Creating a high performing culture that’s wholehearted, while living through a pandemic

Agency life has not been immune to the last 18 months of turmoil and exhaustion, nor to the impacts of what Amy Cuddy calls “pandemic flux syndrome.”

We have been thinking hard about what it means to be a firm whose only product is creative problem-solving during a time when video conferencing seems to fill every open time slot on work calendars. So, when are we bouncing ideas around? How can we push the thinking further and lead our clients into unchartered areas of strategy and creativity?

The notion of “stakeholder capitalism,” while emergent in many industries, has perhaps always been the bedrock of professional creative services companies like Northbound. If our team isn’t excited by what they might accomplish, create, push, lead, and inspire every day, then we truly have no relevance in the market. And right now, as much as we talk to clients about purpose, brand goodness, and brand integrity, it’s darn hard to bring those ideas to life in company culture amid the unending uncertainty and screen fatigue of this enduring crisis.

So, we have gotten busy examining how we might turn what has previously been an overpass into an intersection between a more modern, humane workplace and a workplace that teems with joy, inspiration, and ideas.

This isn’t just about handing down a wonderful employee experience. Our teams aren’t consumers of our culture, they are participants and creators alongside us. And our teams aren’t here just to enjoy working, they are here because they seek purpose, autonomy, meaning, and connection. Those are things you can’t give to someone – we can only create the environment in which folks can create them for themselves. A paternalistic system isn’t empowering – in fact, while it can feel good for employees to get handed everything, they need without having to ask, in reality it’s disempowering for employees to have problems that are solved for them, when they likely know and can execute the best solution themselves (provided management removes any barriers in the way). We realized that to deliver a workplace that transcends the old norms of hierarchy, we must create a place where communication is two way, and where personal accountability is the norm, and where we could be honest with one another about where we are soaring, and where we need to push further. That’s true empowerment.

Alas, we started by crafting a charter for how we want to show up for each other, and for our clients, and what it means to work at a place that’s trying to be excellent and whole-hearted at the same time. Here’s what our team came up with:

People like us do things like this:People like us do not do things like this:Know yourself, ask for what you need, and say when you don’t know

Get resentful toward others for not knowing your boundaries or needs

See, accept, and respect the whole person and their experience

Ignore or disrespect others’ set boundaries or experiences

It’s always worth the effort to push for excellence in outcomes

Complacent, follow the process for process’ sake; think outcomes are the same as deliverables and insist on rigidity instead of rigor

Believe in good intentions, even in tough conversations:

  • Listen first, get curious about each other, and ask questions
  • Speak up when you have a different point of view
  • Are transparent about what you see to do, or not do

Make assumptions, spread the blame, or take it personally

Build on each other’s strengths and perspectives and solve problems together

Make people the problems, or go it alone

Look for fun, big, and small

Take themselves too seriously

Believe the fun part is figuring it out:

  • Help our clients see something new they didn’t know or see before

Need to know the answer before you start

Are in the game and on the field, and first to say “here’s what I can do

Wait for someone to tell them, or are first to say “here’s what someone else should do”








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