Skip to main content

How to Build a Positive Company Culture

It's the stuff of which dreams are made
By Alicia Wadas, President Emeritus and Chief Operating Officer

How to build a positive company culture:

It's the stuff of which dreams are made.
By Alicia Wadas, Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer

On any given day visitors can expect to hear the occasional loud whack of a tiny wooden ball slamming into a pressboard flap before flying into the goal, followed by celebratory shouts coming from the break room. Not to worry. It’s just members of our “Dev team” competing in a friendly foosball match— It’s how they build comradery while blowing off steam in between writing, manipulating or approving code.

The ring of a bell in the Public Relations area means one of our account executives has secured for their client media placement in a prestigious publication.

As for that sudden outbreak of applause coming from our creative writers, artists, directors and such? It simply means leadership has successfully set the example for all Lavidgians to celebrate each other’s wins.

Welcome to LAVIDGE culture, and welcome to exploring how to strengthen yours in 2018.


1. Be intentional.

Positive company culture begins with a plan. After all, we didn’t become known for being “Creative. Smart. Fun.” by requiring agency employees to sit quietly focused on their own computer screen while pounding out the day’s work.

Our mission requires us to work hard assisting clients to disrupt their industry. And, to keep our thinking fresh, we have intentionally developed a culture that’s, well, a little bit loud—along with room for a whole lot of listening.

So, when you visit us at LAVIDGE, don’t be alarmed. Making a little joyful noise within our own walls is a necessary part of our DNA.

Fostering friendly interaction among LAVIDGE employees is not new. In fact, to reinforce our desire for friendly interaction, we made the decision, despite changing workforce trends, to pass—for now—on adopting a virtual agency model. In our business, spontaneous collaboration is fruitful and important. If you are all working remotely, it doesn’t happen.

As technology progresses and needs change, we may revisit the matter. For now, we accommodate individual circumstances, with a stated preference for employees to work onsite.

We made this decision because our clients benefit from the competitive edge we gain through shared random moments of inspiration. To this end, we intentionally designed our agency workspace with a large break and lunchroom right in the middle of our floorplans. We’d like people to come in, so we set up group seating to encourage them to meet and mingle.

It’s also where we keep the foosball table, a pinball machine, a couple of full-sized refrigerators and everything from two microwaves to a toaster and a conventional oven. It’s a welcoming space whether you want to warm up last night’s lasagna or slice up avocados, add a pinch of cilantro and a dash of lemon juice to make fresh guacamole for your afternoon snack break.

Plus, there’s a soda machine, where you can still get a cold soft drink for 75 cents.

With all the cooking, snacking and eating, it’s a good thing we also have cupboards and drawers stocked with the essential tools. It’s a sustainable model in which employees rotate responsibility weekly to fill the coffee pots, run the dishwasher and otherwise straighten up.

It’s good for the environment and it allows everyone a chance to serve one another.

That said, we realize what works for LAVIDGE culture might not best serve the needs of your business, so take time to decide what is best—and be intentional.

2. Adapt to change.

It’s been said that the only constant in life is change. That’s certainly been true for LAVIDGE, which has gone through many changes since its founding in 1982. It’s gone from being a startup to a full-service marketing communications firm with best of class specialties.

Today, LAVIDGE is one of the largest advertising agencies in Arizona. Likewise, the world in which we all do business in has changed.

If you picture life at LAVIDGE as an episode of AMC’s hit show “Mad Men,” think again. What once defined fun and culture in the industry at large doesn’t fit today. And it certainly doesn’t have a place in LAVIDGE culture.

We’re not alone. Most companies have also adapted to evolving societal attitudes and perceptions—and if you haven’t, you might consider a change.

At the same time, we are lucky to be in this exciting industry. The nature of our work provides a creative outlet for our employees along with an opportunity to have fun. We solve client challenges—not to say it isn’t hard work. But it is also creative. It’s an opportunity to grow business and meet challenges in an inspirational way.

Keeping pace with changing workplaces, we are once again innovating for the future. This year, we’re adding new systems, software and operating procedures to better unify our agency. As a result, we expect our culture in 2018 to be enhanced with changes that lead to further growth.

3. Positivity benefits everyone.

While our LAVIDGE culture is definitely intentional, it is not formulaic. We understand that for our work environment to be positive, it needs to be flexible and personalized. When possible, look for ways your business can be, too.

Take working hours. We have standard business hours and most employees choose to follow them, but we’re flexible. If attending a class or coming in from a difficult commute makes an earlier or later start to the day better for specific employees, we simply accommodate their needs.

