Regan Baillie
Nov 21, 2017

Culture club: GroupM's Regan Baillie on agencies putting people first

Managing director of GroupM [m]PLATFORM & Xaxis weighs in on the importance of setting team building at the forefront of organisational goals.

Culture club: GroupM's Regan Baillie on agencies putting people first

Whenever I read an article about company culture, there is almost always the obligatory reference to office décor, whether they have a sleep pod, foosball machine, or free sushi.

I like an ergonomic chair as much as the next person but after 20 years of working in media in every conceivable environment, from a start-up townhouse (where some of the team lived upstairs), to floor-to-ceiling fine art adorned corporate luxury, I have learned that the office environment quickly becomes a hygiene factor.

In my experience, culture is almost always created by the vision and actions of the leader or leadership of a business. Creating an environment where people feel valued and can bring their whole selves to work is more than just bean bags and exposed brickwork.

To create a winning company culture there needs to be a genuine People First approach. Connecting culture to the key business objectives and understanding how this drives real outcomes such as employee retention and greater engagement.

Leadership engagement

This is the essential first step to transforming company culture.

It’s not just about management buy-in, for transformational change leaders and management need to be fully engaged and passionate in driving culture beyond a cursory nod to a monthly team outing.

At Xaxis, every member of the leadership team is involved in driving pillars of change: employer branding, interview process, on-boarding, performance management, maximising potential of each individual, through to diversity and inclusion. The execution ownership of the leadership team creates a feeling of investment and vested interest.

Shared ownership

The future of our business is in the hands of the millennials.

We have several committees responsible for driving the values and culture within our business including: YCO (youth), diversity, welcome, sports and culture.

Every pillar of our People First strategy is filtered through the YCO committee — where the strategy and tactics of the leadership will live, die, or evolve, based on their expert millennial opinion — and will often be augmented with their own creative ideas.

As the future leaders of our business, they speak for the needs and wants of more than 90 percent of current and future employees. As part of our diversity and inclusion strategy, decisions are made by a diverse range of cultures, gender and position within the business.

This means that when a new initiative is rolled out we have champions across the whole business at every level to ensure success.

Integration not isolation

We operate an agile working environment with people free to work from home or wherever they choose within the office, although there is a preference for a more structured office base and collaboration with other team members.

24/7 connection has become an accepted way of working for the future generation, so instead of separating home and work life, we need to encourage and integrate into one fulfilling experience. After all, the very concept of ‘work life balance’ implies that work is not a part of your life.

Flexible hours to hit the gym, lunchtime mandarin or coding classes are some of the ways our people choose to integrate their personal and professional goals. We ensure that personal development is included within quarterly goals and run coaching 1-2-1s focused on the whole self, rather than only work-related development. In addition, taking time to understand everyone and celebrate their outside interests and hobbies makes everyone feel valued for more than just the work they produce.

Find the fun

One of the best things about working in digital advertising is the work hard, play hard mentality.

Yes, we are busy and yes, we need to work hard, but it’s important to have downtime together, to minimize the frustrations and stress that could otherwise build up. Getting to know each other and particularly leadership in a more relaxed environment works wonders on building genuine rapport with the team.

There are continuous ways for people to connect at Xaxis, with team outings, weekly sports, social gatherings, races, cook-offs, boat trips and pick-mix lunches whereby four random members of the team are selected to lunch together each month.

For me, seeing Xaxis people past and present choosing to hang out together as friends across every level of the business is validation that something is working.

Keep talking

Everybody's voice matters.

This is paramount throughout the process. Not only the amount you communicate but how you communicate. With most our business made up of millennials, often they have a different perspective on what is deemed to be open and transparent communication.

A quarterly townhall may once have been sufficient, but with the pace of change across the industry, an open avenue for continual two-way communication is essential.

Adoption of several apps has been key; Slack, WhatsApp and Confluence, in addition to regular check-ins from senior management. We also use Reflektive, a performance management platform which allows us to manage progress of our goals on a mobile app and allows polling on-the-fly to continually test the mood of the business.

Continuous assessment of what’s working effectively is essential. The weekly team meeting had become a negative, uninspiring round-up of tasks and issues.

We decided that the focus should be on continuously talking and updating through the week and reinvented the meeting into a (timed) 20-minute breakfast meeting each Friday morning, where everyone shares two things; their biggest achievement of the week, and the single most important priority for the week ahead. Run by a different member of the team each time, it has transformed into a positive, feel good experience, which takes the team into the weekend on a high.

Make it matter

No one likes to feel like a number or a robot.

Every individual effort within a company makes up part of the whole success, and so by connecting everyone to the overall vision and creating champions from within, you can transform culture and drive your business objectives.

Start with small positive actions and prioritise your people. Whether it’s initiating a team social occasion, booking in some 1-2-1s, organising lunches with leadership, or sharing ownership of the weekly meeting.

Hire the very best people, remind yourself that they spend more time at work than with their families and treat them like they matter. Our people are still our greatest asset, and operating a clear People First strategy makes everyone feel valued and invested in our continued success.


Regan Baillie is managing director of GroupM [m]PLATFORM & Xaxis and spearheads the overall APAC People First initiative.


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