Monday, June 21, 2010

Paranoia for Culture

I always enjoy quiet moments with colleagues during an informal lunch, prior to the start of a meeting or while on travel. It’s a great opportunity to momentarily put aside client requirements and stresses, and focus on what is important to them professionally.

Last week, I joined two co-workers at a new client kick-off meeting in Atlanta. We had about 20 minutes to chat before diving into the agenda and an interesting employee relations issue came up in which I described my mindset as one of “healthy paranoia.”

I wasn’t referring to a concern about a treasured employee leaving the firm or a 1099 consultant severing the relationship. And I certainly did not imply that I have some Orwellian desire to monitor the online activities of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) staff.

Rather, my healthy paranoia centers around the self-inflicted pressure I feel to bring into the agency interesting and challenging social media marketing assignments, while remaining true to Strategic’s two core principles: 1) great work for great clients; and 2) an unwavering commitment to work/life balance.

I’ve written in this blog about the flexible work environment we have embraced at Strategic. It empowers our team, and has helped create an environment defined by performance and accountability.

Yet, culture creation lingers in my mind as a concern. Sure, there is plenty of daily interaction via social and electronic channels. However, we simply don’t physically spend time with each other as often as your typical office environment.

Is this a problem?

It may very well be if you put credence in an article in the current issue of BusinessWeek entitled “The Importance of Connecting with Colleagues." Here is one particularly telling paragraph:

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh reveal that encountering a stranger on 10 occasions instead of five makes us find that individual more attractive, intelligent, warm, and honest. By extension, showing up in person to a meeting rather than dialing in may be more important than we realize. The same goes for attending optional gatherings, keeping your office door open, and communicating in person rather than over the phone.

I’m currently thinking about how Strategic can be more proactive in organizational culture building, without forfeiting the freedom and flexibility afforded by our work environment.

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