What makes a culture?

How do you create the right culture at a business? To begin with you need the right foundations. This is the vision and mission of the organisation. The simplicity of a statement that sets out to portray the purpose; ‘what are we here to achieve and why?’

From this, you then need the building bricks. These are the operating beliefs and ethics that guide the business’ internal behaviour, as well as its relationship with its customers, suppliers and shareholders. The values are transparent for all to see, whether this is written or demonstrated through the demonstration of employees.

Our people are the cement that binds the culture of Simons. To bring the foundation and building blocks together businesses need to ensure that the employees emulate the values. This starts at the recruitment stage.

The simplicity of a statement that sets out to portray the purpose; ‘what are we here to achieve and why?’

Upon joining any business, like many people I was sceptical as to whether the ‘sold’ values and culture live up to expectations in reality. This was soon overcome at Simons, as within my first week I received an email inviting me to a tree planting session. “Oh, here we go my first initiation”. Right up until the day of the event I was still dubious, however, we spent a very wet, cold November day planting 1,500 trees with a team of my new colleagues. Certainly a great way to dispel a cynics thoughts and to demonstrate our values in practice.

Diageo’s strapline line of “our values are not just words on a page there are our DNA” is something that resonates for me and the business I now find myself in. I am also mindful that whilst I can champion my experiences of the values at interviews and inductions, I do not want to sound cliché. So I sit back and wait to see the magic happen. When I then catch up with staff a few weeks after joining I always ask ‘have our values met your expectations’ and ‘have we set out to do what you expected us to do?’ We then make sure that we challenge these expectations through an annual engagement survey.

We hope that we continue to see a greater overlap of our existing values and develop an intrinsically holistic business approach

In order to ensure values are not just words on pages on websites, or glossy corporate brochures we need our line managers to be role models for these behaviours and for our employees to be clear of what is expected of them. In our business we align our values to a competency framework, which sets out a suite of desirable and undesirable behaviours against each value. This framework is a key foundation to the appraisal process, ensuring we develop and progress desirable behaviours through mentoring and role modelling, whilst challenging and managing those undesirable behaviours.

Once you have the foundations (purpose), building blocks (values) and cement (people) you also need the great building, the ‘place’. The place can play a significant role in shaping the culture. We are certainly not a place on par with Google or Silicon Valley offices, but we try to inject fun into our Head Office by having table tennis tournaments and lunchtime Pilates. As the business expands and we work more in evolving markets, with new customers, recruiting further employees, and possibly within a more regulatory environment we may need to introduce alternative aspirational values.

We hope that we continue to see a greater overlap of our existing values and develop an intrinsically holistic business approach; one that can inspire purpose in others and be inspired by others, improving the culture of business as far as possible.


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