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Learn What Makes a Great Company Culture


Twelve years ago Brad Wignall walked through the doors of Portland creative agency CMD as their new Sr. Art Director and he never looked back.

In the agency world, twelve years is practically an eternity. The fact that Brad has spent that long at CMD testifies to the fact that as an organization they work as hard on their culture as they do on coming up with awesome creative.

Now the Vice President of Creative Services, Brad described CMD’s culture and what they have done to define and strengthen it over the years.

It Starts with Hiring

Building a thriving culture begins with finding and hiring the right people, which can be a lot easier said than done!

When bringing on full-time staff, CMD process focuses first on a candidate’s experience and capabilities: “Do they have the right book? What is their skillset? Competency level?”

If their book looks right, they go through it with the candidate with an ear towards how this person works, asking themselves questions like: “Do they speak to team dynamics or roadblocks? How do they talk about collaboration?” How can they make our team(s) better?”

For freelance openings, since the work is so often project-based, Brad’s not as concerned at first with how well they’ll fit in long term. In any event, he said, “We usually figure out quickly if they will fit or not, once they’re on a project.”

If the fit is there, he added, other teams will start bringing them on to new projects as they finish their current one.

You Have to Define Your Culture

Of course, hiring people who fit the culture implies that you already know what the culture is. And culture, as it turns out, is always a work in progress.

Over the last few years CMD has gone through a lot of changes, growing rapidly and opening a series of new offices.

Instead of muddling along as if these changes were having no impact on the culture, CMD launched a task force to reassess their core values and vision and ask some deep, existential questions: “What do we stand for? How are we different? Who are we?”

The Directors’ Council, as it was called, made up of company directors and discipline leaders, took a full six months to analyze and evaluate CMD’s culture. After presenting their findings to the management team, they identified four key pillars that define and drive their culture.





Bringing Culture to Life

Culture Teams were created around each one of the four pillars and during the next year, they rolled out culture-specific initiatives. To ensure everyone in the company was on the same page, sub-teams were created to communicate the culture and work with people throughout the agency to bring it to life.

The initiatives these teams came up with included:

  • A database of staff profiles listing languages they speak, industry background, and so on—anything that might come in handy on a client project
  • Grant proposals for passion projects or side projects to help build skills
  • An updated performance review process tied cultural values to business goals
  • Videos and guides to help managers clearly communicate the values and culture of the organization
  • A curiosity lunch series facilitated by council members for people to share what they are curious about with their co-workers

The teams also created a ton of content to ensure that each person in the agency could clearly understand, and contribute to, the company culture.

Has all this hard work paid off? Just ask the guy who has been there for 12 years.

We’d like to thank Brad and everyone at CMD for opening their doors (and creative minds) to us.

Do you have a workplace culture you’re proud of? Let us know in comments!

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