May 1, 2019
Company culture has been in the spotlight even more than usual recently, with stories continuing to surface about the impact that it is having on businesses. The most recent being Revolut, who were called out on their questionable culture and business practices. The issues were put down to “growing pains” and a lack of budget. The truth is, every company has a culture It’s not the state-of-the-art office, the bean bags or pool table. It boils down to the founding principals and the way business gets done. It is the feel of the work environment and the way people treat each other and your implicit attitudes and behaviours. Ultimately, all of these things are in your hands — if you take it seriously from the beginning.
As a business leader, you are in a unique position to curate the culture you want to see in your business — even if you do not have a budget to allocate towards it. So, how can you ensure the culture that is forming in your business is the one you want to see?
When a company is in its fledgling stages, with only a handful of employees, it is likely that a culture will begin to form naturally. But bear in mind, this may be because you are working with your fellow founders or a small group of close people — your goals and values will be aligned. The culture that forms now will set the direction of where and how it develops in the future. This is the most critical stage, as a culture that is established now will be near impossible to change once you start growing and more people join the team.
In these early months and years, it is crucial that you set out your business’ purposes and core values. You need to make it clear how, beyond profit, your business is part of a wider, meaningful mission. Think about the authentic purpose that your company serves and how it sets you apart. It is these things that will engage and motivate a growing workforce.
Happy, well-motivated people who work in a positive environment where there is a clear sense of purpose are more productive than those who work in businesses with toxic cultures, Positive workplace cultures are key to customer retention and attracting new talent to your business.
As a business grows and the number of employees increases, leaders must focus on ensuring their values and philosophy are inculcated to new people as well as existing team members. If you are a founding team member, it is inevitable that as your business grows, your role will shift and change — but this doesn’t mean that the culture you have worked hard to establish does.
You may find that your role means you are more hands-off and less involved with the day-to-day running of your business. However, the importance of being available to your employees cannot be stressed enough. There’s no better way than being present in the office on a regular basis to ensure your people are working in alignment with your cultural values.
It is key that you check the ‘pulse’ of your workforce. Regular one-to-one meetings will allow you to get to know your team, their strengths, aspirations and any concerns will be straight from the horse’s mouth. Not only this, it will help to build your employees trust in you as a leader. Within a small company, it will be easier to spend time with individuals, however, as you grow, you will need to carefully plan your own time to make sure your attention is spread evenly.
Culture really is intertwined with leadership. It should be obvious that founders should embody the values and standards they want to see in both their business and employees. But, as you grow, the temptation may be to focus your attention on wider company goals. Sometimes culture is seen as a ‘nice to have’ but keeping it at the heart of your business strategy will ensure it is kept front and centre, feeds into the business mission and doesn’t become a secondary consideration.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself is the workplace one you would like to turn up to? Bring your whole self to and go above and beyond for? If you find yourself hesitating at any of those, put yourself in the shoes of your employees. What would they say about your business culture and what are they expecting from you?
If you can answer that, you will be able to build a culture that you can be proud of.
Jonathan Richards is the founder of BreatheHR