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“To create a fantastic work culture, communicate constantly with your people”, with David Cyphers and Phil Laboon

Communicate Constantly with Your People — Going far beyond an annual “state of the agency,” I not only maintain a true open-door policy but also schedule regular all-agency meetings. I also try to attend each morning’s trending social media topics meeting so that I can guarantee face time with every employee each day. I had the pleasure of […]


Communicate Constantly with Your People — Going far beyond an annual “state of the agency,” I not only maintain a true open-door policy but also schedule regular all-agency meetings. I also try to attend each morning’s trending social media topics meeting so that I can guarantee face time with every employee each day.

I had the pleasure of interviewing David Cyphers, the founder and president of The Cyphers Agency, a full-service marketing, public relations and digital advertising agency based in Maryland. Dave has built his company over the last 30 years, serving regional and national clients across a wide range of consumer and business-to-business industries.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was always an entrepreneurial kid who enjoyed thinking of creative ways to make money. I charged people a small fee to paint their house number on their curb, for example, so that their homes were easier to find. I also remember polishing stones and mounting them in jewelry settings to sell. Though I now realize it definitely wasn’t an approved use of library property, at one point I even checked out 16mm movies from the library and used my garage as a movie theater where I played them for neighbor kids for money.

It also became clear in school that my best creative skill was writing, so I naturally gravitated toward advertising in college. And while I started my business on my own, I always knew that the best way to grow it and make it as successful as possible would be to have someone better than me in each position. So although I do still enjoy writing and strategizing, I feel like I’m right where I’m meant to be because I most enjoy managing a group of people, knowing that far more is being accomplished each day than I could ever do on my own.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting story is the rapid pace of evolution in the marketing world. There was no Internet when we started. We realized early on that we needed to stay out ahead of technology if we were going to survive, let alone thrive. First around 2000 we started designing websites, then we mastered search engine optimization, then social media, video content and now it’s mobile advertising. Change is the only constant and as a small business, we have to work hard to understand emerging trends and how we can help guide our clients to take advantage of them.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Our client base is very diverse but includes several national trade associations whose projects are not only exciting but seek to benefit both their members and the consumers they serve. Our recent work for the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), for example, includes educating the public about the difference between refined and whole grains by creating and disseminating eye-catching infographics on social media channels. Our ongoing PR work for the Government Employees’ Benefit Association (GEBA) seeks to spread financial literacy through bylined articles and media appearances. It may sound a bit hokey, but it’s exciting and fulfilling to know that we are helping these clients do good.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

There are definitely a lot of reasons why someone might be unhappy at their job, from a difficult boss or negative work culture to a lack of work-life balance. And even if there’s no problem in those areas, you might simply find the work uninteresting, unimportant, or undervalued. So, while no job is perfect and not everyone has a choice in what they do, I think it’s very important to try to find a position that is both mentally and financially rewarding since we spend a very large part of our lives working.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

An unhappy workforce is bad for business, plain and simple. People work harder — and smarter — when they enjoy what they do, take pride in what they do, and feel like they’re an important part of a team that’s working toward the same goals. They are more productive and miss fewer work days when they’re both mentally and physically healthy. For these reasons, I do all that I can to support a healthy work-life balance and make our office a place that people want to be, doing work they want to do.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Hire Great People — To help ensure new hires will fit seamlessly into the agency’s close-knit team, candidates must come in for a shadow day to get to know and interact with their potential peers before a final offer is made. Employee impressions are taken very seriously and every voice is heard in hiring decisions. Frankly it took us years to get good at this, but these days we almost always select people who are a good fit for their position and for our culture.

Communicate Constantly with Your People — Going far beyond an annual “state of the agency,” I not only maintain a true open-door policy but also schedule regular all-agency meetings. I also try to attend each morning’s trending social media topics meeting so that I can guarantee face time with every employee each day.

Make Time to Celebrate — I’ve made it a policy to celebrate each employee’s birthday and work anniversary in a personal way, from a murder mystery party to breakfast in PJs, and to also give them the freedom to celebrate holidays together however they choose, from holiday decorating to a Halloween costume contest. Our office even participated in a version of “Winter Olympics.” Doing so not only shows your employees that you care, but also creates an opportunity for staff who rarely interact to do so in a fun environment.

