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First of all, let me say, I will try my best to limit the BS in this post.

Secondly, why is company culture being featured on a digital marketing and ecommerce blog?

The answer is simply because the biggest challenges to the majority of companies (aside from continuing economic stress) are:

  1. Moving to the cloud.
  2. Advertising/marketing/selling in a multichannel 'userverse' (maybe a bit of BS there).

One and two are enmeshed, of course. They both pose questions for any company’s technology and culture.

Last question before we go on to discuss seemingly simple decisions (on the face of it) is ‘what qualifies me to give this advice?’ I have never run a business, let alone a multinational.

The simple answer is because I’ve been looking at lots of feedback from our Econsultancy user survey in which box 33 asked ‘Please tell us whether there is a particular digital-related challenge your organisation is facing’.

Our users left a lot of valuable feedback, and much of it about their culture.

The other thing that qualifies me to talk about changing company culture is because funnily enough, to me it appears quite simple. 

Any part of company change inevitably involves consultants who are useful precisely because they are not burdened with the history of the company and they do not worship false prophets.

Cultural change is easy in theory and difficult in practice. So, I’ll be playing the devil here, and suggesting everything is easily said and done.

Ok? So on we go. How can you improve your company culture with simple decisions?

1. Get rid of some of your offices

I mean offices like the ones in Mad Men. Or the cheap ones that cut out noise and assert someone’s seniority.

Agile start-ups don’t have offices. Some senior figures of course need offices, especially if they conduct a lot of secret business on the telephone.

But, in the Econsultancy London office of 60 people, the most important part (apart from hiring policy) of keeping our friendly, industrious and honest culture (yuk yuk) is having the CEO and senior bods in amongst us.

And if your CEO isn’t the type you want to sit near, maybe you have the wrong CEO.

2. Allow some teams to work from home

I agree with Marissa Meyer (who outlawed working from home at Yahoo!) that bumping into colleagues and having stand-up meetings by chance is advantageous and benefits the team.

However, working from home shouldn’t be outlawed. If it is, undoubtedly there will be grumbling when a senior member of staff does it anyway and expects everyone else not to notice the hypocrisy.

Staff should be allowed to work from home as long as there is confidence they can do their job to the same standard as in the office.

Working from home may not be appropriate for sales teams. They need to be able to go to meets and be off-site, and new tech will certainly allow them to do their jobs from home, but sales requires a camaraderie and a focus that your office space should engender. If it doesn’t engender that spirit, you have to improve the office.

Working from home can work for most teams, including tech, editorial, marketing, finance (gasp!), HR etc. WFH allowance should theoretically be unlimited.

If you state in your guidelines that holiday is not necessary if deliveries have to be taken at home, or work done to the boiler, or the dog or child taken to the vet, that’s half the battle.

Working from home is about letting staff know you don’t mind what they do as long as they work well with colleagues and get the job done.

3. Give unfettered web access to everybody

This doesn’t just apply to office-based staff. If you are in retail, your shop-floor staff should be able to access the web, or they won’t be able to provide good customer service.

Financial services has been an area with great restrictions and way too much governance surrounding web access. This is a sector that is starting to understand that just because the network doesn’t allow users to access Facebook, this doesn’t mean staff can’t simply do it on their phones.

The only reason I can see for web restrictions is perceived procrastination, but the trust placed in staff by allowing them access to the whole of the web will be repaid to you with a healthier, more productive atmosphere.

Restricted access does not equal security.

4. Allow staff to select their own training

Training is one of the issues most often raised by our survey respondents. The issue of raising the standard of knowledge across the whole organisation is heard again and again. Here’s a selection of comments:

[Our challenge is] lack of up to date knowledge.

The challenge we face is getting the buy in of others as they don't understand the new technology, so we have to train on why, how and the benefits before we get buy in. its time consuming and stops us being proactive.

Many members of the organisation still doesn't (sic) understand digital nor social media. While the top management sees its benefits, many of the other members of the staff/ managers are somewhat ignorant.

Digital education across the whole business [is a challenge].

Knowledge varies greatly across all levels of the business.

A total black hole where awareness should live (of best practise email marketing, digital UX, and brand.)

There are many things that HR should be doing about this. E-learning, educational speakers at away days and staff events, conference tickets for staff. Basically, make sure the budget for training is sizeable enough to worry the bean counter.

