wider group. This approach gives everyone a voice to drive change as it is the collective who vote on what goes forward.
Have you ever had a mentor who modelled effective company culture, which you now emulate in your own leadership style?
During my early years at Cossette, I was fortunate to have Mélanie Dunn, our now Global President and CEO, as my mentor. While we didn’t work out of the same office, Mélanie always made time for me. We had a standing monthly call and once a quarter we would get together and Melanie would let me shadow her for a full day. Seeing her interact with our colleagues at all levels taught me that an effective leadership structure is not hierarchical, but flat and collaborative. Melanie's empathy and open-door policy laid the foundation for my own leadership style, which is reflected in my approach to our company culture.
What are your top three do's and don'ts for leaders looking to build their organization's culture?
1. STRUCTURE IT RIGHT.
Be strategic when building the base of your organization’s cultural initiatives. Provide direction and get the right people involved as ambassadors to drive organic growth. Support initiatives that relate to your company values.
Join in fully...but know when to leave. As the leader, it’s important to show up to events and stay for a respectful amount of time but also leave early enough so people can let loose.
3. BE TRANSPARENT.
Transparency is key not only to employee engagement but also company culture. Leaders should be open and honest about both the good and the bad of their organization (financials included). Your team will pick up on the negatives whether you choose to share them or not, and an honest approach will help to build longterm trust.
1. DON’T KIBOSH IDEAS.
Set some parameters for your team to work within, but don’t define each detail. If there’s something that doesn’t work from the onset, let your team run with it. Trust that they will find a solution.
2. DON’T CLOSE YOUR DOOR.
Be approachable and make time for people. Your time is worth its weight in gold. Closed doors should only be for private calls or confidential meetings.
3. DON’T ASK FOR FEEDBACK IF YOU DON’T INTEND TO ACT ON IT.
If you ask your team questions and collect data on how to improve your company’s culture, then you need to act on it. If you don’t, then don’t bother—it will impact you more negatively in the long run.