I joined the life science talent search sector after a rewarding period as a teacher. It was clear to me in the classroom that if you created the right environment then the students were much more receptive to the curriculum being delivered. This was never easy as you not only had to convince a sceptical group that you were acting in their interests whilst considering that each child would learn and develop at different speeds throughout the course of the year. I often reflect on how similar this is to creating a new company and then forming the right culture.
New people joining a business can have a big impact on the overall performance of the group. If the culture is strong then the existing team will gently re-inforce the expectations, behaviours and key messages of the business when new people come on-board. If the culture is weak then what can get passed on is the individual line manager’s views, which may not be aligned with the leadership.
Great culture and corporate identity are crucial parts when it comes to the successful retention of staff. Understanding exactly what you want your company culture to represent and stand for is the first step. The raw energy of a start-up culture is what can drive the team to work beyond any contractual hours and have them preach passionately about the company’s mission to the taxi driver, friend or relative. It is also what keeps them loyal in a highly competitive market.
Staff will be looking for a culture where they feel they belong. I still recall the powerful Apple TV campaign from 1997 “Think different” and it making me feel comfortable being part of the “Apple” family. Who doesn’t want to be associated with Gandhi, Einstein, Picasso or Kermit? Shire pharmaceuticals have got the right idea with two core messages for the business – “to be as brave as the people we help“ and “enabling people with life-altering conditions to lead better lives.” These are noble phrases and make it easy for employees to feel proud to be part of the company and to defend the mission.
The particulars of how team culture is enacted might change and evolve over time, but as long as staff remain motivated by the core values then the culture will persist. That said the culture that has been so instrumental in getting the business to where it is today, may be the very thing that holds it back in the future. Keep an open mind. Be prepared to accept that there are aspects of your culture that may need to change. Disruptive market changes may take the company in a new direction.
One local firm that has successfully transitioned from just 45 to nearly 1,000 staff and from one to 10 offices in a decade is Abcam. How have they maintained their culture? According to Jane Cooke, Director People & Organisational Development, the key focus has been; scalability, flexibility, adaptability and making sure they kept their entrepreneurial focus by hiring staff who could continue to drive innovation and keep them ahead of the game. They also built a formal culture assessment into their recruitment process. If you can clearly articulate your culture then you can begin to piece together interview questions and assessments that will unearth the presence of these qualities in potential employees. This will seriously help mitigate the risk of hiring the “wrong” person particularly when you may have to hire people who might be working remotely for you.
Don’t be afraid to base culture-related decisions around behaviours that are already delivering unique value to your company. If you’re planning a big office move and the team is spending half their time collaborating in the kitchen, this might be the cue to create more inviting communal areas. If the staff is composed mostly of millennials who always hit their targets, then instituting early-morning start times might work against productivity instead of for it.
Preserving culture in a company that is several times larger than it was a few years ago is difficult and it might not even be a realistic goal. On the positive front culture is a moveable feast. It is adaptable and renewable. Rather than mandating company-wide practices, embrace the notion of individual team culture. Having recently read the excellent “Small Big” by Steve Martin (ex-life science industry) and Robert Cialdini it is clear that small changes can spark big influence and that different units or country teams may need to be allowed to generate their own distinct personalities, as long as they’re all moving in a unified direction in tune with the vision.
Look outside your sector as this may help you spot new ways of supporting employees that will help highlight what top talent is looking for in terms of culture, benefits, compensation and lifestyle. It is useful to remember that culture is made of people – their attitudes, work ethics, and personalities. It is not made out of processes and checklists. Hire well and be open to take on new people who will not only fit with your culture, but who will also add to it.
When bringing on new people take time to introduce them to the history of the company and get them excited about where the business is going. Inductions are an incredibly important part of this communication. Ensure that the induction takes time to introduce the company and culture to every employee. As businesses grow, one of the biggest problems experienced is that the company starts to develop silos. It is part of human nature to develop connections with people that we feel we have most in common with, however, this can cause problems and weaken the culture at work if the “division” makes others feel alone or not part of the ‘it crowd’.
Think about ways you can still treat people differently so they feel like individuals as you expand. Flexible benefits systems can be very useful in allowing staff to choose benefits that they want during a particular stage of their working life – swapping pension contribution for paid holiday can be a powerful motivational tool. Consider offering events and activities that encourage interaction such as sports clubs, outings or a social committee. These activities can help create friendships and positive working relationships between different departments.
Ultimately culture is a living thing that will change over time and will alter with the number of people and partnerships the company is involved with. Get it right and you can create an environment that will help retain your best staff, energise your innovators and drive sales growth in the business. But be watchful because it can go the other way too.
Written By Tarquin Bennett-Coles, Client Partner, Euromedica
The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.