The culture of a workplace is, I believe, a key determinant in whether an organisation will sink or swim. Workplaces which manage to create a strong, unique culture are guaranteed to attract the top talent and retain their staff, because people who enjoy their work, feel valued and feel united are more inclined to stay loyal. Over the years, I have learnt a lot about what makes for a strong workplace culture and how the most successful companies and individuals have set about building theirs.
The key to success
A study carried out by recruitment consultancy Robert Walters found that 82% of professionals have worked for a company where they disliked the culture, and 70% have left a job because of it. They also found that 94% of professionals researched a company’s workplace culture before accepting a job offer. With people now able to explore online employer review sites, getting the workplace culture right has never been such an important key to success.
Early in my career, I spent just over a year working for Thomsons Online Benefits. While that could be considered a relatively short time to stay with a company, one thing about my experience there has stayed with me for over a decade and informs a number of my current business decisions. The company was run by Michael Whitfield, a charismatic leader who had created such a phenomenal workplace culture that people couldn’t help but be swept along by it. That sense of belonging, purpose and loyalty to one another was, I believe, a major contributing factor to the company’s incredible success.
Inspirational leadership, I had quickly realised, was a critical factor in building the right workplace culture and a happy environment to work in. A strong, dynamic and caring figurehead passes on those traits to the team they lead, helping to inculcate that positive workplace culture. That was the most important insight I gained as I decided to embark on my own entrepreneurial journey.
Look to the leaders
When it came to building my first company, Bluspec Recruitment, my business partner and I looked to the great leaders we had been privileged to work with. There were many things which needed to be considered in creating a sales-heavy business, but we were determined that the greatest emphasis had to be on the workplace culture. In his book Business Stripped Bare, Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson writes:
At Virgin, we try as far as we can to make people feel as if they are working for their own company… we’ve created a lot of very successful people over the years. But however our staff are employed, every one of them should feel that, in some respect or other, they own their own work.
By allowing people to take ownership of their work, a company makes each individual feel empowered and essential. That goes for the entire hierarchy of an organisation. The best leaders are those who care about the cleaning staff as much as they do about fellow managers, taking everyone’s needs, thoughts and ideas into consideration.
When the time came to sell Bluspec after five years of building the company up, the incredible culture we had created proved an important consideration for buyers. Those looking to take on the company were impressed with what they found, seeing a team which pulled together and took immense pride in their work.
Culture breeds creativity
Mediocrity is not what any business leader wants from their employees, and it is only by creating that open, easy and personal workplace culture that you allow people to really express themselves and be more creative. When people can talk openly, they share ideas and bounce off one another, but in offices with a poor workplace culture, people tend to shut down and not want to participate with what is going on around them.
In Branson’s words, ‘if your people aren’t talking to each other, how are they ever going to get ideas?’ This is something I have been acutely aware of as an employer, because it is only through harnessing that creativity that a company can innovate, develop and reach new heights of success. An ‘open-door policy’ is required from the get-go for start-ups. Having built and mentored many small companies, I’ve seen first-hand that it’s that openness which sets them on the right trajectory and fuels their growth.
A workplace’s culture really does define it, as I have come to appreciate more and more over the years. It is leadership which sets the tone. In order to develop those happy, purposeful and creative teams, there has to be someone at the helm who can build the type of positive workplace culture which everyone profits from.