Let Your People Pick Their Perks — Over the years, I’ve realized that each employee cares more or less about what are now standard office perks, from snacks to personal desk decorations. Because of this, I strongly believe that keeping your people happy by saying yes to whatever type of Keurig cup, crazy creamer flavor, toilet paper, or desk plant an employee asks for is well worth the price.

Create an Office Space Your People Love — While liking your coworkers is essential, I think that liking the physical space where you spend eight hours of your day is almost as important. So, when we moved to our new office a year ago, I gave each employee a budget to personalize their workspace and had the whole staff work together to develop themed breakout rooms with bright colors and fun furniture. One employee was lamenting the lack of natural light in his space, so I cut and framed an opening in the wall one weekend to give him access to direct sunlight. A relaxing and interesting work environment is an important part of maintaining positive morale and fostering creativity, which is obviously particularly important for an ad agency.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Our country’s work culture is far more demanding of its workforce than that of many countries, but I think we are moving in the right direction in terms of creating and supporting a healthier work-life balance. I think government can play a part in continuing to do so, for example making some Federal holidays mandatory and incentivizing businesses to offer 401(k) plans to their employees. I think there’s something wrong if you can’t manage your business so it doesn’t require lots of extra hours from employees. We need to foster a culture where we can get the work done in 40 hours and people are encouraged to take the personal and vacation time they need and deserve.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I wholeheartedly subscribe to the philosophy that a boss’s main job is to make it easier for people to do their jobs well — create a good environment, give them the tools they need and get out of their way. So, whereas some business owners might manage tightly with rules and fear tactics, I try to use positive reinforcement and open communication to help everyone work toward the same goals. There are occasional individual bonuses, but our main bonus structure is based on overall company performance. We work hard to make sure everyone understands how we make money and what we can all do to improve the bottom line.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been fortunate to receive very valuable advice and guidance from countless people along the way. But the inspiration I received from my first real boss, Jerry Wood, owner of Annapolis Sailing School and Annapolis Boat Shows, stands out. Jerry wasn’t always the easiest person to work for, but he was a highly successful, self-made entrepreneur who showed me what hard work and dedication can lead to. Looking back, he’s the one individual who really made me want to go out and build a business for myself.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We’ve always committed some of our resources, in terms of both time and skill, to helping out local nonprofits. Our management team has served on local Community Foundation and Rotary Club boards, and we make time for pro bono marketing work to support good causes in our area.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If you ask someone to sweep the floor, some people will just go get it done. Others will ask where the broom is, ask for a trash bag, and ask how long do they have to get it done. I’d heard some version of this lesson early on, and I realized that in business you have to take some chances with new responsibilities, new ideas, and opportunities. If you are too timid, agonize, and over-think everything you won’t get anywhere. It’s a bit too strong to say, “fake it ’til you make it,” perhaps, but I think you need enough confidence in yourself and your people to barrel ahead without being afraid of making mistakes along the way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I don’t think I’m ready to inspire a movement, but I believe strongly in everyone doing their part. I’m very proud that our small business creates a livelihood for 18 people and their families, and that a number of employees have been here 10, 15, even 20 years — that they’ve chosen to make a career here. If we do everything right, we can be profitable, our people can earn a good living, and we can do great work for clients so that they want to stay with us for years. I feel good about generating this impact on the world.

Thank you so much for joining us!

About the Author:

Phil Laboon wants to live in a world where actions speak louder than words, people shout their stories from roof tops, and where following one’s passion is the norm. As a serial entrepreneur and investor, his personal and professional life has spotlighted in hundreds of publications such as People Magazine, Rueters, Forbes, Inc, HuffingtonPost, and CBS This Morning. Phil also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column on the subject of how great leaders build great companies. When he’s not building memorable brands or launching exciting startups, you can find him backpacking exotic countries looking for new inspiration and challenges. If you would like to book Phil for an entertaining speaking engagement about inbound marketing or growing a business, he can be contacted HERE.

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