17 January 2016

How important is culture when building a business and what is it?

I always knew it is important, its such a highly used word, but until recently I am not sure I really understood what culture is and just how crucial a role it plays in the success and failure of ventures.

We have had hundreds of people through the doors since starting UKFast in 1999. Why do some fail and others go on to thrive?

Firstly as a business owner and manager its important to recognise that not all people want the same thing from their careers and whilst people might tell you what you want to hear, if you and your new team mate are not aligned, it will never work out. People need to be genuinely passionate about something if they are ever going to be great at it.

Nowadays people expect more from an employer. I think this is great. There is a shortage of real talent in the UK, so why shouldn’t great people be valued and expect to be treated well.

Great shot from some team building events in the mountains. Still smiling after being buried in the snow, a true A player. Alex Churton @ Hotel Farinet Verbier

Great shot from some team building events in the mountains. Still smiling after being buried in the snow, a true A player. Alex Churton @ Hotel Farinet Verbier

But its not just about the office and work environment, if you have great people and you surround them by average people, you will invariably lose them too as they will be looking for like-minded people and a more challenging role.

If you do lose a talented individual, it’s worth having an “exit interview” or a quick beer or coffee with them to thank them for their efforts during their time with you and at the same time its an opportunity to ask them, “what went wrong?” or “what could we have done better?”

I lost a person recently, a great guy he’d been with me 8 years, but he’d got increasingly frustrated that there was nowhere for him to go as he already had a director above him who was established and happy in his role.

We didn’t pick up on the warning signs until too late, but regardless once I’d learned of our predicament, I spent some time considering our position and we created a few new businesses and a group structure so that other people in a similar situation can see that there is somewhere to continue to develop.

Ultimately as we all develop, we crave responsibility. It must be the most natural of all human emotions. We do it as we become parents, so it makes sense to satisfy it in all areas of our lives.

When you lose a person, I have learned you are far better letting them go. Years ago I’d try really hard to win them back and I’d take it very personally. Nowadays, I wish them well on their way and remind them, that the door is always open as a friend and if people want help and advice at any time in the future I am always here for them. Nowadays I am helping a number of ex-colleagues with a variety of things including their employee challenges as they venture in the business world themselves! What’s great is keeping in contact and watching old friends develop.

Over the last few years we have had some great people return and when asked “why?” it always is the “culture” card they quote.

At UKFast we have managed to develop a group of like-minded people. All humans like to belong and be part of a club or brand. It might be through the football or rugby team we support or a particular brand of clothes or make up you wear. What ever it is, we instinctively like to hang out with people we understand and who understand us.

Everyone who returns to UKFast after a stint away always quotes this and missing their colleagues as the single most important reason for their return.

Dont worry about what you haven't got, focus on what you can give

Dont worry about what you haven’t got, focus on what you can give

How did we do it?

It was by accident to begin with. By employing friends from the early days pretty soon we ended up with a small but tightly knit community of friends who all understood each other.

As we grew and continue to do so it is the team who now police the culture. If people don’t fit in, it becomes very obvious very quickly. Teams mates are very quick to point out someone who is taking advantage of the situation or others. Ultimately its teammates who vote people in or out.

Obviously as an owner I get the blame when it doesn’t work and someone leaves, but I’d like to think we give everyone an equal opportunity when they start. But if someone isn’t passionate about making a difference to the lives of our customers and ultimately their own through rapid personal development, they may as well find a career that inspires them somewhere else.

This is an important point; rather than blame an employer if it doesn’t work out, people should look inward to see what could they have done differently. How were they interacting with their colleagues? If something went wrong, find out what it was.

I always reflect and look back to see if there was something I could have done differently, but as I am so far removed from the floor and where the action happens it’s never really my decision.

If you are creating a team, however small, be it for a department or multiple teams, you want people on board who help each other and who see the bigger picture. There is nothing worse than someone who is swimming in the wrong direction or deliberately undermining you from behind the scenes. People who do this though should be mindful that a loyal team wont tolerate it.

What’s lovely about the team at UKFast is that there are so many who have come through the ranks.

Where others jumped ship in the early days, a few took a gamble on me and whilst my ideas and goals might have appeared a bit wild and my head somewhat in the clouds with seemingly impossible aspirations, those same people are now the ones that steady the nerves of the new recruits, saying, “we can do this!”

How do you know when its working?

The best sign of your culture working is when people put their friends and relatives up for jobs that come up in the business. No one recommends something unless they love it, so its one of the biggest compliments you can have as a business owner.

UKFast is made up of an extraordinary bunch of people. We have brothers, sisters, daughters, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancées, cousins, and best not forget my mother-in-law too all working together towards a common goal.

I describe it as a family, because it is one. It’s a club where everyone is valued and every position holds responsibilities that are key to the companywide success.

We all come in different shapes and sizes, from many corners of the world, but we are all connected by similar values. Together we are stronger and collectively we can achieve anything.

So if you are interested improving your culture of your business, stay true to your values.

When you are small you have the perfect opportunity to form and establish what’s important. Once you have created your blue print, stick to your guns when recruiting. You are bound to make mistakes, its impossible to get every hire right. It has to be the hardest and most unpredictable area of business, but arguably the most rewarding when things start going well.

You can't inspire others unless you are inspired yourself

You can’t inspire others unless you are inspired yourself

Choose people who are as excited as you at the prospect of growing your organisation and helping clients.

If you get it wrong, have an honest conversation with the person involved and give them the opportunity to remedy the issues. If its never going to work, don’t fall out. The world is a very small place and they may need you for a reference one day. Whatever happens your paths are bound to cross, so remain friends. I have lost count of the number of calls I get asking opinions on people when people move jobs and just because someone doesn’t work out in your organisation doesn’t mean they wont be a superstar somewhere else. That’s what I love about cultures and how different they can be across various businesses.

People wonder why I go to the lengths I do for my team, but when you realise that success and the people around you are so inextricably linked, you have to do everything in your power to keep people inspired and challenged.

But if you have hired the right team, it becomes easy and effortless as the people around you know you inside out and the respect regardless of your failings.

My advice is don’t try and grow too quickly. I am not saying its impossible, its not, but its certainly a great deal harder. I have not managed to master it yet at speed. Great people are hard to find and it’s worth taking your time getting the right ones. You might grow a little slower, but you will still be around in years to come.

UKFast has changed products and branched out many times over the years and we now have a recruitment division, hotel in Switzerland, building company, along with an internet security company, but at the heart are all the same type of people with the same culture.

If you are interested in learning more about how we recruit and how we train and develop people, we are running some events and webinars in the coming months and I’d love to welcome you along and show you how we do it first hand.

Drop me line if you have any questions or you have any experiences you’d like to share, I am always keen to learn new ways to do things.

Have a great week and I hope this helps.

Best LJ

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