8 key ingredients for a positive business culture

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Creating a positive culture is one thing. Keeping it is another matter entirely. Here’s how to do both.

Deloitte research found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees linked a strong workplace culture with business success.

So if you want to see a change in your bottom line, it’s time to get proactive.

But this raises the key question; how can you create a brilliant culture and keep it? We asked experts from a variety of industries to share their insights.

1. Encourage authenticity at all levels

“A good culture starts with authenticity,” says Sahar Hashemi OBE, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Coffee Republic.

“Businesses used to have cultures where employees couldn’t be themselves; they had to put a ‘work face’ on. We need employees to display true people skills like empathy, curiosity, experimentation and vulnerability.”

Hashemi’s new book, Start Up Forever, looks at how large businesses can rediscover the agile, sustainable workplace cultures of innovative startups.

“It’s very much about the language that’s used,” Hashemi explains. “How often do we hear phrases like ‘We’ve always done it this way’? Successful leadership is about getting out there and immersing yourself in your client or customer base. It’s allowing yourself and your team to experiment with new ideas. It’s not being scared of failure.”

Key points:

  • Encourage staff to bring their authentic selves to work to create a culture of acceptance.
  • The language you use is very important; does it reflect the culture you want to foster?

2. Abandon the old business silo model

Hashemi goes on to advise that the way people work together needs to fundamentally change as well.

Staff working in isolated teams, or silos, can be detrimental to a sustainable workplace culture.

Employers, she advises, should discourage elitist, closed-knit groups and instead encourage a more open dialogue between staff and management. Collaboration should be embraced, not feared.

Key point: Collaboration and openness needs to be at the heart of all your business does.

3. Develop a clear business identity

David Carry is CEO of leadership coaching business Track Record. His staff, who all have Olympic sports backgrounds, work with management teams for over a year to develop their purpose and values.

He says entrepreneurs and startups should talk to employees about the identity of the business and acceptable behaviours and values right from the start. He calls this list of behaviours and values “guard rails”.

Heather Wright, director at corporate training consultancy Advance Performance, agrees.

“The embedding of a workplace culture is constant. Discussions about the right behaviours need to start from the very beginning. So buy-in from everyone within the business is essential, as they will be the ones to either underline it or undermine it.”

Key point: Establish clear behaviours and values for your business identity, and then get buy-in from everyone in the business to solidify that identity.

4. Focus on ‘the Win’

‘The win’ is what you want to achieve with your business.

It will tell everyone in the firm what they want to “race towards” to ensure business success, says Carry, CEO of a leadership coaching business.

“You want to be super clear what that win is,” he explains. “No fudging numbers and no dodging halfway through. It will give staff a real sense of ownership and clarity about what they’re driving towards.”

Key point: Ensure everyone in the business is clear on the business objectives so they’re all working towards the same goal.

5. Hire slowly, fire quickly

Paul Ellis, managing director at e-procurement solutions provider Wax Digital, advocates due diligence when hiring: “Make sure new candidates fit with business culture, and carry out multiple interviews and written assessments to make sure they’re right.

“But it’s equally important to remove staff who aren’t the right fit as quickly as possible,” he goes on to say. “Disgruntled employees will influence others and have a negative effect on the working environment.”

Key point: Strive to bring the right people on board, as culture can be easily swayed by bad attitudes or disgruntled employees.

6. Learn to lead

The transition from team member to manager can be difficult, says accountancy coach Carol McLachlan; you need to change your mindset and keep your hands free to focus on your new team.

“A lot of people are used to measuring their worth in chargeable hours but, after promotion to manager or team leader, you can’t actually be measuring that anymore.”

Carry agrees: “It’s the difference between being selfish and selfless. It’s not about you delivering your best results any more. It’s now about maximising and leveraging the best results for the team.”

And during times of uncertainty, effective leadership and team management becomes even more crucial.

Key point: When team members progress into management levels, they need to adjust their mindset for the new role. Selfless managers who work for their team are essential to generating a great company culture.

7. Learn with your team

McLachlan urges managers to adopt an enquiry-led approach, where they learn and grow with their team, rather than a more autocratic approach.

Doing so fosters an environment of positive collaboration, she says: “Simply telling someone to do something in a particular way won’t land very well. You as a manager are looking at the world through a different lens from the person you’re working with, so it’s about fostering a learning culture, where everyone works together and helps each other out.”

Also spend time getting to know your team to get an idea of how each individual performs best, Wright advises. Identify the ‘unofficial leaders’, the influencers who can play a key role in getting buy-in from the rest of the team and keeping everyone focused.

Key points:

  • Managers need to adopt a growth mindset, ensuring they’re striving for continual development and progress alongside their team.
  • Focus on creating an environment of positive collaboration, where people within the team collaborate and help each other.

8. Deal with problems as they arise

“Don’t wait until the annual appraisal to tell someone they’ve been doing something wrong for the past year, because that’s bad leadership,” says Carry. “There need to be upfront conversations around behaviour so staff are on board with what’s expected of them and each other.”

Managers should address both good and bad behaviours as they happen, making sure to give specific examples. “It’s important to do both, as one without the other is counter-intuitive,” Carry adds.

Key point: When focussing on creating a great company culture, it’s important to give timely feedback when people are doing well, or could use improvement. It’s up to you to keep things on track.

In summary:

The culture of a company has been shown to strongly correlate with business success, but creating a fantastic culture and maintaining it takes work.

Our experts believe this is definitely time well spent, with leadership coach David Carry, working with management teams for over a year just to develop the right values.

How are you performing in the eight key areas identified above? Are your staff thriving in a collaborative environment? Or does your team need more of a helping hand to get it right?

For further guidance on working on improving your company culture, check out our resources below:

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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