7 Tips On Building An Office Full Of Winners

Posted: Feb 27 2014, 7:41am CST | by , Updated: Feb 27 2014, 7:55am CST, in Misc


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7 Tips On Building An Office Full Of Winners

Claire Mason launched Man Bites Dog in 2005. This strategy and communications consultancy, based in Brighton on the south coast of England, works with some of the world’s smartest and best-known organisations (Linklaters, KPMG, Bupa, Capita, ABN-AMRO – the list goes on) and specialises in service sector clients. Mason herself has won various accolades, including a place on Management Today’s list of 35 Under 35 leading businesswomen, while Man Bites Dog is a Top 10 B2B consultancy and a Top 150 PR consultancy – its impressive clutch of recent awards includes B2B Marketing Magazine’s PR Agency of the Year, PRCA’s Specialist Consultancy of the Year and CIPR Outstanding Consultancy recognition. PRWeek has named it Best Place to Work for the fifth consecutive year – and that’s not just for the beach huts, indoor pier and pebbles found in the office, reflecting its seaside location. The Dog team is a happy, successful, entrepreneurial one – and that, in turn, has helped build an industry-leading company.

So: how do you pull a team like this together?

Determine your culture right from the start

“I think being able to determine your own entrepreneurial culture is the most important thing. Man Bites Dog started with just me and now we’re 30-plus. I’ve always consulted everyone about our vision, where we’re going, what we’re doing, so our values have been generated by the company. Bright is a key term: we employ very intelligent people who enjoy working with really intelligent clients, so what they’re doing day to day is what they like to do – working with some of the world’s smartest cultures. We deliberately target those intelligent clients and our recent staff survey showed that one of the things that motivates people is working with clients that are smart. If we are passionate about a client, if the team feels bonded with the client, that is going to be reflected in the quality of our work. We are caring: the team is very collegiate in terms of looking after each other, sharing workloads, sharing knowledge. I feel it’s a fantastic atmosphere to come into: people like each other and get on with each other. Someone said our interview process was more like looking for a friend. There are no office politics. I think when fractures happen in a workplace, it’s often because of the culture. We’ve never had a blame culture. It’s very important that, if someone makes a mistake, they can put their hand up and it can be managed and fixed. Things obviously do go wrong from time to time but it’s not an issue if you sort it out immediately. If you don’t have that open culture, people either won’t tell you what’s happened or will try to blame someone else. People here aren’t played off against each other: it’s a meritocracy and everyone is keen to support everyone else.”

Don’t think of every minute as a profit opportunity: time is something you need to invest in developing your team

“You have to see time as an investment in the business – if every minute was billable, you wouldn’t have time to think. But it’s a two-way street: we also invest our own time. We finish at four on a Friday and have competitions making cocktails in our kitchen – people are welcome to slope off if they wish, but most stay! And we have a European three-day weekender each year for getting to know each other as well as discussing our values. One of the advantages of being an entrepreneurial business is that we listen and can change things very easily. We have a weekly meeting where everyone puts in issues, they are read out anonymously, and are resolved. We’re now finding that either nothing comes up – or it’s something very minor like an extra coathook. It’s about having a listening process and not thinking I have to have all the answers myself.”

Alongside culture, you need vision

“I had a vision for a company which would work with companies that were rich in intellectual capital, whose knowledge and expertise was their key selling point. We would blend the deep knowledge of, for example, a city finance company with the creativity of a marketing communications agency. Right from the start, I had the vision that we would work with the smartest companies in the world, with compelling ideas that would generate profitable conversations. We deliver thought leadership, right from the client’s vision and what makes them different to the ideas that will move that vision forward and bring it all to life for them. We are the only company that does that from beginning to end. The market has since moved in that direction as business has seen the advantage of ideas-led marketing, but we’ve had that strategy from day one – Man Bites Dog was never conceived as pure PR, but as thought leadership right from the start.”

Believe in the power of nice

“We set out to assemble a group of really smart people who were really authentic too. I’m a huge believer in the power of nice: of being supportive to colleagues and clients alike. I’ve worked in some battery agencies and I know what that can do to people. It’s very interesting when people can bring their whole selves to work and to meetings. I’m a big fan of being honest and direct and the different kind of meeting you can have when someone brings their whole self rather than just the work side of their brain is amazing. We’re not a factory: we’re engaging hearts and minds, not hands.”

Don’t be shy!

“We had a very clear vision from day one that we wanted to be a leader and everything we’ve ever done has been excellent quality. We have picked our clients very carefully. We were global from the first, knocking on the doors of big brands: that’s a key lesson for small businesses, don’t be shy! From Linklaters, Google, Castrol and the University of Cambridge, we’re very proud of working with high-quality organisations and we thought big from day one. Many of our clients have been with us since we started nine years ago and if you do a brilliant job you will grow by word of mouth. We’re very lucky: we are 100% business-to-business and when our clients find their clients are facing something – an issue or even a crisis – they will bring us in to help find a solution, and that is a huge compliment. If you’re not gaining business through word of mouth, you may as well shut up shop – it’s the biggest compliment you can get.”

Size matters: best is better than biggest

“We prefer to be the best rather than the biggest. We have huge ambitions to grow, and to grow geographically, but it’s about growth with quality, at the right pace. I have no ambitions to run a 1,500-strong shop: we are a boutique offer, not a volume proposition. We are not interested in high-volume work, but in high-end, premium, strategic work. It’s not finding smart people that’s the difficulty, but finding smart people with the right attitude. Pretty much everyone in the company is involved in our recruitment process. My favourite is our graduate scheme, a six-month paid internship. So far everyone has passed with flying colours and gone on to work for us. We have a graduate day, with training and testing, and also we have lunch, so at the end of the day you have 30 views on each candidate and you get not only the capability tests but also feedback on attitude. Someone I’ve interviewed more formally might come across very differently over lunch with a more junior member of staff. There is so much more to what we do than PR that we tend to grow people ourselves. That means we can only scale at a certain pace, but that’s fine.”

Everyone appreciates quality: quality of work and quality of life

“Our location outside London has never been a problem because our proposition is so strong; the quality of our company and team speaks for itself. Also, we only do national and global work so our location is irrelevant in many ways. I’m a huge champion of Brighton: we’ve got one of the best start-up rates in the country and a huge digital economy, which is great in terms of acquiring digital talent, and it’s a place where people really want to work. For graduates, that London career/Brighton lifestyle is hugely compelling and it’s also a big draw for people in their 20s and 30s who have excellent work skills and want to balance that with quality of life – parents in particular. We have a London crash office and we’re growing a London team, but clients pay for expertise and people rather than an office address – and we’re very top-heavy as a company so clients are getting a very senior team for their money. I believe hub cities are the future both for quality of life and quality of work.”

Source: Forbes

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