How to create a culture that drives growth
Creating the right culture in your business can have a huge impact on its ability to grow, says Annabelle Beckwith, founder of business coaching business Yara Journeys.
SME leaders need to be proactive in developing the right culture to allow their business to flourish, says Annabelle Beckwith.
She says: “A culture that supports your business growth isn’t something that happens by accident. It has to be created deliberately and consciously. Your business is going to have a culture anyway, whether you like it or not – the question is whether you as the business leader are in control of it or whether you leaving it to chance, which is incredibly risky.”
The benefits of getting it right can be huge, she says: “Getting the culture right can have a huge impact on your ability to grow your business. If anyone has ever worked in a toxic culture they will know how debilitating it is. Having a positive culture is not just the right and decent thing to do to have a pleasant working environment - it improves your businesses’ bottom line and makes you money.”
The first step is deciding what you want the culture to look like. That means thinking about how you would like your team to work, how you would like them to communicate and how you would like the working environment to feel.
Annabelle says: “Be specific about where are you now – and where you want to be. There will be things you are already doing that you will want to continue because it is working well for you and the team, and there will be other things where you think, we need to do that differently.”
She says a business culture is shaped around three key areas – the values of the business, its strategy and the human factors of the team.
The values of the business reflect what the business stands for, and they need to be realistic, she says. “It is critically important that leaders aren’t just going, let’s choose trust, integrity and collaboration, or whatever. You have to keep it real and absolutely genuine: people can spot ‘fake’ values, and they won’t be fooled. Having values that everyone knows and trust and can see to be real will support growth because it will give people consistency and stability.”
The strategy of your business reflects its growth plan and needs to be understood by everyone in the team, she says.
“It is important that your team knows what they are working towards. If they don’t know where the business is going, they can only ever operate on a transactional basis, by looking at the task list in front of them. People also need to understand what their individual contribution to the strategic objective is. Quite often the leader thinks everybody knows where they fit in, but if you actually ask people, they are not sure.”
The human factor reflects how the leader expects individuals to act in the workplace. “There needs to be consistent communication from the leader about what everyone should be doing and their behavioural approach to it…and why both are vital in driving the business forward. Let’s imagine a business leader has chosen to focus their team on innovation, collaboration, and personal accountability, for example. They’d need to distil it down into specific behaviours that they would expect to see an individual actually doing day by day.”
This needs to be backed up by specific ways to measure and reinforce the culture that you want to instil – for example a leader might choose to provide regular feedback to the team so they can take accountability for their actions, she says. “By offering feedback, you are saying this is what we want people to do in order to behave in a way which is congruent with our culture and our values.”
Annabelle says there are three critical elements to shifting the culture within a business. First, make sure that the change is being driven from the top. “Creating a culture that supports growth requires strong leadership. A culture doesn’t change simply by you saying that the culture is going to change. Sometimes it takes courage because it might mean making uncomfortable decisions or having uncomfortable conversations.”
Second, walk the talk. “The culture of the business is to a large extent a reflection of the leadership team. So if you are saying one thing and doing another, it is what you are doing that is the culture, not what you are saying.”
Third, allow time for a new culture to become embedded. She says: “It could take six months to a year for a small business to change its culture, depending on how far away they are from the positive future growth culture they have defined. The benefits are that you are creating an environment where you have a motivated team who are focused on growth and moving forward.”
Three things that SME leaders can do right now
1. Start to ask questions: what do I want the culture to be?
2. Involve your team: start to bring ‘culture’ into your everyday conversations – you will gather insights from the coal face of your business that you won’t be able to see from the top
3. Self-reflect: think how you might personally change your approach as you lead your business forward into a more growth focused culture
Annabelle Beckwith is the Founder of business coaching business Yara Journeys which provides services for SMEs and scale up entrepreneurs.