We realize it also helps them be more productive during the time they are here. We treat people like adults here. We trust our people to meet their deadlines and help our clients’ businesses grow.

Of course, there are differences between junior versus senior marketers. There will be more guardrails for those beginning a career to help set them up for success.

There are also differences in seasons. During summer months LAVIDGE treats employees to a shorter day on Fridays. Employees look forward to leaving a couple of hours early, so long as they have met deadlines and expectations for the week. We have a no-one-left-behind policy, meaning we encourage those working together to pitch in, if needed, so everyone can enjoy a little extra fun in the sun.

Does your company have a slower season which would allow you to do something similar? It’s worth considering. When employees work harder all week to make sure they and their peers can start their weekends a little sooner, everyone wins.

Year ‘round, we observe casual Fridays so employees who don’t have a client meeting can wear jeans. We also have an occasional Friday Fun Cart, which delivers goodies and beverages such as hot cocoa or coffee when it’s cold, and cooler offerings when it’s hot outside. It is generally unexpected and offers a welcome mental pick-me-up at the end of the week.

In addition, LAVIDGE hosts annual summer team-builder events, winter holiday parties, Thanksgiving dinners, and Halloween decorating and costume contests. As those of you already familiar with us know, LAVIDGE has an annually rotating Fun Committee. Members plan monthly celebrations for birthdays and work anniversaries.

So, when it’s an employee’s turn for the spotlight, they can expect to see their likeness in email and on posters throughout the building with a special wish, personalized just for them. Teammates traditionally hang or drape festive decorations throughout the celebrated coworker’s workspace. Some bring in flowers or balloons.

Of course, if an employee chooses to opt out, we respect their wishes. Embracing and respecting differences are core elements of keeping our culture positive.It also helps that we are in a position to offer random raffles. It might be for tickets to sporting events, concerts or local attractions such as gardens or zoos. When clients are unable to use them, we offer them up to those who express interest.

Most recently, LAVIDGE had a free “garage sale.” Two employees won massage chairs, and another took home a vintage 1960s-era Pepsi vending machine. Many others walked away with sturdy chairs, throw pillows or gently used campaign canvases that will be repurposed with brand new art. It helped the agency to clear out pieces not needed for our upcoming interior redesign and brought smiles to those who found something to take home.

Again, we realize there is no one-size-fits-all solution to providing a positive place to work. We’re certain opportunities to create a light atmosphere exist everywhere, at least some of the time. What that looks like in your space might be entirely different.

For us, because we are located in an urban area, employees may borrow a company bicycle or our golf cart, affectionately referred to as our Lavi Cab, for short trips to local businesses.

We acknowledge that our role as a professional service provider means we have more leeway than most. A restaurateur needs people in the kitchen and ready to wait tables at specific times. The same holds true for many industries which require strict check-in guidelines.

Even under the strictest of schedules, however, a positive culture can still be created or maintained by rewarding the behavior you want. When an employee or group of employees show perfect attendance, maintain safety standards or otherwise score a win, shout it out. Let them know they are appreciated. Invite others to celebrate with them.

As we say at LAVIDGE “We are all on the same team: we win together, and we fail together.”

If your recognition includes a gift, remember that while a day at the spa might be a wonderful reward for one employee, a gift certificate for a family outing to a local movie theater might be more appreciated by another. You need to know who works for you. Spend time thinking about what reward would suit each employee best. Then provide it.




                                                                                       The design of the LAVIDGE Mission and Culture Poster fits in with our motto: Be Creative. Work Smart. Have Fun. 


4. Nurture talent with training and tools.

Professional growth doesn’t happen by accident. It, too, must be intentional. One way we facilitate this at LAVIDGE is to invite keynote speakers such as Luke Sullivan, author of “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This,” to our annual team-builder event. Every year it has been different with something fun and new to explore.

Additionally, monthly LAVIDGE Academy sessions teach client-facing employees to be better client-service leaders. Attendance is optional but highly encouraged. After 12 months of attendance, for example, employees are recognized with a certificate at one of our staff meetings.

It’s also fun. LAVIDGE employees recently attended a presentation by a member of our Dark Room team which produce many of our videos including virtual and augmented reality projects. This particular presentation cleared up the differences between VR and AR and offered examples of potential applications when creating effective marketing campaigns.

On occasion, we host “lunch and learns” with an outside subject matter expert. We’ve invited a local reporter, for example, to share with our Public Relations account executives the best ways to get a press release noticed and published.

