The 5 working parts of company culture

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By Dave Duarte

Every good leader knows the importance of Company Culture, but yet it seems to be a fuzzy and intangible sort of concept. We know it when we feel it. Yet Culture develops constantly, and is something leaders have a role in actively shaping. 

When we launched the OgilvyDMA in 2010, Rob Hill and Gavin Levinsohn said my primary objective was to help "geekify" the Ogilvy Cape Town culture

"Changing Culture" sounds all well and good, but when it came to it I had no idea where to start. So I put together the PARTS framework to give myself a little checklist to make sure we were doing the right things. 

To turn sociological theory on culture into something we could work with, I developed a little acronym that has proven helpful:

PARTS: People, Artefacts, Rituals, Tools, and Stories

Here's an explanation:

Peoplegain the support of a few well connected people, and help them recruit others

Your company purpose isn't something that you just write down and forget about, it should be reflected in what behaviours you reward. In who you hire, promote and let go. To shift your culture, identify a group of people who behave in a way that builds the culture you want to develop.

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Initially you can't try enforce a culture change across a whole organisation at once. Behaviours spread from person to person (Christakis, 2007). So it's important to rather work with a small group of people initially to make sure the cultural change is understood and adapted. 

The key players in a social network are your Experts, Influencers, Gatekeepers, and Connectors. Each are important in their own ways, and you need to gain their support for any culture change initiative. These people need to have a high frequency of contact with the cultural change process an practice. They are going to be the ones that set the example and distribute the culture to the rest of the organisation. As Derek Sivers famously put it "new followers don't follow the leader, they follow the other followers."

At Ogilvy, the most influential people throughout the agency were invited to the Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy, and no expense was spared in ensuring a transformative learning experience that created group buy-in and connection. 

Artefacts: make the culture change public and visible

Our physical environment and the objects in it form the stage on which your staff perform. Are you setting them up for great performances, giving them the cues and props they need? Art, Awards, and artefacts of belonging (like lapel pins, t-shirts, certificates) all serve to communicate cultural values. 

 Open Knowledge Foundation, "OPEN" lapel pin, by  Brian Glanz

Open Knowledge Foundation, "OPEN" lapel pin, by Brian Glanz

For example, Ogilvy London and Cape Town encourage more a more digitally savvy culture by making the latest gadgets available to staff through Ogilvy Labs. There are screens live-streaming social data from clients, there are interactive demos of the latest in sensory technology around the office, and there are framed certificates displayed for people who complete digital training. Other artefacts could include the kinds of awards that are valued, for example, displaying Cannes Lions, or Bookmark Awards.

Amazon reminds people of their value of frugality through the use of door-desks throughout the company. 

Rituals: Go from a moment to a movement

The things a company does regularly become a signal of their culture. The rituals can be small or large, everything from how you on-board staff to how you handle daily meetings. 

The key thing when you want to introduce a ritual is to do it consistently and repeatedly. It takes time for new behaviours to take root. 

For example, Ogilvy hosts a regular “How-To Friday” session where people who have done something extraordinary share how they did it. This signals the company’s long-term commitment to hands-on innovation. 

Tools: give people the resources to create change

How do you equip your people to do their work in a way that reflects company culture? You can't expect change if you don't enable it. Language, skills, technology, equipment, and other resources are major enablers of change.

The most fundamental tool for culture-shaping is language. When you want to shift culture, equip people with new ways to talk about what they do. 

A key part of the Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy's success was, and is, giving people the language to speak about digital. Concepts like Impressions, Reach, Landing Pages, and Programmatic become more useful when we have the words to talk about them. 

Story: don't just tell people about the change, show them what others are doing

Stories are the way that people naturally encode and share complex social information. A company that takes the time to find heroes and craft stories around their actions will help create more such acts of inspiring heroism. 

At Ogilvy, stories were created by investing more heavily in case-studies involving digital integration, such as Be The Coach (which went on to become the most awarded campaign of the year - winning international plaudits including four Gold Lions at Cannes)

Stories are like software for the mind. They help us understand cause and effect, and can have a transformative effect on what we see as possible and expected. 

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The results can be best summed up by Ogilvy Cape Town's Managing Director, Gavin Levinson

“What’s the best thing that’s happened in the Ogilvy ‘family’ over the past three years? While there are many highlights and accolades within and across all of Ogilvy’s companies, I would undoubtably say that the ODMA has and continues to be our finest hour.”