Culture is at the core of what will make your company a great one
It’s that time of year again. May 4th when Red Badger has another birthday. We are now 9 years old. Last year’s 8th Birthday Blog was a little retrospective of some of the changes we’d been through in the past 12 months and alluding to the future. We’ve been implementing a new strategy, including the largest re-structure to the business in our 9-year history which resulted in the creation of lots of new roles and 15 internal promotions. We are also developing new value propositions to evolve the business and the service we can provide in helping our clients. A lot of the change is still panning out. It’ll take 2 years for some of the changes to have embedded themselves before we can really know how they’ve gone so I think next year might be more appropriate to update you on that. For this year’s birthday blog, I have taken a few snippets from a talk I gave recently about Culture and Leadership. I could write a book’s worth of content on what we have done at Red Badger around Culture and Leadership but for the purposes of this blog post, I have kept it reasonably brief.
#1 - VALUES: Bind people to a common cause - bottom-up culture is key.
A key factor in accelerating alignment is involving your employees in the development of your culture. If they are involved, they feel a part of the eventual outcomes. At Red Badger we work hard to empower our employees to develop our culture, bottom-up. With lots of differing opinions, this can take a long time but it is worth it.
The criteria we set for setting out our vision
#2 - ACTIONS: Actions speak louder than words
Many companies have a vanilla set of values that they print on the wall and tell their employees that this is what it means to work at your company. Their behaviour exhibits something entirely different. It is extremely important that the work you do with your employees to build a bottom-up culture doesn’t go up on the website and become externally facing only. You have to live and breathe culture. It has to become embedded in everything you do and your actions have to speak louder than words.
#3 TRANSPARENCY: Make information open and transparent
We try to keep all of the company up-to-date and involved with the future of the company. We have a number of forums (e.g. a yearly company day and a company meeting at HQ every 3rd Friday of the month) where our employees get the chance to shape the future of the company and are then kept up-to-date with progress against the plan.
At these forums we can share whatever is interesting, sometimes this is employee driven, sometimes it is leadership driven. Nothing is off limits.
We share the Red Badger Strategy and our progress against the plan. We share our financial information, our revenues our profits and our investment decisions as well as other core business metrics such as sales performance and recruitment performance. We also include people related initiatives such as gender balance and gender pay gap as well as other Equality, Diversity and Inclusion metrics. We are very open and transparent about where we are doing well and where we have clear room for improvement.
By doing this, we can teach people the meaning of measures and reports. We can teach them how a business is run and how they can provide impact. Feeling like they are part of a bigger whole, is the definition of Purpose.
#4 TEAMS - Organise around a network of accountable teams, not centralised functions
Prior to the restructure that I mentioned in the intro, we had more of a traditional centralised function, with one leadership team. This became unwieldy as we grew and we were unable to support all of our employees appropriately.
Our answer was a process of devolution, effectively breaking the company up into separate P&Ls (We haven’t yet finalised the naming of these P&Ls. For the purposes of this blog, I will call them Setts as in the Badger’s den) each with their own leadership team. Our primary reason for doing this was to make sure that all of our employees were well looked after.
In the new structure we created a leadership team in each Sett to line manage the cross-functional teams that sit within each Sett. We promoted 15 people from within to fill the roles. The data in the feedback now tells us that our employees feel like they are looked after more, they feel like they belong to a Sett as well as the company as a whole. They are empowered to set their own Sett goals and objectives such as which sectors they would like to work in. The rest of the organisation has now flipped to support the Setts rather than the other way round.
The core services (Finance, Legal, People & Culture, Sales & Marketing etc…) have now switched to being Sett driven. The Setts communicate what they need to the core services and the core services execute the requirements. Previously, sales and recruitment were pushed downwards to the delivery teams.
Now accountability flows from Leadership to the Setts. Leadership set a high-level strategy. The Setts are responsible for formulating and executing the strategy. The core services provide the enablement. We’ve effectively created a new social structure of self-governing entities that are fully accountable.
The energy and drive that it has brought to Red Badger has been incredible to see. There’s a few more tired faces around the office because the leadership of the Setts have far more responsibility and are having to learn a lot of new things. But they are rising up to the challenge with new vigour.
#5 TRUST - Trust teams to regulate and improve their performance
Now the structure is in place, we have to provide the teams with real autonomy over decision making and problem solving. We eliminate bureaucracy and empower them to continuously improve.
#6 LEADERSHIP: Your horizons have to grow (or the companies won’t)
I really like this quote from Herb Kelleher, former CEO and founder of SouthWest Airlines. “Leadership is being a faithful, devoted, hard-working servant of the people you lead and participating with them in the agonies as well as the ecstasies of life".
Leadership is all about empowering others, leading by example, working with people and being there to help when necessary. A leader doesn’t just see people as assets. They really care about people and their best interests. A leader elevates employee’s lives both at work and outside of work. They are trustworthy, give great feedback, support and help others to reach their full potential.
Leaders need to provide high-level strategic direction but then delegate and provide autonomy and accountability to their employees to formulate and execute the strategy.
However, they will not be able to do this alone. Great leaders can build other great leaders. They will need to hire and build other leaders in their company to be the gatekeepers of the culture. They, in turn, will then build other great leaders who will embody and maintain the culture. Leadership is the foundation of this cycle.
If you align everyone around your culture and provide the appropriate leadership to support it, you will be able to maintain a great culture as you grow.
CULTURE IS THE CORE OF WHAT WILL MAKE YOUR COMPANY A GREAT ONE
At the core of every great company is a great culture. The cultures from company to company vary widely. There is no single answer for what your culture should be. But as you grow, your culture will change and you will need to evolve with it.
It is hard. Red Badger are continuously improving but our culture often feels at breaking point. But constantly feeling like your culture is at breaking point is a good thing. Because as long as you feel like it is about to break, the more vigilant you will be in looking after it. And it does need constant looking after.
If you get it right and you build a great culture, you will be able to unleash huge amounts of ambition, courage, creativity and collaboration in your company.
To build a really strong culture empower your employees to develop your culture bottom-up and then build all of the pieces of your company around it. You also need to align everyone around a noble vision. Listen to your employees, communicate with them clearly and embed your culture in everything you do. Actions speak louder than words. Your employees need to feel like there is progress against the things you say you’re going to do.
Finally, build appropriate levels of leadership to be the guardians of your culture and to make sure that everyone lives and breathes it. With all of the pieces in place you will be able to empower others, trust them and delegate. Then you will have the foundations in place, to grow a fantastic company, department or team.
If you’d like to discuss Culture & Leadership with me, feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org .
Also, if you’re fancy becoming a Badger, check out the open roles here