If you know me you’ll be aware that at any point I am likely to turn a conversation into a song. Right now this thread is taking me back to my Latin American dancing days of the late 60s where the cha-cha was my signature junior competition dance – 50 years before Strictly came along! Somehow I’ve always seemed to be ahead of the curve.
Culture is the latest bandwagon people are jumping on. Last year it was purpose. Now everyone seems to be paso-dobling into cul-cha-cha. The thing is, culture can’t be foisted onto a company like a limpet on a rock – it’s inherent in the people that work there. If you are a business trying to sell culture as a service, then you really need to live and breathe an amazing culture, every day.
In my opinion, great culture starts at home (that’s the little h one). How you are in the world is determined by a mixture of how you were dragged up and the things that are inherent within you. It’s not nature vs nurture it’s both, it’s everything that makes you, you. At work, a great culture comes from a wonderful mix of sharing, thriving, growing and learning together. It’s staying open-minded and positive through successes and failures, it’s being forever curious. It’s treating one another with respect and being unafraid to use the word LOVE if you feel it. A place of great culture is where you can be yourself and feel safe enough to say how you really feel.
Over the years many people have been intrigued by our culture here at Home. Several clients have come to “the dark side” giving up their steady corporate jobs. We’ve spent lots of time trying to figure out what we have and how we’ve done it, mainly so that we can bottle it and sell it on, but it’s impossible. Our culture is built around how we are as individuals, how we live and work, what we value and how we treat people and hope to be treated in return.
Here are a few of our Home truths…
It’s not all about the money, money, money.
As I write this everyone is watching/reading/spouting out Marie Kondo, who promotes “ditch it if it doesn’t bring you joy.” Well, I have worked with this notion forever. Saying no is such a small gesture but using it at the right time can have a profound and lasting impact on the culture of a business. To say no to something or someone because the fit isn’t there, is putting your principles into action. It shows the world and the people who work for you that you mean what you say. That you’re the real deal. That you do things differently.
If, like a lot of business owners, I had put money first and chased down every dollar, pound or euro that could have come my way, I may have been wealthier but sacrificing my soul for spondoollies has never been an option. We are a successful global business, and we can sleep at night knowing that we will only work with people that we are aligned to, that get us and appreciate us. If it doesn’t feel right then we walk away. Something better that will fill us with joy always seems to come along. This may seem either arrogant or hippy but it truly works for us.
You have to practice what you preach
Over the years we’ve turned down some huge jobs, with some of the world’s biggest corporations – either because we didn’t get a good feeling from the client, or the clients didn’t want to approach things in the right way or because their business principles and practices didn’t sit well with our own – like the fundamental Christian financial services business that only wanted to trade with other Christians and didn’t acknowledge the LGBT community. Come on, could you sleep at night helping them out?
Being bold and brave
In December, I was the keynote speaker at a conference on culture in Berlin, someone asked me how I’m able to be so bold, brave and challenging in boardrooms. My passion is driven by my roots as a coal miner’s daughter. When we take on a project my alliances and heart are almost always with “their people” not those in the boardroom, but those on the frontline or the factory/shop floor – the ones who do the hard graft day-in-day-out. I want to reach out to them and improve their working lives. I want them to understand the business strategy and the part they play in the success. My ultimate dream is to make all the working lives we touch better and more meaningful.
Putting people first
I don’t find it difficult to say no. I simply think, well if I wouldn’t want to work with those people or on that project, then how can I ask anyone in my business to do so? Home’s culture is a reflection of my own principles. It’s grown and evolved over the years along with the number of Homies we employ – but at its core I can still see me. And this culture thing is a true bonus when it comes to recruitment and retention. If you get your culture right and communicate it effectively to the external world, it will do the work of a ton of recruitment consultants! Try it and see.
At Home we’re bold and brave. We have each other’s backs. And we’re passionate about our clients and the people that work in their businesses. Doing the right thing for the people that matter is core to how we think about all our client work – and that’s definitely how we run our business.
If you genuinely put your people first, the rest will follow.
Keeping it real
“Culture is like the wind. It is invisible; yet its effect can be seen and felt.”
Bryan Walker, Partner and Managing Director, Ideo
We know that we’ve got a great culture at Home. Our competitors have headhunted people that work for us because they want to be more like us. But like I’ve already said it doesn’t work like that, you can’t decide from above what you’d like your company’s culture to be and then expect it to happen. Cultures are living and breathing. They evolve and change over time. They reflect the truth of a business – how it is run and the decisions that it makes. Your culture is your people. It’s determined by who they are and their daily working experiences. And organisations have to keep looking at the truth of their businesses to keep their culture as healthy as it can be.
We already do so much culturally at Home, but as we go into 2019, we’ve decided to rip up our strategy. Instead, we’re going to spend the year focusing on joy. Another small but wonderfully powerful word. Our approach is quite unlike the 1980s captain of industry bloke I met in a bar in Copenhagen last year. We got chatting and when he asked me what I did for a living he said ”We did internal comms in my day too… we treated our staff like mushrooms! We kept them in the dark, and occasionally threw shit at them and expected them to grow… that worked for us girl!” Ummmm… awkward.
If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming to work in the morning.
John Mackey, Whole Foods
To be effective in the business of culture, you need to come from a place of strength and deep understanding. Stuff that doesn’t come from books. Insight that you only get by building up and being part of an amazing culture over a number of years. If you would like some help to understand how your culture is driven by your employee’s experience and what you could do differently to make a positive impact, then we’d love to hear from you.