Organizational culture determines success or failure


Why were Americans persuaded by the Don Drapers of the advertising world that they needed whiter teeth, fresher breath, and cars that went from zero to 60 in 5.9 seconds? Did those “mad men” and their descendants really just examine our attitudes and give us what we want? Or did they, and the culture of their organizations, shape our needs and desires?

Cultural values certainly have shaped Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the fictional ad agency of the Emmy Award-winning Mad Men, as they frame the personality and character of any organization. Those cultural values give rise to expectations, outcomes and desired results, and an organization’s performance is measured—relentlessly—on how well it measures up to them.

If you were to describe the culture of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, what would come to mind? Incessant smoking, daily drinking, affairs, last-minute late-night work and male-dominated, stylized presentations at the obligatory client meeting.

The agency’s culture is competitive, privileged, and based on leveraged relationships. Not collaborative. It is elitist. Rather than focusing on research-based insights, it is more about whom you know and how you sell him the work. It is a command-and-control culture that was very much the norm in the Fifties and Sixties.

Eventually, as America changed, the command-and-control culture faded. Younger people and women wanted more of a say in decision-making, and to collaborate as a team. If the old culture continued to rule but didn’t support the team, the team didn’t survive. Without teams of talented people, the work disappointed, and the agencies vanished to the same destinations as the failed brands they touted. (I’m willing to bet that’s the emphasis of the last Mad Men episode!)

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Today, we proudly embrace the team culture in place at SA. “Finding a better way always” is the linchpin that ties together the way it’s been done to the way it should be done. The Better Way is pivotally ingrained in our culture. It’s there to keep first things first and focused on what’s important: our clients, our team and the better ideas.

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