Co. Culture is King (Part 2)

Simone Drewry

Simone Drewry is the MD of Australian PR Agency of the Year, Mango. She became the youngest female board member for DDB Group Sydney (Mango’s umbrella firm) in 2008 and in three short years has built Mango up from a ‘what’s ya name again’ kinda agency, into an award winning agency attracting industry bests and big brands including VW, Virgin, Tourism Australia, Telstra and McDonalds… but don’t hold that against her.



Culture’s such an intangible thing and it grows like so organically and also I didn’t feel I was qualified enough to say “I know a good culture is and I could tell you all about it”. However the business I run has had really good success for the last three years. It’s grown by 3% in revenue and profitability. It has won agency of the year twice, we’ve had an 85% staff retention rate for three years running so we know we’re doing something right.

So what I did is I took all the successes and failures because I have had failures in the last 4 years. I distilled them down in like a test tube of my mind, distilled them down and I looked at what was coming out and really what came out of the last three years was three key things of why we have really a place that people want to come to work and I call them, slide please, I call them the AAA of an award winning culture. I think the first thing as well I should mention is what you said, you know, culture comes from leadership at the top but as a leader I don’t feel that I create the company culture. I feel as a leader I create the boundaries that the team can then, the people can then create that culture within. It’s not that this culture is mine. I would hope that I can step away from that business and I put things in place the culture could continue. It may change a little bit with different leadership.

Okay so the first A of the AAA of leadership is awareness. Slide please. So, how do you create awareness within your team? I realized quite early on when I took over the businesses it was in quite bad shape. I realized quite early on that if the individual people I worked with didn’t really have a strong understanding of their personal values and goals, then it was really gonna be hard for me to then align them to the business funnel and goals for us then to succeed. So what we do, once a year we have an away day at my house, which you know off-site days are not unusual in businesses and the reason why we had them at my house was four years ago we wanted to get out of the office but we didn’t have money. So I did at my house as a place that people could relax. And we still continue to have it at my house today, then it’s a squeeze because we’re a lot bigger team now but it just sort of adds to it.

And the differences with the away day we do have strategic planning days throughout the year and we talk about profitability, new business goals and how we’re gonna grab clients and all of that. But this particular away day, which we have about a month before Christmas every year, is all about individual personal goals and setting and how to set them. And one of things I found is that people don’t really take much time to do this in their day-to-day lives so that’s what we do is we give people the tools to do it and the freedom and the safety to do it in that kind of environment. So I’m going to take you to just a couple of those tools. This isn’t something that we do a whole day and you know you may have used some of these tools before but I’m just going to give you a bit of an example of how I’ve helped instill awareness in some of the teams.

So the first one is you got some pen and paper on your tables to write down a hundred things you want to achieve before you die. A hundred, yeah. A hundred.

You’re all quite young! There’s quite a lot of things you want to do!

Who got over 30? Anyone?

Who got over 20?

It’s really interesting that even when I know that exercise was 10 minutes and people very rarely reach a hundred and you would think that with young, ambitious, creative people. that you’d be able to write 100 things you want to do if, I don’t know, you have a hundred days to live for example. I think the point it is it’s a really good thought starter and that people just don’t often sit down and plan what they want their life to be like. So you just usually do this as a bit of a starting point of the day and that’s really all it is. It isn’t we hold you to those 100 things.

The next thing that I do, slide please, is look at… my life coach is here by the way, Sean here, in the red shirt, she knows quite a few of these things. She taught me a few things. I do have to thank her. She’s my mentor. Okay so the next thing is that, we look at when we’re looking into, you know, our personal sort of goals and values is this. I call it a balance wheel. It’s kinda like a really good ready reckoner that I do every six months. I encourage my teams to do it every six months and it’s basically because if you take all the different parts of your life, you can’t lose weight, buy a new house, have a baby, save up for your holiday, move jobs, you can’t do everything all at the same time. So this is a really good tool to discover, okay like which things are going well, which things need a little bit of work. And it can just give you a bit of starting point of what sort of goals you might be setting, say for 2012 is a good example coming up to the end of the year.

So I would like you to turn over your piece of paper or get another piece a paper. And I want you to just do this. It’s really simple. So you draw a circle and you divide it into 8 parts. And then I’ll read out the names of these parts. So, wealth and prosperity is one of them. Career is another. Family and friends is another. Health is another. Travel and hobbies, spiritual and ethical, knowledge and learning. And the relationship with your partner, husband, your wife. And then if this is zero, like my life is going down the doldrums and this is awesome. Mark along there, so 0-10 of where you think that part of your life is up to.

