The thrill of the chase - how we defined our purpose and principles

Potential clients occasionally ask us about our values. Potential employees ask us about our values all the time. And, eighteen months ago, we didn't have any.

Merging several companies into a single agency called Signal certainly had its challenges, and that included existing agency values that no longer made sense. It was time to rip things up and start again.

In such circumstances, it’s impossible to do too much primary research. So, I conducted an all-staff online survey and moderated five workshops based on the survey findings. The workshops  were attended by people at all levels, across all disciplines, from each of the merged agencies and each of our three offices. Through these sessions I heard directly from about 25% of Signal staff.

Although there was a lot of nostalgia associated with what had been strong agency brands and cultures pre-merger, I was also met with cautious optimism and a constructive attitude. Most helpfully, I was left with a good grasp of the common ground on which to build. This common ground was briefed into the creative department, turned into conceptual territories, and shared back with groups of various sizes in each office.

This process resulted in a conscious decision to take an oblique approach to making money. Our company values would be the means by which we chased a vibrant culture, not cash.  This was an important decision. We believe that if we get the culture right, we’ll get the work and the client relationships right, and if we get those things right, commercial success will take care of itself.

So, now we deliberately talk about principles rather than values. We have active principles by which we manage the agency. We call them Signals because you should be able to see them in action around you. They are the lines in the sand which help us make important decisions. They have one foot in the agencies we were (because we want to keep the good bits), and one foot in the agency we aspire to be. And because we are continually evolving as a company, they are the basis of a perpetual work in progress.

For example, on the basis of our learning principle, we are in the process of redesigning our approach to people development. Every employee with line management responsibility is being externally trained in coaching techniques in order to fulfil our commitment to continuous learning. Continuous learning means continuous people development, which means regular coaching rather than annual appraisals. People will be coached on every aspect of their jobs, by people who have been equipped to do that coaching in a structured, supportive manner.

That’s more than enough preamble. The SlideShare story embedded below is designed to be an easy, self-explanatory read. It lays out where we’re at right now, where we want to end up, and how we’re going to get there.

Conceptual work on the Signals: Grant McLean and Trevor Pake. Slideshare visuals: Ian Fletcher.

Phil Adams

Planning Director

Phil is Signal's Strategy Director. He ensures that the right people are working to the best plan, guided by a precise definition of commercial purpose.