What Makes a Great Place to Work?

What makes a great place to work? I used to think that was a question that required a complicated answer. Now I am pretty convinced it’s easy to sum it up one word: “culture”. What is company culture? It’s how your team interacts with each other and with the world. It’s the things your team does without being told. It’s the stories they repeat. It’s the way they do things. 


Company culture is intangible. It’s uneven. It’s tough to measure. And it’s also always moving — whether you like it or not. One thing I’ve learned is that every company has a culture. If they didn’t build it on purpose, it happened by accident. Ever been around a bad culture? They probably didn’t plan it that way. Building a good culture and shaping it intentionally is a labor of love that never ends. 


So what’s the payoff? “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. That’s a quote you’ve probably seen. Leadership guru Peter Drucker originally said it a long time ago, but it’s probably as relevant today as ever. Culture is the #1 competitive advantage that any business can cultivate, no matter what industry you’re in. And culture shows itself every day. Our culture influences how we feel coming to work, and how our clients feel when they work with us. 


At RBA, we were really lucky that we started with these ideas in clear focus from the get-go and had some great mentors to help us along the way. We’ve invested time, effort, and resources into building our culture – probably more than most CFO-types would say makes sense for a young company. But for us, the long term payoff has always been obvious. If a business involves people working together, happier people are probably going to make that process better. Pretty simple right? But it’s amazing how easy it is to forget that basic equation.


So how do we build our culture? At the fundamental level, we started by defining a strong set of core values, a clear company purpose, and we built our policies and processes around them.

Core values are only as strong as their practice, so we made sure we had 100% buy-in from leadership. And our leaders had to commit to living them out.  Every quarter, our leadership team meets as a group to evaluate each other, and we rate each other face to face on how well we’re living our core values. So we take this really personally and really seriously. We also survey our team members anonymously and ask them to rate our leaders on how they are living out our values. We try to be open and honest with our failures, because sometimes being vulnerable is even more powerful than being successful. 

On a smaller scale, there are lots of little things we do to celebrate and encourage our team culture. Every week, we collect and share stories of team members or outsiders exemplifying our core values. Storytelling has always been one of the most basic human elements of spreading culture — so just sharing and repeating our own stories celebrating the behaviors we admire is really one of the most powerful ways we can intentionally shape our culture. Honoring anniversaries, birthdays, and accomplishments with a little recognition also goes a long way. 

Last but not certainly not least, we really try to treat our team members like people. It sounds basic, but so many companies end up treating their people like cogs in the machine. Just one example (that probably wouldn’t work for every company) — we don’t count sick days. If you’re sick, PLEASE don’t come in, and you won’t get penalized. If people need to take a Dr’s appointment or visit the dentist, we don’t penalize them or make it a big deal out of it, we just assume that they’ll come in early the next day or stay late to get their work done. It works because we’ve built an organization where our culture is strong enough that we can all trust each other to GSD and take care of each other. 

We’ve also been really lucky to find some great mentors to help us along the way: Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship, Conscious Capitalism, and EOS  have been instrumental to our journey. Investing the time and resources to learn from some of the best in the business let us cover a lot of ground and avoid some of the pitfalls we probably would’ve tripped on if we’d try to do it without help. 

We’ve intentionally made decisions that sacrificed short-term gains on the P&L to help build a better place for our Rocketeers to enjoy how they spend 50+ hours a week. A place that encourages them and supports them growing both professionally and personally. And those are the kinds of investments that pay dividends for years. 

If you want a great culture, the main thing I’d say is you have to make it a priority and build it with purpose. If you leave culture to chance, odds are you won’t love the results. 




By Ross Cromartie, CEO / PRESIDENT
Who am I to give advice on culture? Don’t take it from me – I’m proud to say that this year RBA has been honored by Ad Age as #6 of the top 25 best agencies to work in the USA under 200 employees. Ad Age is the standard bearer for our industry, so this recognition is a huge honor. Our mission is “helping good people do great things”, and I think this award is evidence that we are succeeding.