On the surface, Popcom is a boutique public relations and marketing communications firm specialising in SME clients. But founder and director Amanda Lacey says the Sydney-based company is more than that – it’s a family. Such a close-knit, personal approach to business is a clear example of clan culture in action.
That lean towards clan culture with its associated people-oriented and collaborative traits is hardly surprising given that Lacey established the business in 2014 to create a flexible workplace culture that allowed her to combine family commitments with work.
“I started Popcom to be able to do business differently,” she says. “I was tired of trying to work 9am to 5pm (or realistically 8am to 6pm) while juggling small kids, so decided to start my own flexible workplace. I’m proud to say our office is like a family and, even if you leave, you still remain in our network – kind of like a cousin who comes over for Christmas!”
A clan culture is one of the four main workplace cultures highlighted in the Competing Values Framework that was originally developed by professors from the University of Michigan. It is defined as a friendly, family- or tribe-like type of corporate culture that emphasises consensus, the commonality of goals and values, and loyalty to drive employee engagement. It is seen as the most teamwork-based, collaborative and the least competitive organisational culture type.
Its opposite is the market culture, a corporate environment where leaders are results-oriented and staff are valued for their competitiveness.
The other two company cultures are the hierarchy culture, which is structured, process-driven and values policy and procedure, and its opposite adhocracy, which is dynamic and entrepreneurial with a focus on innovation.
Four of Popcom’s five staff enjoy a hybrid model, combining working in the office with remote working, while one works entirely remotely. “It is a truly flexible work environment, and it always has been, by design,” Lacey says.
The business also provides employee incentives and rewards like trips away, restaurant-catered lunches and drinks, while the flat management structure helps promote a company culture where staff trust in the ability and reliability of their colleagues. “We all have a lot of trust and respect for each other as individuals and take a collaborative approach to what needs to be done,” explains Lacey. “It helps that we all have similar values as people as well as in a corporate culture sense.”
When it comes to hiring new staff, Lacey says the team conducts group interviews and prioritises people who will be a cultural fit over those who may be a better match based on skills or experience. “Intelligent people can learn what you need, but if you don’t want to spend time with them, then it won’t work,” she says.
She adds the team takes the same approach to collaborating over the best strategy for each client, dividing the work to suit their strengths.
Instinct, past experience and a need for flexibility all led to the decision that Popcom should be run like a family business, Lacey says.
“I grew up on a farm which was very collaborative, and when I wasn’t working on the farm, I was at my aunt’s florist, where my mum worked,” she explains. “It’s natural for me to have an organisation where we are all trusted and empowered to do the work we need and want to do.”
Lacey also drew from her experiences at previous companies to determine the kind of workplace culture she did – and didn’t – want to replicate at Popcom. She learned from the tribal culture and perk of a stocked kitchen from her time at Macquarie Bank, and the sense of family from her work in private investment banking, then chose to avoid the box-ticking mentality she encountered in the university sector. “I took all the good bits from the places I had worked and tried to merge them into one, into the kind of business that I wanted to run,” she adds.
Lacey says the clan culture approach means Popcom’s employees are loyal, dedicated and highly engaged, something that has a knock-on effect to its clients. “When you have happy, motivated people who want to collaborate, you are going to get better results,” she says. “Good public relations is ultimately a creative process and the best creativity happens in a happy and supported environment.”
She says the company’s collaborative culture paid dividends during the uncertainty created by the pandemic. “It’s great to have a workplace culture where you know you’re going to be supported, where it’s okay if you need to take time off, where you know your teammate is going to step in for you, without question. We all want the same result and we know that we have each other covered.”
Two common criticisms of clan cultures are that they lack diversity of thought, and that the emphasis on cohesiveness stifles dissent. But Lacey rejects the idea that hiring people with common values equates to hiring people who all think in the same way. “It takes all types of people to make a community and, often, it's difference that gives you strength,” she says. “People have different thoughts or different opinions, or they act or work in a different way from each other but, at their core, their values are the same.”
She also disagrees with the notion that a flat leadership structure is the same as a team being leaderless. “We definitely have a collaborative style, but there is a leader among the leaders,” explains Lacey. “At the end of the day, it's my role as the founder and director to ensure we're all doing high-quality work, that the bills are paid and that we continue to grow from strength to strength. By doing that, and showing not telling, you build a natural respect.
“I think among our colleagues, clients and associates, people think Popcom is a great place to work and that we punch above our weight when it comes to delivering quality work,” she adds. “People know that we work hard, we love what we do and you are getting the best of all of us.”