So center is zero?

Center is zero.

Okay and like the out is..?

Out is 10 and everything’s going really well.

So the relationship with…?

Your partner. Your husband. Your wife. Family, family is your family your friends. So it’s just your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your lack of. Yeah.

Your intimate relationships, yeah.

Is this where you are right now or where you aspire to be?

Where you at right now. This is right now. This is like a temperature check on these different areas of your life.

So in all the time I’ve ever worked with anybody in doing this you never get the full balance so the wheels never gonna just roll, you know? So once again this is just another tool that helps bring you into awareness about where your current goals and values are. And assuming that it is, I literally will do it. I it really often. Like iff I’m just having a bad day I’m like what’s wrong today? Like really, have I got perspective of what’s really wrong. Do that, and I’m like, actually it’s because my health isn’t great at the moment. I’m working, I’m not eating properly. It’ll let you know that I need to sort that out then the next few weeks is all about that. So once again a really really good tool to help a team to build awareness. Very simple and non-confrontational. You don’t need to be psychologist to present this kind of stuff. I’m not by the way. So I recommend you take his home, have a look and have a think about it and see like where you think that might need a bit of work.

So these are just like really good thought starters to get people into that awareness stage. And then the next part which is really important, slide please, is looking and identifying your own personal values and this is not something that you can just do in an hour. Can take days, months, years. It’s something that I’m constantly working on as you grow. Values come from everywhere. They come from the kind of childhood you have, the type of school you went to, the friends that you have, the kind of job you have, the kind of partner you’ve got. They come from everywhere and they grow with you. And when you look at this list of values you’re like, oh I’m assertive and I’m you know, I’m all of these things but really when you spend time and there’s lots of great exercises and theories around how you get to your values and have to share some books and that kind of of thing with you. Once you get, you find that there’ll be be only 3 to I’ve got 6 on here and I’m stretching that a little bit, but will only be like three or four. The things that you really can’t live without or you’re unhappy and not content in life and when you discover these things it does give you a better decision making framework.

I’ll give you an example, these are my values right here. Honesty is not one of my core values. Now my work in PR might be part of it but if there is a situation that comes up that is dishonest, I can work through that. I can talk through it. There isn’t a minute that I’m gonna fall apart. Now if the people around me, be it my partner, my family, the people that work for me and not passionate about what they do, I find it really hard to connect with them or I will try and somehow fix them with my fixing nature. Instead finding them something that they will be passionate about and that’s me. So important that if I don’t have it around me then I get a bit unhappy and a bit like despondent to a situation. Just sort of shows that, you know, the different things you can’t live without. So, interestingly four years ago the first awareness day we had at Mango we did a lot exercises around values and within six months only 50, 40% of the original team remained. My girl Friday, most senior member team on Mango famously left and went to India to work for an NGO. The best publicist I had on my team left because she wanted to go work on a celebrity environment. So two of the best people had left. At the time it was devastating. I’m six months into this role and two of the best people left. However we didn’t have much margin for error so I had to ensure that everybody on that team was fully aligned with the journey we were on. Those two people weren’t, even though we’ve got along on famously and they were really good. Interestingly the two people stayed out of the fifteen people their individual team is still here now and that we are now this sort of Holy Trinity that created this very strong business. And also initially my girl Friday Claire who left three years ago and went off to India came back ran under the business just joined me again three weeks ago and she sort of ready to take Mango for the next three years.

So this exercise I think is so important. So if you’re going back to your teams all the businesses that you learned, understanding the individuals that work for you that their bodies were aligned is really call to building the success. So awareness is very very important. So once we’ve gone through this kind of, you know, look to values, bit of an idea of goals. We then go into visualize, we then go into exercise as a group. As a team, collectively dream vision boards. Now and I like vision boards be so kind of going into the secrets of space. But the recent science behind it, to my next slide. So this is the science which I really strongly believe in behind visualizing goals. There is a part of the brain called the reticular activation system. Is anybody familiar with it? Yeah. So if you done sense is quite often mentioned. So basically the reticular activation system helps to control your waking consciousness and filter all of the different things that were being sort of like attacked with the sounds and smells and noises and vision. Thousands of sensitive things that our senses can pick up any one time and they help filter out what is important for our survival. So if we go really quiet now we can hear the aircon. So the aircon’s been that loud the whole time that I’ve been talking. Your brain’s been saying my voice is most important thing to listen to. Hopefully. And not to shoot into that aircon and that’s reticular activation system working saying listen to this voice. Don’t listen to that noise.

