An Outside idea : Start with Culture

This week at Networking in… we were joined by a very special guest. Richard Kennell is the Founder and CEO of SOFEA; an Oxfordshire based social enterprise that has gone from 4 to 90 staff in 8 years. He also happens to be my old business studies teacher. Richards talk focussed on growing pains associated with growth and specifically around the challenges you encounter when you have to bring in people to do the job that you love to do. He highlighted the importance of culture fit and I want to dwell on it, and why I believe to grow a business successfully you have to start with culture.

As business owners, often we start businesses because we are highly skilled at and really enjoy an element of the business that we start. In his fantastic book, the e-myth revisited Michael Gerber coins the phrase “the technician” The person that starts a hairdressers probably really loves to cut hair. The person who starts a financial advisory; usually loves the process of providing financial advice. So on and so forth.

The thing is, the skills that make you a great hairdresser are not the same skills that are required to run an effective and profitable business; and that’s why culture fit, in my opinion is one of the fundamentals that business owners need to work on whilst the business is young.

Staff – The problem with growing

All too often, to preserve cash in the early days the business owner will wear many hats. They spend their day time hours serving customers and the shoulder hours doing the marketing, finances & operations of the business. The days are long. At some point, the shoulder hours become weekends and late evening and something has to give. At that point, the thing that the business owner enjoys least is usually the first thing to get delegated away to a new staff member or outsourced assistant. The problem is, often then, the business owner is too busy to really interview and finds the first person with the skill to do the job. There is often little regard for the type of person they are, it’s all about skill.  And so the cycle continues, until the owner realises that the phones aren’t being answered the way they should be, that processes aren’t being followed and customers are being let down.

In lot’s of cases, the additional stress of having staff causes the business owner to call it a day, or at least to scale back and go back to being a one man band where the margin was better, the hours were long but the stress was less.

It’s understandable!

Start with culture

The organisations that focus on and refine their culture whilst they are young are often the ones with the best chances of success.

If you look at the businesses that grow, often you’ll be able to identify a strong sense of culture that permeates from every member of the team. It’s a sense of shared values of belonging or even pride. It’s a togetherness that comes from working with a set of people with a shared vision for the future. To make sure that the people that are aligned, it’s imperative that you employ the right ones in the first place. To do that, you must be clear on what you stand for, what you do, and how you do it. Sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked.  

What is culture

When I start working with my clients, culture is one of the things that I insist we work on first. I often use the analogy, in 5 years time, when we cut the business open, for you to still love it, it must bleed you. Sounds a bit gross but what i mean by it is, there are things that as a business owner are highly important to you. There are 4 elements to this.

Values – What do you stand for

You may stand for impeccable service, attention to detail, quality, consistency, integrity, preciseness, value, honesty, fun, hard work, humour, neatness… The list is endless. For you to really find a loyal tribe who love coming to work with you, it’s important that you clearly portray those things in a clear set of company values.

Mission statement – What are you striving to the best at

Your mission statement is a clear and an action-based statement that helps people understand quickly and easily what you do. It states the reason that you exist as a business, what and and how you serve your customers.

Vision statement – Where are you heading

Your vision statement is a more aspirational statement that you make  that articulates what you would like to the business achieve. Your vision is the destination that you are looking to achieve and will guides the direction of your efforts. Amazon’s vision statement is to be “the world’s most customer centric company”.

Promises – What do you promise your customers and employees and what do you expect in return

The promises that you make are a less conventional element of a company culture that I believe make a lot of sense. This concise document clearly states
+ The promises that you make to your customers (you team will deliver these)
+ The promises that you make to your staff (You will deliver these)
+ The promises that you expect your team to make to you, so that you can deliver on the promises that you make to the customer. (Your staff deliver these to you and the customer)

Putting culture into practice
Employees who deliver are often ones who are happy with their jobs, have similar values to you, believe in your vision, and see how their work contributes to the overall success of the business. When you’re starting out and you have time to think about culture it’s the best time to be putting pen to paper.

Look at recruitment before your ready
When you feel like you’re reaching capacity, it’s time to start looking for your perfect person. Revisit your culture documents and create a advert for the job with key points from the documents included. If you are someone that’s always on time and demands preciseness in all that you do. SAY IT. You’ll put off people that are slap dash and the ones that believe what you believe will be drawn to you.

Need to work on your company culture?
If you’re struggling to find the right tome of voice or culture for your business, drop me a note. I can help you create a culture thats yours and you’re incredibly proud of.

Onwards and upwards my friend



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