Business Basics: How to maintain positive company culture as you scale up

19 December 2018

In this edition of Business Basics, we’re talking to Gilles Boisselet, Chief Strategy Officer at UNIT9, an innovation consultancy firm which works with a wide range of brands, including the BBC, Huawei and Nike.

Gilles’ time working amongst UNIT9’s innovative, forward-thinking environment means he’s well served to demonstrate his knowledge of maintaining a positive company culture, even as a business increases in size and scope. From recognising employee achievements to the pitfalls of shaping a company culture with words, Gilles’ expertise is sure to resonate with small businesses looking to form and maintain that all-important positive identity.

How important is it to put the company’s culture into words? If the cultural objectives aren’t written down, how else can they be conveyed to the whole team?

If your company culture is the same as your company policy, then I’m afraid you don’t have a genuine culture. Company culture should be a spirit or a mindset. True culture transcends words, visual identity and social communication. And attempting to translate this spirit into a set of rules only serves to create limitations. Perhaps the best way to convey the intangible nature of a company’s culture is through the content that’s published on its social channels. If employees follow their company on Facebook or Instagram, and they’re proud of the posts, that takes things to the next level of bonding and team spirit.   

How can a business strike a balance between consistency and flexibility when developing company culture – ensuring the whole team is happy and the business is progressing in the right direction?

A meaningful company culture is inherited from a business vision or set of beliefs. Its prime focus shouldn’t be on making the whole team happy. If a team shares the same aims and vision, they will organically and collectively push culture in the right direction. By syncing their beliefs with their achievements, their wellbeing becomes a happy by-product. Driving culture from happiness surveys is more likely to result in something that leans into company policy, than company culture.

When hiring new starters, how much should their personality factor into the hiring process? Should employers look to find people who meet the desired cultural structure?

Absolutely. The hiring process is an essential part of nurturing company culture. Recruiting all year round for the right type of people is a better way to ensure a good cultural fit than hiring only when you’re stuck and need additional resource. By openly recruiting on an on-going basis, you’re more likely to find employees who have been engaging with the company and are naturally attracted to the business and its culture, rather than people who just want to earn a fast buck. How and where recruitment takes place is also an opportunity to send a cultural message.

What can new businesses do to maintain the feel of a start-up and strengthen that initial structure between senior managers and those reporting into them?

The best solution is to remove – or at least, resist developing – middle management. Instead, connect talent directly together through cloud software that enables real-time group interaction.

Ultimately, if your teams are driven, continuous monitoring and reporting becomes redundant because you can be confident they’re doing a good job. The way to keep teams motivated is to introduce win metrics and ‘gamification’. For example, you can present pitch win and budgeting stats in an entertaining way on a monthly basis (which double as reports for senior management). And Google’s CRM tool, Copper, allows businesses to gamify and report the working process in this way.

How can growing businesses use technology to stay connected and increase operational capacity?

When a company expands, it’s often due to growth across different territories. And this usually entails operating across different time zones. It may sound counterintuitive, but working across multiple time zones can make a business more efficient. That’s because the time differences can be exploited to extend the working day, or perhaps even keep the business operating 24/7. This situation can be further enhanced by throwing state-of-the-art technology into the mix, like using Google Docs for versioning, or Slack for social management, or even agile management software like JIRA to keep everybody on the same global page.

How much would you say recognising employee achievements contributes to a positive atmosphere?

Recognition and rewards are priceless and absolutely critical to building a positive company culture. This can come in the form of a bonus scheme to add value to achievements, or applying metrics to present stats that further spur the team on. But it’s also important for staff to get approbation from the wider world, too. In the creative sector, where I work, industry awards are a real boon to strengthening cultural bonds, especially when prizes are awarded for projects, rather than individuals, because then it’s done in recognition of collective achievement. Likewise, PR is a good route for helping people feel like their work is being appreciated by the world that lies beyond the office walls.

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If you receive negative employee feedback, how would you use that to put the company culture back on course?

This may go against the grain, but if you have enough faith in your company culture, I would question whether you should allow it to be shaped by negative feedback from employees. A strong culture comes from strong leadership and knowing who you are. That’s not to say you shouldn’t listen to others in the company. But it does mean maintaining identity by not augmenting your culture around every little criticism. Steve Jobs didn’t use focus groups and feedback to create the products that went on to define our contemporary lives. He knew what he wanted to achieve, and he stuck with it. Again, we come back to the common error of mistaking company culture for company policy. By all means, let constructive feedback influence company policy. But when it comes to company culture, stay strong and stick to your guns.

Many thanks to Gilles for his contribution. If you found this useful and you’re looking for more information check out some of our related SME guides below:

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