Another really good example is, you know, you go to Volkswagen. Client. And look at a red golf, you look into the brochure ad test drive it. And then you’re driving home, you see loads of red golf. Yeah I really want a golf. Same thing again it’s bringing into the forefront what your mind think is the most important. So that is really important why one should gone through sort of values and goals and you actually start to visualizing the goal. And whether you’re using things like, next slide please. We’re using things like vision boards. I mean what we do is we do personal vision boards and then we do big group one together. That’s about Mango vision. That’s about what kind of clients we want to work for? What kind of people we want to come work and we put this all visually as a team and stick those on. And that goes into every year and that goes up in the office. An amazing, like clients have materialized from there at Virgin. Get with Richard Branson this year. Materialize. He’s on the vision board from a year ago. Oh my God he’s on there. And there he is, pops up. So there is definite credence in creating an actual visual sort of fixed thing that you can go back to and look.

So these are just some of the tools that we use and I think without awareness, this is my first day without awareness. Here are the two ways I’m gonna talk about that are almost not possible. So I think getting teams aligned aware, self aware is a really good first step to how you can stop proving the next thing. And the second is, slide please. Attitude. So, when we interview people long ago we’ve got a really simple people policy. It’s talented and nice. That’s it. And they can be really talented but if they’re thick headed they’re not gonna last. It just doesn’t work. So when we interview that’s basically it. It’s so simple. They also got to really show passion for what they do and you know we’ve chosen in my industry to work in this strange, you know, persuasive environment. That’s you know making it kinda a persons game. It’s pretty stressful so if people aren’t going to work with the right attitude then it would be very very difficult to make everything else work.

I’ll give you a bit of a story it’s quite a cheesy story but it’s how I got into PR and why I love it and it involves Oprah. It involves LSD. Not together. Yes. So many years ago I was in a university in Leeds and I was studying French and Economics. I wanted to work in European Union. So anyway I was on acid at this point but I was going to university everyday and like this grift of fear and panic because I just hated the course and I wasn’t just very good at it cause I was going to economic lecture in french and I spend a lot of time crying and eventually because I wasn’t good at it I just decided to stop going. Which is the right thing to do when you don’t understand so you just ignore it and I spent quite a lot of time at home in the middle of winter in Leeds watching daytime television and I watched an episode of Oprah. This is a true story and the episode was about how you choose your career or switch careers. So she asked us to do an exercise which you guys are doing now. I want you to close your eyes, so close your eyes, take 3 deep breaths in and out and as you relax I want you to think back to your 7 year old self and think about your 7 year old self on school holidays. You know out on the playground in the garden, at the beach a very relaxed 7 year old self. And as you think your 7 year old self you’re very happy in this middle of summer. Think of the top 2 things you love doing. Things that makes you so excited to things that, you know, jump out every morning. You want to take it all, want to do with your friends and you can come back into the room now. So that was the episode of Oprah.

My top 2 things were, what was that? What it love doing? What I love doing? I loved writing at the time. I was also writing stories and writing little plays and yeah I really love writing. My other one was I had loads of cousins since I was the eldest, I organized them into, we’d have little businesses selling rosewater to my granny’s friends or we would do plays always putting on Christmas concerts. Oh I love that! I just lived for organizing this little troop, you know, 7 years olds. I love writing and I love organizing people. I’ve always love talking since you know. Ok, I’m gonna go and get taught and get prospectus look at changing courses felt quite you know excited about it? Got prospectus, looked at marketing, oh sounds interesting, then journalism oh yeah journalism. Sounds interesting. Writing doesn’t pay very well. So I was kinda like trying to you know gather my thoughts. That weekend I went out and dropped some acid. It was the early 90’s and during that weekend I had this literally aha moment. I said writing, I knew I wanted writing so, writing, organize people. I wanna get into PR! How do I do it? So I went back into the university, looked through the prospectus and literally by amazing chance the first ever PR degree in the UK was at my university. So I went to my course leader and said so can I kinda change and search my modules and all of this and she said ok. It’s the only PR course in England you’ve gotta write an essay to get on it. I wrote an essay about open LSD and so it’s PR they let me on it. So my point is I am as I’m intrigued with PR communications 18 years later as I was then. I’m intrigued by the media, the process, the influence. I don’t mean that in a Machiavellian way but it influenced the PR and because they’ve got social media and the digital industry all together. So my point is about attitude and passion. I take that passion to work with me everyday and the minute that is lose that, you know what, I’m out of this PR game. I’ve gotta change jobs and that surely means that I instill in my team is that you have to love what you do and if you don’t love what you do then that’s fine just go and find something that you love. You have to bring that attitude into work everyday.