LAVIDGE also supports trade organizations, including the Arizona Innovation Marketing Association (AZIMA), to help us stay abreast of industry trends and better position ourselves to lead the way. Our own Stephen Heitz, chief innovation officer for LAVIDGE, currently heads up the organization and LAVIDGE pays for any employee to attend AZIMA events.

As an agency, LAVIDGE is a member of the Intermarket Agency Network (IAN). This private group shapes best practices. We send representatives to attend conferences we feel are important. This past November, a few colleagues and I traveled to New York to gain industry insights from Ad:Tech 2017. We will share learnings throughout the year.

Additionally, individuals within our agency are active with the Phoenix Ad Club and the local chapter of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Our trophy case is filled with evidence of the excellence these groups inspire.

We offer many more specialized forms of training and growth programs including self-paced online courses with curriculums on a variety of topics. We’ve discussed training in previous newsletters, so we won’t delve into the details. Let’s just say LAVIDGE believes in providing the right tools to get the job done—and done well.If you do not yet have internal training programs, joining a trade organization is a great starting point. Most offer information and networking that can elevate not only your employees' skills but your company’s image within your marketplace. The relationships you and your employees make can lead to opportunities yet unseen.

5. Communication is key.

Workplace relationships are no different than others when it comes to communication. It’s a core element of LAVIDGE culture, and one we take quite seriously. It’s also one that’s about to grow.

In previous articles, we have described how we communicated with staff. In 2018 monthly staff meetings will replace quarterly ones. We’ll maintain financial transparency by continuing to provide information on how we’re doing. It’s the right thing to do. We’ll be able to introduce new staff members, celebrate promotions, share agency news and give a nod to those who deserve it far more often. 

Overall, the feel is more casual.

Beginning this month, we've replaced our in-depth quarterly slide shows with bite-sized information—and added free lunch!

By holding regularly planned meetings we’re setting the expectation of leadership to share information frequently. And, while we previously held monthly meetings within company divisions, the new standard is to achieve unification. No divisions. One staff. One meeting.

Perhaps even more important are the lines of communication between each employee and his or her supervisor. In addition to informal interactions which happen naturally, we document expectations and provide regular check-ins throughout the year. This promotes understanding and leads to more productive and meaningful annual reviews.

Check-ins can also keep leadership updated on employee goals. Sometimes a top artist or copywriter who deserves a promotion would actually prefer to continue pursuing their craft right where they are. We respect that desire and recommend other businesses adopt a similar policy.

Over time, however, circumstances for an employee might change. A good leader will not only respect an employee’s desire to chart their own course, but they will allow them to reconsider if personal or professional needs change.

6. Protect your culture voraciously.

Building culture is not a one-time event. It isn’t simply developing a mission statement or printing your vision statement on a poster. And, once established, it’s an ongoing challenge to maintain.

At LAVIDGE, we place a high priority on teamwork and hire people who share those values.

When a hiring mistake does happen, rethinking the new-hire’s role within the organization as promptly as possible makes good business sense. Great employees lose confidence in their leaders if we don’t take care of the situations promptly and respectfully.

Thankfully, it’s an issue we haven’t experienced since implementing 10 Steps to Finding Our Most Valuable Assets. Our selection process has helped us maintain the positive culture we’ve worked so hard to create by making sure those who join us will fit right in.

After all, and we can’t state this enough: a happy employee is a productive one.

There's no better time than now.

As January fades, it’s a great time to add one more resolution: explore your company culture to discover growth areas for 2018. Begin by asking yourself which elements of culture would make the best fit for your corporate personality.

Then get to work.When you intentionally build an environment to attract the sort of people you’d like to surround yourself with, everyone will be happier—and most of all—more productive.As our valued clients, friends, and colleagues, feel free to share with us your growing pains and positive experiences along the way. We can’t wait to hear your stories and look forward to amazing results.


Like the story? You might also like “How We Hire (and keep) Superstars,” by Alicia Wadas.


Alicia Wadas, honored as one of the "Most Influential Women in Arizona Business" and COO of the year finalist, joined LAVIDGE in 2004 and has guided its management team as COO for the past 9 years. In 2017, she took on the added responsibility of executive vice president, a role she shares with CFO Sandra Torre.

Alicia Wadas
President Emeritus and Chief Operating Officer
Honored as one of the "Most Influential Women in Arizona Business," Wadas began at LAVIDGE in 2004 and has guided its management team as COO for the past 11 years.

Need fresh thinking? Help is a few keystrokes away.