Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
WorkXO Culture Chat Podcast: Jen Marszalek of Havas Chicago

WorkXO Culture Chat Podcast: Jen Marszalek of Havas Chicago

June 8, 2018
Charlie Judy

In the latest episode of the Culture Chat podcast, I got to check in with HR veteran Jen Marszalek of Havas Chicago, a global network of advertising and marketing agencies, where she is chief talent officer. 

Our conversation touched on how to get deliberate in aligning the way we work and the culture around it to drive the company’s success. Here are a few highlights.

Cube to Collaboration

Havas Chicago has been in the same building in Chicago’s River North district for about 20 years, and it has a heavy millennial concentration in its team. One challenge the company overcame several years ago was transforming a “cube farm” office space into something more conducive to the collaborative mindset of the 21st century worker.

This included not just a remodeling, but a reimagining of how the team works, Marszalek says. The company went to a completely open office environment in which no one, not even the CEO, has a private office. It also has all employees sit by their client teams, regardless of whether they’re creative, account services, media, etc. “I think that we do better work because of that, and those seem like sort of un-sexy culture things, but they're very deliberate,” Marszalek says.

Havas Chicago is also a pooch-friendly space in which everyone can bring their dogs. The canine presence helps people feel calm, and enhances the experience for both employees and clients.

It Takes a Village

The company’s overall cultural philosophy is one of togetherness, and it considers all the physical offices to be part of a village. This is important in an organization that consists of a lot of different agencies and a variety of functions. “It takes a village to serve a client,” she says.

This has led to a great deal of cross-pollination, with about three-fourths of the clients in the Havas building shared between agencies. This brings efficiency for clients as a one-stop shop for all of their needs, and a natural environment for business development.

The problem with having people cluster together by discipline is that it becomes an assembly line, Marszalek says. Rather than having the workflow go from department to department, everyone in the same area is talking and thinking about a single client.

It can be challenging to maintain the right culture, because people have a tendency to slide back into old routines and ways of doing things. In order for a culture to be living and breathing, you’ve got to walk the walk every day. Because the minute you don’t, it loses steam and credibility with your internal teams.

Another thing to consider is hiring to your culture. At Havas, Marszalek says they are edgy and culturally relevant, telling potential recruits “We hire badasses.” Otherwise you’ll have people realizing after the first month that it’s not the right environment for them. Havas’ is Evel Knievel: “Ride or die.” Culture is something that every employee has to be diligent about maintaining. 

Authenticity and Evolution

We also talked about how culture evolves. Some of it is organic, but it also has to be prescribed to meet the changing needs of the business so the company is leading and winning. For Havas, this means paying attention to “external signals” because one of its core values is to be culturally relevant. So they talk about things like Black History Month, the #MeToo movement, International Women’s Day, gun control and more.

Finally, we discussed how culture can only be seen as authentic if it’s being driven from the top by the whole executive team. “If you know that … everybody believes in it, there’s a different sense of commitment to it and a different depth to it,” Marszalek  says.

Listen to the full podcast.


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