But not for the sake of it. This budget has to be corralled effectively. As we’re talking about culture, I’ll posit that it’s not enough to do an induction course then point staff to online resources (that they might not look at). It’s also not enough to just point staff to preferred suppliers such as QA, KnowledgePool or even the Econsultancy’s of this world (!), when they ask for some training.

There’s room for HR or L&D to compile a veritable Argos catalogue of training options, imagine a sort of book of dreams: away days, including small training days with agencies, to solid skills days with big providers, to conferences across the year, to behind-the-scenes trips en masse to a tech or marketing insider.

It might not be feasible to give everyone access to the book of dreams, but training options should be visible and encouraged.

This is important, if you don’t skill people up, how will you maintain a knowledge base despite an inevitable degree of turnover? Don’t let any staff accuse your company of…

Lack of budget and lack of funding for training.

5. Hire more digital staff

It’s a simple as that. And it can be simple, can’t it? Don’t change the budgets, just add some team members, they’ll work it out. If you have to, get rid of a consultant who’s employed too much to project manage something and goes home at 4pm.

In our survey we saw a lot of this:

We just don't ever have enough time for digital marketing, whether that is reporting or doing.

And here’s an important organisational point. Look at this comment:

[The challenge is] ensuring digital brand activity/social activity supports both wholesale and ecommerce equally.

If there’s tension created by who gets the most love from your digital team, it needs to be bigger or it needs to move from ‘centre of excellence’ to ‘hub and spoke’, with more digital staff dispersed through the org.

Employ graduates and educate them.

6. Change the way you recruit senior staff: use social media

Follow Lyle & Scott’s example and recruit your next CEO through digital, or solely through social media.

Social has been around properly for a decade now. Do you really want to recruit senior staff that don’t have a LinkedIn or Twitter account? Missing one is acceptable, but is both? You might think they’re trivial but I don’t.

They show willingness to engage with new technology, new tech that, let’s not forget, has changed the world (Arab Spring, closure of NOTW).

If you don’t recruit senior staff in the right way, expect to hear more of this:

[Our problem is] getting understood at the top of the importance of alignment across the whole organisation.

Lack of investment in the area to date from both a budget and resource perspective means that this area is left behind and neglected. Lack of understanding within organisation for the opportunities that digital offers and general lack of buy in.

The primary challenge within our organisation is that digital and the benefits of data are not being fully embraced by management as initiatives of value. Thus they fail to deliver their potential. Senior levels can't see clearly how all departments need to interact to make digital work well at all levels and so it isn't seen as critical. Digital is failing to live up to it's potential because it can't be embraced without top down support.

Lack of high quality digital marketing staff at senior levels in the company. Severe lack of technical understanding.  Poor use of data. I could go on...

Decision makers / purse string holders are not educated enough to understand modern digital concepts, let alone innovative concepts, to be able to approve personnel/projects/budgets required to make them possible.

No longer do CEOs have to be accountants. Bean counters are important, but if that’s all you want, don’t be surprised when tech budgets are squeezed and the customer experience suffers.

7. Get a CDO if you can’t get rid of the CEO

Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein has written about why you don't need a CDO. But, if none of your C-suite know digital, perhaps it's the way out?

Here's an example:

I followed a recent debate on Econsultancy with interest around whether a chief digital officer is necessary, and sometimes I feel someone with real senior clout and a deep understanding of digital could make a big difference.

The person who left this comment prefaced it with this:

When you must rely on separate agencies/consultancies to lead you on SEO, web, digital advertising etc this may bring some benefits, but also means digital PR/marketing/customer service can feel quite fragmented.

Which brings us nicely on to the next decision.

8. Bring something back in-house

Why is this a cultural issue? Well, because of the above comment. If your teams don’t have a good picture of how marketing and sales works, then how can improvement and education occur?

It also takes some satisfaction out of the job for your marketing teams, and can be done cheaper (in most cases) by hiring someone.

A good example is PPC. If you’re invested in earned and owned media, surely you need to have real-time reporting and insight into PPC, to check how it’s performing with your SEO and to adapt and save or spend more.

Agency involvement is often great value for research, appropriate builds (if handover done well), design and more, but as for day-to-day digital, maybe it's time to bring it back.

9. Give new staff small but appreciated benefits

It’s hard to find the right staff, as these two comments make clear:

[Difficult] finding the talent to keep us progressing.

There need to be people to take up the mantle when knowledgeable staff leave.

So if you’re employing young blood and training them correctly as discussed, you’ll also have to make their environment nice if you don’t have the biggest bucks to spend on salary.

