La Fosse Associates brought together thought-leaders and innovators from a broad range of sectors for a discussion on culture – building it, maintaining it, and changing it. We were delighted to welcome digital training guru Emma Cerrone, scale-up expert Dominic Monkhouse, and pioneering headteacher Liz Robinson to talk process, practice and people with La Fosse's CEO Simon La Fosse. The evening was facilitated by leading Chairman and high-growth specialist Jonathan McKay.
Here are Emma, Dominic, Liz and Simon’s key considerations for creating and nurturing a world-class culture.
Culture is fundamental to business growth
Our panelists each have their own take on what great culture is, and how to attain it, but one thing they all agree on is its importance. It’s not just about keeping people happy – it's crucial to business success.
“If you’ve got a good culture, you’ll get 40% more discretionary effort from your employees,” explains award-winning business coach Dominic Monkhouse. La Fosse Founder, Simon, agrees. He started La Fosse in 2007 with the premise that a caring and collaborative culture should be not just encouraged, but expected. “The company is culture,” he says. “We're a people business and everything else is built out from there, so we take it very seriously.”
For Liz Robinson, Head Teacher of Surrey Square Primary School (rated outstanding by Ofsted), culture and values are much more than something to aspire to. They represent everything which the school is about: “values are at the heart of what we do,” she explains. If a behaviour, a project or a programme doesn’t meet those values – Responsibility, Respect, Enjoyment, Community, Perseverance, Compassion and Excellence – it simply won't be tolerated.
Leaders lead by example
To build a great culture, you need to know what you expect from your team – and they need to know that too. “Culture is what people do when no-one is watching,” says Dominic. “A good culture is when people choose to do the right thing all the time, not just when they're likely to face consequences if they don't. ” To get to that stage, it’s vital that your colleagues know what the right behaviour is, and see it in action.
That means leadership from leadership – senior figures demonstrating what the right thing is when everybody is watching. Emma Cerrone, Co-Founder of digital transformation experts Freeformers, is clear on this point: “Management sometimes talk about culture as if it's separate from their own behaviour." She says "In fact, they need to start by thinking – what are five behaviours I can exhibit which bring our values to life?" By clearly demonstrating these in every opportunity, they are asking employees to replicate their behaviour.
That’s why, under Liz’s leadership, the mantra of “personal and academic excellence: everyone, every day” underpins everything that happens at Surrey Square. Because both staff and students are clear on that, the school is a better place.
Maintaining culture means reaching everybody
We often expect business leaders to be infallible. But if leaders are to encourage a culture of openness and honesty, they need to admit that they don't do everything flawlessly. “Leaders need to have the humility to admit they mess up sometimes”, Simon admits, “It's this which gives their employees permission to be less than perfect, and get on with learning – the activity which is at the heart of a great culture.”
Dominic agrees that the tone set right at the very top is key. He has seen it first-hand himself in turning around companies where poor management is making everybody unhappy. “The CEO in a business casts a very long shadow,” he notes. “If they’re miserable, they’ll have a very miserable company, and they’ll deserve to be miserable for the rest of their lives!”
But leadership won’t guarantee that every member of your team buys into the culture, even if management adopts it wholeheartedly. Finding ambassadors who are willing to maintain standards at every level is vital. Emma likes to ask: “Who sits in the canteen at lunchtime? Who organises the most nights out?” If the social hub of the office upholds that culture, others are much more likely to buy in.
A changing culture needs great recruitment
Cultures will change over time – for better and for worse. When founders and leaders are developing their values and aspirations, they need staff who are willing to get on board with their vision.
At Surrey Square, Liz makes no apology for demanding that her team adopts the values which have seen the school skyrocket to excellence. As she points out, there are 22,000 other schools in the country for them to try if they can’t, or won’t, adhere to the school’s values.
But finding the right people is no easy task. Dominic’s advice is to invest time in getting recruitment right. We’ve all seen the job ads which warn: “If you have not heard from us within 10 days, you should assume that your application has been unsuccessful.” “Why would I want to work for them?”, he asks. No company which treats applicants with a lack of respect from the outset deserves to recruit the best talent. “If you outsource your recruitment, make sure you know what impression your job ads are giving of your business.” he advises.
Trust in culture
The challenge for many young businesses, start-ups and rapidly scaling disruptors is that with so much going on, it can be difficult to focus on building, maintaining and changing culture for the better. But when done right, culture is not just an asset – it can be the basis for the success of a whole organisation.
Take Simon’s word for it: “The journey we’ve been on has simply been about getting the culture right, and the rest has followed.”
Want to find out more about building a world-class culture through world-class recruitment? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org, or call on 020 7932 1652.