Why Doing Work that Matters is the Best Way to Build a Strong Agency Culture

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Competitive salaries, clever benefits, and a full client roster may help to draw in talent but doing work that makes a difference will help to keep that talent engaged.

Building a strong agency culture doesn’t happen overnight. It needs to be cultivated and grown naturally. Sure, offering free beer and scheduling mandatory fun are great ways to get things started, but increasingly, employees are looking for more out of their employers. They want to feel like they belong, and they want to be part of an organization that operates with integrity and purpose.

Getting ahead of the purpose-driven demand curve will help to build an agency culture that both attracts and retains talent. Here’s how to make doing work that matters part of what strengthens company culture:

Invest in Taking on Pro Bono Clients

Of course, allocating billable hours to non-billable work will cut into the bottom line. But investing in taking on pro bono clients will ultimately yield high-value benefits. For one, the work often allows teams greater creative freedom, which allows for more collaboration and higher satisfaction. For another, feeling as though they’re contributing to a cause will help employees feel good about the work they produce.

When choosing organizations for pro bono work, however, it’s important to be selective. Ensure the potential client would be able to implement the strategy or utilize the work being produced. If the organization can’t implement recommendations or take advantage of assets provided, the benefit to the organization and agency culture will be wasted.

Additionally, be sure to measure and report on the impact employees are making on an organization throughout the year and after an engagement end. Quantifying the value of their work in billable hours and tracking the growth of the client will arm agency leaders with tangible results that employees can feel good about.

Allow Staff to Suggest (and work on) Organizations they’re Passionate About

Feeling involved in the process of selecting clients is an important component of building culture through pro bono work. In some cases, employees may recommend organizations with which they already volunteer their time. This is extremely beneficial, as volunteers can often recognize areas within an organization that need the most help. Employees that suggest an organization that they currently volunteer their time with should also be able to identify whether or not the work could be implemented.

In other cases, team members assigned to work on organizations they’ve never heard of will help to raise their personal awareness of issues in their community. Increased awareness and the ability to contribute to a cause have a compounding impact on the satisfaction that can be derived from the work.

As an Agency Leader, Get Involved

The best way for leaders to rally their team around a project is to show that they care. A little face time with working teams, as well as pro bono clients, goes a long way to demonstrate a commitment to the project. Of course, micromanaging the work or getting in the way of deadlines can be a detriment. Lead by simply offering expertise and allowing your team to shine.

Not only will leading teams benefit agency culture, but the organizations being partnered with will also see major benefits. And adding up agencies across all major markets, the potential for good that could be done if each maintained just one pro bono client is astounding. From design and development shops to full-service and specialized firms, the volume of knowledge and expertise that could be provided to nonprofits in need is inspiring.

This year, our agency has taken on new work with two Minneapolis-based nonprofits, The Sheridan Story and Wilder Foundation, and already the internal and external benefits are being felt. The working team has been inspired to share completed projects with agency peers and the organizations are already seeing growth from the work.

Taking on pro bono clients and allocating time for employees to volunteer in the community has now become an agency priority. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because of the benefit to agency culture it’s driving. If all agencies did their part, the industry could collectively contribute an immense amount of good and become a beacon for other industries for attracting and retaining talent.

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