A recent report in the Financial Times outlined the challenge that companies face in retaining their culture during periods of rapid growth. An organisation’s image, as projected internally, is integral to staff attitude, colleague relationships, and as a result – client satisfaction. But as businesses grow, the atmosphere that was once key to creativity and success can be lost.

The challenge of preserving the original culture is particularly acute in digital marketing where technologies change rapidly. But what can HR professionals do to ensure their company’s group ethos is protected?

As many digital advertising agencies approach 20 years, they may find they are too large and too corporate to continue producing cutting-edge creative work that can compete with more nimble, smaller start-ups. They run the risk of becoming so large that they are only able to work for big clients, eliminating smaller brands that are keen to experiment with edgier ideas – the type of work that attracts the industry’s up-and-coming creative talent. As a result, the brands they work with turn to fresh young competitors who can offer new and exciting possibilities – and so the cycle continues.

As digital companies mature they must rely on their HR function to help keep the small agency feel. This is essential if they are to continue to attract the right talent and clients to the business – but how is this possible within a large multinational organisation? 

Founded in 1995, digital marketing agency AKQA has 1,120 employees around the world, with offices in Europe, North America and Asia. Local branches hold regular meetings with their ‘creatives’, where staff are given a prompt to create a concept or product, and are expected to return with an idea within four hours – rather than the typical weeks such tasks can take. By piling on the pressure and encouraging competition and collaboration, AKQA is recreating the faced-paced, productive atmosphere which is so often lacking in high level corporate institutions. And it is not the only agency implementing programmes to spark momentum and inject a sense of pride in the creative output of the company.

The function of HR is changing in the digital age and now newsletters, websites, and private social networks are being used as tools to engage an ever growing global workforce. As the rise of the cloud makes it possible for employees to work across continents, we turn to technology to provide the interaction and cooperation that smaller firms traditionally thrive on. Possible Worldwide, for example, which has 1,500 employees in 23 offices globally, asks staff to write ten original posts for the company’s network each year. This creates a sense of pride within the organisation by connecting its talent to share inspiration and accomplishments.

Within the digital field, creativity is the only sustainable competitive advantage an agency has. And it is probable that this can be diluted or become less of a focus through organic growth. By implementing unconventional staff development programmes to re-establish creative independence, HR professionals can help to enshrine the valuable culture which is fundamental to originality and longevity.