Culture has become a crucial pillar of scaling organisations, it is what keeps your team together, motivates them and keeps them focused on a shared goal.
We had a chat with Tom Jewell, People & Culture Partner at Unleashed, to find out more about the importance of creating a company culture that is sustainable, intentional and scalable.
“Values should be attached to behaviours. This is something that we help our clients with a lot, as creating a clearly codified culture is the most scalable process you can build.”
Tom Jewell, People & Culture Partner at Unleashed, a far-from-your-average consultancy that supports high-growth businesses scale both successfully and sustainably, through the lens of People + Culture.
Time for change: a year that changed how we view People & Culture
So much has happened over the past year, it has been a year of more change than ever before. One thing in the people and culture space that really overarches everything is that leaders are trying to become much more intentional about the cultures they create and about the people frameworks they create. Tom highlights that:
“With all that happened in the past year, a lot more urgent attention has been paid to the people and culture side of organizations. This has created a need for founders to think proactively about how they run the people side of their business rather than relying on old habits. Founders have become more involved in the people side of their business than ever before.”
People basically realized they cannot do things like they used to. This meant that there was now a need for re-design, and this re-design had to be intentional rather than organic. “We have seen that it created a shift towards people being more thoughtful and intentional about what they do with their people and culture”, Tom explains.
Company culture: it’s no one size fits all
Building a company culture that is sustainable, intentional and scalable is not as easy as it might seem at first glance. As every single business is unique and every single person in each business is unique, it can be a real challenge to give enough voice to the people in your organization whilst also not making every decision fully democratic:
“Everybody has different views and preferences, and to design a solution to a problem based around every individual preference is impossible. The real challenge is – how do you make something that is strategically right for the business, but also meets enough of the needs of your people so they feel – and have been – listened to and involved. Each solution should be designed specifically for each team and their needs – it’s no one size fits all.”
Being a founder or people manager is without a doubt stressful, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with it, as well as stress and uncertainty. So, it comes with no surprise that often things like ensuring sustainable company culture, people frameworks and processes, becomes of latter importance:
“Businesses who think about this early enough and put the time & energy into crafting processes that put their people first are the businesses that are by nature more scalable than ones that do not. If the opposite happens, businesses often end up taking more than they are giving in return to their employees. And that is often the case within startups. The companies that do this well, maintain a healthy balance between what they give and what they get as they scale.”
Don’t build a progression framework for people, build it with people
If you get to the point where there is no balance between what you are taking as a business from your people and what they get in return, it will get hard. A culture of distrust within companies fosters a very toxic environment. In such an environment, people are being very negative towards each other, they often feel victimized by this system and the company. That can be really challenging to overcome because you often end up losing lots of people and then also looking to hire lots of new people to plug the gaps. This negative culture often comes from a lack of transparency and a lack of involving people within these processes, Tom explains that:
“Transparency is really key. When a culture defaults to transparency, there are an enormous amount of positives that come with it. This is something that we help our clients with a lot, as we see that founders who involve their people and treat them as adults will naturally develop more high-performing teams around them. Transparency is just one behaviour, of course, but most behaviours, if set up in the right way can scale for a much longer time than processes, although maybe not forever.”
Creating company culture that is scalable: attaching values to behaviours
Of course everybody is different, every business is different. What really is key is having clear values or principles that you stand for as a business, believe in and find important. The bigger decisions should be based around these values too. If your value is transparency, and you are not being transparent – that means you are not practicing what you preach. Values should be attached to behaviours so that your team understand the detail behind what is expected of them.
The importance of reinforcing the right culture
As an example, Tom mentions:
“How we see this – values are the codification of your culture and they should always be attached to behaviours. For example, transparency in terms of behaviour could look like: always sharing performance reviews with everybody whether it be good or bad; giving honest feedback, but in a compassionate way. Ultimately this gives people very clear guidance on how they should behave when the leadership are not in the room to tell them how to behave. When you are with 20 people, the founder can always easily provide feedback. However, as soon as you are 50 or more, it is not possible anymore. Your values are what should allow the same behaviours to scale.
Yet, they only scale if they are integrated into multiple touchpoints across your business. That also means you need to be attracting talent that share the same values, you need to be including these values in your interviews to ensure that you are not only getting people in based on their skills or experience but also based on what they bring to your culture – their mindsets, behaviours. All of these things are what positively reinforce the right culture and reduce any toxic behaviour as you scale.”
Make it a collaborative effort
“It starts by involving people even at the thought stage, I would always recommend following a process where you first start by defining the problem together with your people before rushing to find a solution”.
Often we might assume that we know what the problems are, for example, one might assume that the problem is that people within a company do not have enough progression, when actually there is a lot more depth to the problem than that. Before looking into any solutions, you should first clarify and be 100% sure, in a data-led way, on what the problem really looks like. The best way to do that is to run a focus group with some employees or send out a survey to really clarify, get more context and detail on what the problem is and why. And then spend time ideating what a good solution looks like. Once that is done, you can more easily start and build it from there.
Tom mentions: “it is all about co-designing solutions to these problems with your people – which is a more sustainable approach than designing for them. You are not going to build a perfect solution with the first go, nobody ever does. It should be a collaborative team effort that is then iterated upon – not something created by one person alone.”.
And that’s why transparency is key when creating and ensuring a scalable company culture.