Talent, qualifications and skills will only get you so far in business. To really succeed, you need to have a team that shares common goals and beliefs. That’s what I call culture. So where do you start and what are the main areas to focus on if you are going to maintain and nurture that culture? And above all, why is a strong company culture so important? Organisations are increasingly looking to carve out a competitive niche and examine all possible sources of advantage. When all other things are equal, a winning culture can help you win more deals and increase profits. Jonathan Fitchew of Pareto Law, winner of the Sunday Times Best Small Company to Work For, looks at the secrets of creating a strong company culture. Talent, qualifications and skills will only get you so far in business. To really succeed, you need to have a team that shares common goals and beliefs. That’s what I call culture. So where do you start and what are the main areas to focus on if you are going to maintain and nurture that culture? And above all, why is a strong company culture so important? Right from the outset No amount of culture will help you if you don’t have the right people. Start your drive for a success culture with the recruitment process. Take time to make sure that new employees will fit into your organisation and help strengthen your ethos. When we recruit, we use a whole range of assessment techniques to find people who are comfortable with our working style and approach to the sales process. Don’t rely on the old one-hour interview; you are making a major investment, so make sure you adopt a layered approach to recruitment. We start with telephone interviews, contacting applicants and filtering out those who are unlikely to fit the bill. Those who pass the telephone interview are then invited to the Pareto Law assessment centre; a day of exercises and interviews, where we see how people interact, work under pressure and behave in a group. Tough love Once you have found the right people, don’t think you can just sit back and watch as they transform your company into an overnight success. Too many companies follow the latest fad and hope that it will somehow miraculously deliver a culture. A few years ago, ‘duvet days’ were all the rage – understandably. Who wouldn’t want to stay in bed all day instead of doing a day’s hard graft? Some organisations feel that confrontation is damaging to culture and go to the other extreme; letting staff get away with murder. Through my experience, I have found that people need challenging goals and guidance on how to achieve those aims. We introduced deadlines and targets, not to intimidate our employees but to stretch their ability and, in turn, help drive the business forward. By explaining how their actions have a direct effect on the success of the business, you ultimately provide your staff with a certain amount of ownership. If you own something, you are more likely to look after it. To prove my point, look at how people treat a hire car as opposed to their own. Those who respond positively to this discipline will help bring your employees together and encourage a teamwork environment. Look at the turnaround at Royal Mail, where a laissez-faire attitude to man management led to a decline in services and huge losses. Whatever you may think of Adam Crozier’s pay packet, you cannot deny the fact that the service is better run and more profitable than before; all because he took the tough decisions and implemented them consistently. Engagement Try to engage members of your team as individuals rather then a homogenous whole; they have different skills, needs and attitudes. Some may respond well to a Gordon Ramsey style of management while others would disintegrate faced with such a robust approach. If there is any conflict within the group, either between themselves or with you, break the group down by engaging with individuals rather than addressing them as a whole. This will not only be less intimidating for the minority, but problems will be highlighted more quickly and ironed out by one-on-one discussions. We have ongoing individual appraisals with our staff to explain how they can improve and how they contribute to the good of the company, as well as to show them the tools they need to achieve this. Remember: this is not a pay review, but a way of showing them how they can be part of the future business aims. Engage the individual and watch your staff turnover fall and your sales multiply. Jonathan Fitchew is joint Managing Director of Pareto Law, a firm specialising in graduate recruitment and sales training and winner of the Sunday Times Best Small Company to Work For.
Creating a culture for success