Building A People-Centric Culture

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by Richard Wright

Fri, 11/06/2020 - 10:28

I have often spoken about the need to put people at the centre of what we do. We are in an industry where we do not have assembly lines, robots and other capital items to help us do what we do. We just have people. High talented, highly committed people.

So, when I started to look at how I wanted to shape the culture at Burrows, the obvious place to start was with the people, to build a culture that put people at its centre and build a business around those people.

So, what does it mean to put people at the centre of the business? You may remember, when I took over as MD at the beginning of 2019, I promised the company (the people as they are the company) that they would work hard, have fun and grow as people. These three pillars are what we have built the business around. Working hard for our clients, having fun while we do it and growing and developing our skills (both hard and soft), along the way.

Although it does not appear on Maslow’s Hierarchy of human need, I believe respect is one of the most basic needs of a talented team member. People need to be respected for who they are and what they do. Respect should be multi directional. As MD I respect the work that our facilities team do, particularly during the extremely challenging time of COVID-19. An account Exec should respect the way our Head of Client Business runs a pitch team. A CGI artist should respect the work of a fellow artist. Respect is not asked for nor sort, it is earned and willingly given.

A flower will not grow unless it is fed and nurtured, the same goes for talent. The people at Burrows are our most valuable commodity and as such must be encouraged to develop and thrive. Sometimes it is not easy to dedicate time to developing people when you are up against a tight deadline, but we must find a way. We must find a way to ensure that our Developer of today is our Senior Developer of tomorrow. During the Lockdown in Q2, 2020, when all discretionary spend was stopped and all recruitment frozen, the one budget we did not cut was our training budget, as we must protect our future.


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People aren’t just about today. Yes, our people today need to help the business deliver for today’s client. They must deliver highly crafted work, that is creatively rich and strategically relevant to today’s challenges, but they also must have an eye on tomorrow. At the same time as delivering excellence today, we must also be planning our innovation of tomorrow. While we are solving our clients’ challenges today, we need to be imagining the challenges that clients we do even have yet, will experience tomorrow. Therefore Innovation, Product Development and an eye for tomorrow are key parts of the culture we strive for.

In 2018 I wrote an article about what clients want from an agency. Having worked both client side and agency side, I have very strong feelings on what an agency needs to represent to its clients and why clients keep coming back. So, when I looked at the culture I wanted to create at Burrows, having a client focus was high on my list. Sometimes in the heat of battle (ok the creative process isn’t quite that much of a battlefield) we forget who pays the bills. We know that clients change their minds and maybe try and slip in the extra bit into a project that is not in the scope of work, but it’s their prerogative, they pay the bills. Just being client focused is not enough. We need to work together, as a team, collaboratively to deliver beyond our clients’ expectations whilst retaining a client focused view.

Sometimes I discuss with colleagues what Burrows is. Different people, probably influenced by where they work, have different views “a CGI studio, a Marketing agency, a Digital agency, a Design studio, a Software Engineering house”. All are right but none matter as names really don’t matter. What you do and how you do it matters. I say we are creative, not a creative agency but we are all creative. The way a Project Manager plans a project delivery when resource is tight, that is creative. When an Account person talks a client into understanding our point of view, that is creative. When our account team … creative accounting is not on the agenda as UK GAAP would not approve. Anyway, my point is that creativity should be a mindset and not a department.

The last building block in my exercise to construct our culture comes from my rugby playing days. When you took the field with 14 guys you were willing to literally give blood for, you had a bond that was created from a very tight culture. My last wish for the culture at Burrows is that we have each other’s back when we need to and front up when we have to. Not necessarily the sort of language you would hear in a typical agency, that’s because Burrows is not a typical agency.