Become a (Corporate) Culture King

A Meaningful Environment Is Crucial to Producing Soulful Work

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Peter Madden
Peter Madden
As AgileCat enters its 10th year, I can look back with few regrets. But if I had to pick one, it's that I didn't put enough effort into making the culture extraordinary. Since the beginning of 2010, my focus has been wholly on our culture, and I can feel the positive results already.

I won't beat myself up too much when it comes to our previous lack of an extraordinary culture. Ten years ago, when the culture was just me and the occasional neighbor (or his dog) who wandered into my makeshift row-house office, who cared about culture? But you bring people on, little by little, and you've got a responsibility to inspire them, bond them, engage them.

Sure, dinner and drinks can cover a small part of this. It's fun to get out and catch up over a good time. But it only takes you, and the work your agency creates, so far. That's why for 2010 -- Year of the Tiger, by the way -- I've created the theme "INSPIRE" for the 'Cats. Inspirational work, inspiring clients to think bigger ... you get the picture. The reality is, inspirational work does not come out of thin air; it comes from the soul. And much as our stomachs may love a good steak or bowl of pasta, the soul loves what is meaningful to it.

So, knowing very well what energizes the creative bones of my staff, we've already had some great adventures outside the office. Our designers spent an afternoon with one of the greatest painters in the Philadelphia region, Charles Cushing. Our PR staff (also major foodies) got into the kitchen -- and the head and heart -- of Chef Martin Hamann, who runs 1862, a shining jewel on the East Coast restaurant scene.

In these cases alone, these two very different and very accomplished artists opened up, shared what made them tick, how they approach work and life. People came back to the agency jazzed. In terms of ROI? Tough to put a value on good vibes and great energy.

Earlier this month, our PR director Amber Kealey put together an outing for the team to assist in the kitchen at St. Francis Inn, located in a rougher part of town serving people who struggle every day of their lives. Suffice to say, the experience was a different kind of inspiration, and certainly a subject for another post.

In February we're going to host an event to inspire our clients, essentially involving me playing James Lipton from "Inside the Actors Studio" interviewing one particular individual, David Sylvester, on the inspirational life he leads. David lost his best friend in 9/11. Instead of climbing into a hole, he got on a bike. He's biked across almost every continent in the world, with no money, and done nothing but volunteer along the way. His documentary has won awards and his book is soon to be published. I can't wait for it. My conversation with David will be an adventure not only for the agency, but for the clients and friends who have trusted us with their brands for the past 10 years.

Some of my best ideas have come to me when I'm engaged with creative people, from jazz musicians I've played with to individuals who are very unique in their approach to life. Sometimes my desk gets in the way of my business, if you know what I mean. But I'm getting out from behind it more and more, and not just to network. It feels great.

My business card may say president but in my mind and my heart, it needs to say "Culture King." I'm not wearing a crown yet, but every day I'm thinking of ways I can inspire the crew. Sometimes it's real work and other times it is damn fun. Every time, it counts.

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