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Culture Hacking: The future foundation of the media & creative industries

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So as we continue to tell our clients that they need to be agile to thrive, what exactly are agencies doing to build in agility into their own businesses? Is the industry keeping up or is it at risk of falling behind and becoming irrelevant to brands. What are we doing to cultivate cultures that truly support creativity and innovation? And how do we keep up with the accelerating pace of change from technology as well as tackling some of the biggest issues facing our industry right now e.g. diversity, new demands from a new generation of talent and continuing pressure on margins.

The solution for me is relatively simple – fill your business with culture hackers. ‘Culture hacking’ is often described as the systematic design and implementation of team practices, commitments, and viewpoints to help improve culture, although I think it is better described as a continual set of small initiatives to help make a significant improvement in the culture of a business. This idea of culture hacking first emanated from the world of start-ups. Examples include Netflix’s unlimited holiday policy (empowerment); Zappos termination bonus which offered new employees a $1,000 bonus to quit (getting rid of the non committed); while Method get everyone in the business (including the CEO) to work on reception one day a year (no egos).

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When I first introduced the idea of culture hacking to my better half and People Director at MullenLowe Profero, Tina Fiandaca, her immediate response was ‘So that’s what I’ve been doing over the last five years.’ A great example of this is the way that they have tackled the old age timesheet problem by simply creating 4 groups across the business and establishing joint responsibility for timesheet completion. If 100% of timesheets are completed every week on time, the team are awarded an early finish. If one person fails, the whole team loses their early finish.

“Surprisingly, this hack took on a life of its own, changing behaviour instantly. The team self-regulate each other with no nagging emails from management, in fact, management doesn't even need to be involved. This hack has driven efficiency, helped the accuracy our financial reporting and resourcing and most of all helped build relationships and collaboration across the business”.

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Wieden+Kennedy London Office

The fact is that the best agencies have been applying elements of culture hacking to their business since their inception. For example Wieden & Kennedy is trialling a number of initiatives in London to combat modern life such as e-mail bans between 7pm and 8am and only have meetings between 10am and 4pm (which is extremely parent friendly). OgilvyOne have combated unconscious bias during recruitment by implementing a blind hiring policy in the creative department ie people's portfolios without knowing their name, gender, age or nationality. And I know one agency who is currently trialling offering all their new recruits the option of taking on the job on either a four or five day working week. While if you worked at +rehabstudio, you will have enjoyed the morning off in April so that you could enjoy the new season of Game of Thrones which was simulcast at 2am in the UK.

Ultimately becoming a hacker is a state of mind. Hackers are always looking for ways to make thing better but more importantly willing to try things and know how to get things done. They are open to new ideas and have a natural curiosity to learn and teach. They are not afraid to fail but do understand the importance of failure in helping to ultimately find the right solution. And they have a collaborative mindset, recognising that change only happens with the support and help of others. I certainly believe that it is these traits that represent the future of our industry and will help us combat some of the big issues the advertising and wider communications industry is facing right now. The question then becomes who is constantly hacking your business?

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