This is going to sound trivial but at Econsultancy we greatly appreciate:

  • Milk (including for cereal).
  • Fruit.
  • Bread (the odd slice here and there for elevenses or tea).
  • Phone calls.
  • A beer on a Friday.
  • A top quality chair to sit in.
  • A shared commitment to bring cake into the office once a week.

Each is small on its own, but together they give us a great base on which to enjoy working as a team. That list does make us sound like prisoners.

OK, this is the trivial side, but alongside season ticket loans and bicycle purchase schemes and a pension, there sit the small things like beer that keep people going.

10. Encourage personal branding

[The biggest challenge is] giving people confidence to use social media as an individual, not just organisation.

Sales teams and B2B marketers in particular need to be empowered to do this. If you are selling printers or office phones, get on social media and do it softly.

OK, a lot of your business is still going to be via the phone, but fleshing out your personal profiles will give a footprint online and be enjoyable. Try reading ‘Sales Organization of the Future’.

11. Remember the techies rule!

Very poor organisational processes, leading to the web team - who are the most experienced digital professionals in the organisation - being continually overruled by other areas of the organisation who have no knowledge or experience of digital, but strong opinions and organisational clout.

We all recognise this. Spend more money on your techies and make sure they don’t have eight different bosses.

Which leads me on to…

12. Get rid of some managers


Management buy in biggest hurdle plus the loose structure of business. Too many managers and not enough decision makers.

Ben Davis

Published 23 October, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (12)

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I think I must be the perfect manager as I do all the of the above practically, except the comfy chairs. That's on my to do list. I wonder if that means that I am as successful as I will ever be if there is nothing to improve?

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff


Sort those chairs. ;-)

about 3 years ago



"If you state in your guidelines that holiday is not necessary if deliveries have to be taken at home, or work done to the boiler, or the dog or child taken to the vet, that’s half the battle."

Ah, the good old 'I need to take my child to the vet' excuse - I rely on that a lot.

about 3 years ago

Jo Hill

Jo Hill, Digital Strategy and Leadership at Freelance/Interim

Lots of nice ideas here, Ben, especially for someone who doesn't know what he's talking about :)

I'm pleased to see you covering culture because it's one of the most important things to get right in any business.

I'd add to the list:

13. Articulate and help your teams to understand your organisation's purpose. What is it you're trying to achieve? And how do you want to go about it? What behaviours do you value? This creates community, aligns everyone behind a common goal, aids decision making, and helps people understand what's expected of them. Most companies with a good culture do this, from start ups where the purpose stems from an entrepreneur's clear and compelling vision to the big corporates such as Coke: http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/about-us/coca-cola-mission-vision-statement.html

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff


Thanks. Love point 13.

Mission statement / shared values / strapline. Many of these will have to change as some markets move towards services and not products.

about 3 years ago


, Soupbowl AB

Oh please, sir, can I have a point 14?

14. Encourage failure and discourage blame.
If your culture only rewards success, then people will work extremely hard to make others perceive their initiatives as successful (regardless of the actual outcome) or if that's not possible, will instead work extremely hard to apportion blame away from themselves. If there's one thing that worse than a bad campaign or project, it's a bad campaign or project that everyone insists was good. Great cultures acknowledge that failure happens, embrace failure as a way of learning, and eschew finger-pointing. This cultural factor is critical for success in a data-driven, digital world.

about 3 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff


A withering assessment of many a company. Perfect point.

about 3 years ago


Nondas A

I love it!

Despite some (much needed) BS sneaking in there, it's a great read.

I think this may be hard to read for some. Normally the ones who want to encourage you to change, but do far from that themselves.

about 3 years ago


Daniel Hind

I would add "less planning, more doing" to #12.

about 3 years ago


Cathy Hu, SEO at Shoplet

Moreover, make your office green. Try to use as many eco-friendly office supplies as possible. There is a website selling recycled office supplies with cheap price. Check out for more: http://www.shoplet.co.uk/

almost 3 years ago

Sarah Pooley

Sarah Pooley, Consultant at The Digital Doctor

Whilst we're not perfect, we do try - milk, fab chairs, pizza once a month (or for the more adventurous - sushi...ooh get us!) and it's the acknowledgement that we're not just machines. Surely it's a no brainer? If heads go down, and shoulders slump - it's not the fault of your staff plain and simple.
Only a tiny bit of BS btw but great article and a good read. Thanks.

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff


Yes, I have changed my Twitter bio to 'Hints of BS'. Rather like it.

over 2 years ago

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