So that’s my second day of the triple A of a strong culture. My third A is accountability. Now the thing with accountability that I have found is that people need to understand is that people need to understand what they’re accountable for. And that is why I often see mistakes in teams and even in our team, is that people that are not accountable because they don’t really know what they’re accountable for. But they may be blamed in a sense of not performing in some way. And I think for a business, people in a business, to understand personal responsibility, there has to be a very clear vision in the business at the top. Your vision for a business is basically the greatest asset that you have, you know. It’s what we decide where you grow, the type of people that work for you, the type of clients and suppliers you wanna work with the kinds in my business. The kind of idea that we have where all ideas in this business. It’s a very clear version upfront then how do we know what kind of ideas we’re gonna offer our clients to make this business successful. So setting a vision in the first instance is really important and if you’re running a team or a bigger business you can still set a vision for that business. And if you just, I’ve got a few visions that I thought I might show to you. Different businesses that you might be able to guess. So the first one is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Like google?


To be the most customer centric company in the world. I didn’t get this one the first time actually, but it’s a massive global business.




Yes! Amazon

And the thing that this one demonstrates, and the bottom one? Can you guess? I think what this demonstrates is you know, a vision. Just speak simple actionable and understandable to people that have got to deliver that vision cause not so many people got that vision. Only your people can deliver it so my advice is if we took a lot of time for about 6 months. What do you wanna be? How do I wanna be different? It was about being pioneering because the world of digital was changing so fast and we need to get onboard otherwise were gonna be behind. You know? I see some PR agencies falling behind that haven’t sort of taken that pioneering spirit and grabbed it. So the important thing is, I think, communicating with the team. The vision and also how their role will help you start that vision and if you build or understand that then it will be very hard to not be accountable. It’s more like having a job description as understanding what you do today helps you achieve these board of clips of vision that I think breeds accountability.

Another story that I’ve got which Shan involved in actually was about personal responsibility for health and stress at work. We work in agency environment many of of you are familiar with ad agencies, PR agencies it’s very dynamic. Very, you know, long nights. People party and all of those things that makes youthful working environment. We were working on a very major project few years ago which was for Telstra actually. I know there’s somebody from Telstra in the room. And it was a big, exciting project. About 3months long. People working really late nights and you know working hard but getting into habit. Working at nights, open a beer, order pizzas, open beers, order pizzas. They got into this habit. People are drinking out, work and they gonna go to the pub and you could see the team that they’re getting into these habits. Health was not on top of their list. It’s very hard for me to say you can’t go to drink after work when you finish work at 10:00 that was too hard you know they’ll gonna be like you know you we wanna go drink after work. So what we did on awareness day that year Shan came and we did the session about where the employees responsibility starts and ends here for taking responsibility. If you want help, I can help produce working hours, I can give you time off and leave if you work really hard. Ultimately, where does your responsibility lie for what you do with your health outside of work. So it was a really good session and the shift in the team was incredible. Like people really took responsibility like they’re changing eating habits, taking themselves into environments that were… like somebody went off to Penghana which is a very expensive spa in Queenstown. But its amazing, like they went there specifically to get themselves back in balance. We’ve provided things. We’ve provided free counseling, we’ve provided personal training, group personal training sessions we also got meditation coach.

These things, tools that will help this working environment that is stressful, less stressful by giving these tools but also you have to take personal responsibility and we saw that. The shifting was quite dramatic and that sort of added up to how people are accountable is not for how they actually do day to day. And then things changed to like, other things. So now we don’t have anything sugary in any meeting. So there’s no muffins or sweets in any meetings but we’ve got nuts and fruits cause it’s a brain food and everyone’s coming up with their own ideas. So how do we make this working environment healthy for everybody and that was again a result from the awareness day. So I think that gives you a bit of an idea of how you can sort of create personal accountability. I meant there’s lot like more of the things that surround that, you know, reviews and KPI, just the regular process in any business. But these are the kind of things I think we have done a bit differently since we’re working year after year.

So sort of in a nutshell. The 3 things that are really important. The 1st one, awareness. Without awareness, if you’re not self aware you can’t be expected to have the right attitude and to be accountable. So awareness probably is the basis in the building block to come to work with the right attitude and be accountable for what you do when you’re there. Next slide. They’re my 3 A’s for building a strong culture. I’d love to hear what you guys are doing in your businesses as well that when you think are helping to create strong cultures. Thank you.

LeeCo. Culture is King (Part 2)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *