Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Mark Kemp: Culture = People

Mark Kemp
Mark Kemp

Let’s be honest, businesses don’t create a culture – they only provide the petri dish and then help nurture the conditions. People. People are the culture and also provide much of the energy for it to grow.

That’s not to downplay a business’s role. Ensuring a good culture exists is a business’s responsibility – the right people, the right environment, the right reasons you do what you do. In the 42 months of FortyTwo Studio, we’ve been lucky to enjoy such a culture but ask anyone of the team and they will agree to one thing – it takes a huge amount of effort from everyone involved to make it work.

Before I go any further, I just want to be perfectly clear. I don’t, for one second, think I have all the answers to this. I also absolutely get things wrong – often and repeatedly. Running a business and leading a team is never smooth sailing 100% of the time – we’re human beings afterall. But one way we’ve ensured that we can always find our way back to the light, is to have a set of key values that we all believe in and commit to everyday.

Values… enough already!

Such an overused word, so lets call them the ‘bellwether’ of how we work. If we stray from them, we need to correct ourselves and find our true course again. These commitments don’t just ‘happen’ – they require hard work and constant tendering – like a garden or a fussy beard.

The (Partial) Bellwether

We have 5 commitments in total but I won’t bore you with all 5 – I’ve written enough guff already – however, I’ll share the two most important ones. These really lead the others and are the most visible in our day to day existence.

Number 1 – No Horror Stories:

We’ve all had those experiences where a project has been a horror to all involved – client, agency, Theresa May. So how do you avoid them? For us it’s about transparency and communication. So far, so obvious but what are the actual practical aspects to this?

  1. Clearer Chat – Although we have account managers, their role is not to shield the client from the designers/developers or vice-versa. They are there to be a clear point of contact and to keep things on track. At times (but not all the time), it is of far more value to everyone involved if the client and the person actually doing the work talk. Reduces translation hiccups, allows topics to be discussed and dealt with quickly without endless to-ing and fro-ing and means that clients feel they are being heard.
  2. Project Control – To aid this transparency and level of project control, we use a number of web-based project management systems. All involved – including clients – can be included ensuring nothing is locked behind emails. It’s all there in the system should someone else need to get involved. It also allows us to have clear client approval if required so also creates an audit trail whilst ensuring nothing is silo-ed or hidden. We each wear our successes and failures like ugly pin-badges.

Despite these efforts, we have of course had some challenging projects and problems but we are in a better place to deal with them. None of it is about ‘blame’. We’re not interested in who to point fingers at, just how we can fix it. It’s important to always know where something slipped and how we can be better next time. Without transparency and good communication that’s impossible.

10 Forty Two Team Desaturate 2 Jan 2019 Fullsize Grant Anderson

Number 2 – Win Together/Lose Together:

Intrinsically linked to the above value is the need for the entire team to know how things are going with the business, projects and more. Sharing such insight can have a huge impact on moral and motivation as it ensures that we all can draw a line between the work they are doing the health of the business.

  1. It starts with strategy – Twice a year we discuss the strategy for the business. In January we review the previous year’s targets and plan whilst also outlining what the coming year is going to be about. Midway through the year we then review progress and discuss any adjustments the strategy needs
    .
  2. Keep it open – At various points throughout the year, progress on goals – financial, projects, team etc. – is shared and the team get a sense of where we’re winning and where we need to concentrate more on.

An important aspect of this ‘openness’ is that nothing should be a surprise for the team. The how and why they are working should be based on the reality of where we are.

141 Forty Two Team Desaturate 2 Jan 2019 Fullsize Grant Anderson

“Sharing such insight can have a huge impact on moral and motivation as it ensures that we all can draw a line between the work they are doing the health of the business.”

Well that’s the lid lifted off some of what we do ‘in’ the business. Nothing unusual or innovative – pretty much common sense – but important to reiterate that without some kind of level surface, the petri dish and the culture within may slip off and fall to the ground.

Enough of this pseudo-science chat, I’m off to absorb a trimethylxanthine infused beverage. If you think we can help your business, we’d love to hear from you – let us know and I’ll make one for you too.


Written by Mark Kemp, Managing Director of FortyTwo

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