February 7, 2022
Building a long-term sustainable and successful business requires you to look at your people and culture as your greatest assets. Especially in the creative agency industry, your talent and the culture you foster are key competitive advantages. You can’t really scale without them and they need proactive action from you and your team.
In this article, I want to share a few pieces of advice on how to recruit, hire and keep great people and how to build a company culture that allows them to perform at their best. Every company is a different world, but I want to share what has worked for us at Ladder, so let’s get into it:
When we think about marketing, we tend to associate it with bringing in new clients. Of course, that’s right. But great marketing should also help you bring in the right employees. Brand building has ripple effects across your whole company.
For example, a large percentage of our clients come from our blog. At the same time, it also is a great source of inbound recruiting for us. We’re very transparent about sharing content and giving away our knowledge – and most of the content is oriented towards marketers. Potential candidates can try out our Tactics Playbook, read our articles, and start to get value from us at no cost. When they’re looking for their next step professionally, they already know and appreciate the Ladder brand.
Of course, a great brand is not enough. As much as we want people to love what they do, we know it’s a job – and it should be well-compensated. We make sure to pay market standards and update them as salaries rise. We supplement this with a great benefits program – health, mental (including a confidential therapist that they choose), etc. Since we are a very creative-focused company due to the nature of our business, we also have stipends for their hobbies (yoga, guitar, whatever it is they’re interested in, etc.)
We also have a profit-sharing system so that the incentives are aligned and they feel ownership of the company. In addition to that, we share 15% of the company’s equity with our employees. We want them to not just feel like part-owners, but actually be so. We want them to feel safe –salary, benefits, etc, but also to create entrepreneur-like upside with profit sharing and equity. They can get the best of both worlds.
We’ve learned that it’s not enough to “market” your company and attract great people – once you hire them, you have to continue selling them on it and proving to them that your company is the right place for them.
To start with, I believe it’s so important to invest heavily and train your people.
For example, the data shows that we barely ever fire people because of bad performance. If someone isn’t working out, you want to really try and help them meet your performance standards. We have created development plans for people who weren’t performing as we expected them to, and they eventually became A players for us. It wouldn’t have happened if we gave up on them. Not saying this is always the case, but we wouldn’t have known had we not invested in them.
Keeping your company’s talent also comes from understanding what motivates each of your employees and what will make them stay.
I’m a CFO; I know money is a big motivational factor for everyone. But I also know it’s not the only one. Working within a great culture, benefits that go above and beyond, facing interesting work challenges, great teammates, working remotely, etc. are other important factors that you can’t overlook.
Something we’ve seen that our employees have liked: as our company has gotten bigger, they’ve been able to find more specialized roles and niches that they love instead of being dragged around with too many responsibilities. Your organization’s size will make an impact on what you can offer your employees.
Great talent needs great culture, but it doesn’t happen organically. You have to be proactive in fostering a culture that helps your people perform at their best and achieve individual and collective success. Each company’s culture is different, but this is what is working for us at Ladder.
Everyone is approachable and open to make personal connections – from our CEO to our executive team and our employees. We push for this by creating moments where that openness can come through: games, events, coffee chats, etc. I love to see that one of our former employees who left for personal reasons and is now traveling the world was able to reconnect with the Ladder team and keep those relationships – that’s brilliant.
Your culture will change and evolve, and there will be challenges that threaten it. Listening to your team and having open lines of communication will be crucial to keep a pulse on what’s happening within your company.
One way we do this is through feedback surveys for each department where they can share and speak up on any issues they see. We’ve had situations where feedback surveys allowed us to discover issues that could hurt our culture and, after investigating thoroughly, we had to make decisive actions that helped us keep our environment intact.
Beyond that, we try to make an emphasis on how Jon, our CEO, and I are always available to hear them out and get their opinions. Just as much as we give our team feedback on their performance, we want to receive feedback on how they’re doing.
While culture itself isn’t something you can measure to the detail, we’ve found it beneficial to have OKRs that help guide us and show us where we stand. Just like we have commercial, and strategic OKRs, we also have implemented a cultural one.
This could be its own article, but to keep it short: it’s very important that your core values are present and not something you wrote on a piece of paper and forgot. We’ve found different ways to make them top of mind with our team:
There is this Slack app, Disco, we use where you can compliment someone in your team, share why they deserve that compliment, and then you can tag the value that is associated with the action. That’s an easy way to incentivize action from your values, build team culture, and keep people engaged.
Another way is clear and foundational education when people join your company. We have a Ladder Wiki where everyone can get more context on our values, see examples, etc. Also, our CEO made some great content around our values that we shared both on LinkedIn and internally that make it easy for our team to know what’s expected from them.
Ladder has been international at its core for a long time, but Covid fast-tracked other companies into being remote-first quicker than expected. Fostering a culture with a remote or international team has its challenges.
The Ladder Wiki I mentioned above has been very helpful to keep all resources our team needs in one place. It even has individual information about all our team so that you can get to know them even if you don’t work closely together — what annoys them, what motivates them, how they like to communicate, some fun facts, etc.
We do a lot of work asynchronously, but we also understand that zoom and loom have a time and a place. Slack is great, but sometimes you need face-to-face time with your teammates to give more context to each relationship and build rapport with one another.
As a final note, I hope this article gave you some practical tips on two crucial assets each company has: your people and your culture. Investing in these has been extremely beneficial for us as a company.
And if you’d like to work with Ladder or want to learn more about us and our open positions, check us out here.
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