4 Things Media Can Learn from the Disruptors on Culture.

Culture Matters.

IKR? We have all heard it so many times. But experiencing the energy in many of the innovative companies we visited on this year’s trip (2014 Local Media Association’s Innovation Mission) was overwhelming. LinkedIn. Google. Buzzfeed. Simulmedia. Automattic. There was buzz. Smiles. Fun and creativity. Trust. Collaboration. Real-time communication whether in-person or via Skype/Hangouts. You could feel the electricity in the air. Yet, the staff was highly engaged and working. The Executive Suite and HR were not running the show by pushing out orders via the chain of command.


1. Space and Environment

This cannot be understated. The difference in staff morale and energy was very clear when compared to a traditional media company full of cubicles, sterile walls and stuck in old, dusty buildings with a thousand offices.

Wall cling at BuzzFeed

Start here:  Trash the cubes. Create open spaces with collaborative areas. Have play areas (many companies had video games, ping-pong tables and more) and powerful messages on the wall. Let teams group together and name themselves. People should face each other. Let staff personalize their space. These are helpful in attracting and retaining talent, and create a playful, creative environment necessary for problem-solving and dealing with the stress of a highly competitive marketplace.

 2. Benefits

Refreshment station at Automattic

This is an easy one. Provide benefits beyond the employee handbook. Be flexible. Examples include paid creative time, days off, ‘hack’ time, remote access, childcare, dry cleaning services and other perks. Budgets are tight, and media companies may not see the immediate ROI on such expenditures. But the reality is, the the number one asset any company has is its people. Treat them as you would your children.

Food and drink is prominent. Drink stations filled with coffee, juice, soda, energy drinks and more were available at multiple locations. Alcohol was also a common choice. Some included free food in cafeterias. We were able to eat at LinkedIn’s cafeteria which rivaled any buffet I have ever visited.

3. Leadership

Believe. Money and prestige are not the primary focus of any of the leaders we encountered. Their work is a calling and fulfills a personal mission much greater than a quarterly result for shareholders. The real cultural hook comes from leadership.

“Being around people you love, and those that love you, is very powerful.”

Allen Blue, Co-founder of LinkedIn, took the time to meet with us during our visit. It was a powerful discussion. He spent almost an hour talking about the company, its history, culture and future. He was sincere and deeply passionate. A very moving experience that will always be with me.

“Leadership is hard work and it is lonely”, said Eric Bright, VP E-Commerce at Deseret Digital, “CEO’s from companies like LinkedIn and Automattic are not interested in just building a business; they are also here to improve the world.”

4. Trust and Investing in Staff

Invest in people. Leaders with which we spoke referred time and time again to employee development, 360 feedback, fostering creativity, embracing mistakes, learning and providing clear expectations. One such conversation likened the relationship with an employee as a “Tour of Duty.” The staff needs to re-up during the 360 process. It is a choice.

When looking for the right talent, one leader said “Successful candidates must have a willingness to be critical of themselves. They must be willing to change their minds and be devoted to the things they are working on as bigger than all of us.”

“We can work remotely. We are trusted to do great work and we provide great results. It is all about the right mix of people and culture.”

Culture and leadership is about people, not systems and buildings. Love, trust and support them. Remove the obstacles and let them run.