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14 / Jan / 14
By Mary Obozua

Creating a progressive culture

Early on in my career I attended a managers training day and left with a new perspective on the ‘must haves’ for any company I would work for. I don’t believe that was the intention of the trainer, however something she said resonated.

Whilst discussing sales targets, she digressed to recognise and praise one of the managers. It wasn’t just that this manager had achieved record sales (which she did), but more about the reputation of the manager and the way she ran her store. Customer feedback and peer to peer reviews validated her glowing reputation of her success in sales, retention, staff development and perhaps more importantly customer service. This prompted the trainer to visit the store to see for herself. I recall her eyes widening when the trainer exclaimed ‘I walked into the store and there she (the store manager) was, wearing bright blue lipstick’!

She went on to say, ‘I called her aside and whispered ‘I can see your store is buzzing and products are flying off the shelf, but why the blue lipstick?’ The manager simply smiled and responded,

Well because it’s a Tuesday. That’s it. Every day here is special even Mondays...’

The lesson to us new recruits was not that we should all start wearing bright blue lipstick, however the culture of the company permitted us to be ourselves expressively. It was what they wanted customers to also feel when they walked into their stores.

Recently, People Management Magazine asked its readers what organisations HR and L&D professionals most want to work for. The top 5 were:

  1. Google
  2. John Lewis
  3. Apple
  4. Marks and Spencer
  5. British Airways

From the word cloud used to represent the reasons why, the top 5 are:

  1. Brand
  2. Reputation
  3. Benefits
  4. Culture
  5. Development

I would like to highlight number 4- culture as I feel it encapsulates and influences the other words in the list.

I’ve had the opportunity of working with some great organisations to instigate some sort of positive change. A guilty pleasure of mine is the guided tour of facilities. I love it because I get a sense of their culture and also to experience what it feels like to be an employee there.

I visited one company that gifted you confectionary when you walked in. I ‘walked in’ 4 times to test the claim. It was true! As one of the leading manufacturer and distributer of food, their culture is based around freedom. It was evident in the way they have done business for decades. It made ‘sense’ and fitted their culture to give freely what we would normally treat ourselves to.

Another company had an open air swimming pool (for staff and their families) amongst the other recreational activities on site. The culture was centred on wellbeing so it was not a surprise to hear that the HR director had emigrated from the UK to work there in search for a more wholesome way of life for his family.

As mentioned earlier, the companies I visited each wanted to implement a change that they hoped would improve employee engagement. The wish list was to add or increase recognition, adaptability, good communication, trust and wellbeing as part of their top 5 characteristics. This was so it would become what embodied their culture. The success with these initiatives often came in the form of various accreditations that they were so proud of.

When looking at the companies at the top of any accreditation list or the aforementioned People Management list, it’s easy to get carried away and try to possibly emulate what they are doing to hopefully influence ours. In some aspects you can, however rather than copying, we could find out what defines ‘our’ company and the people who work there. This is what I learnt from these leading organisations.

For example, listening and understanding from the employees what is important to them can help shape and establish a strong culture and the right benefits required. This can also simultaneously create an engaged workforce that comes across in the reputation and brand.

This is essentially a progressive culture. In other words, it means ensuring that the company seeks to continuously improve its culture, which is defined by the beliefs, ideas and values shared by its employees.

In conclusion, not every company needs a swimming pool to hype up the place, however having a progressive culture allows you to find out what is best, thus implementing what is an organic fit for the company.

When interviewed for Personnel Today, Liane Hornesy, Director EMEA -HR & Staffing for Google said’

You can cut it in two ways. You can look at what I call the fluff – the games room, the table football, Hershey bars, and all that nice stuff. And then there are the more fundamental policy issues. We do make sure our managers are approachable, we do run dress-down days, and make it informalSo there is the stuff you see and the underpinning stuff you don’t see that is in the fabric, It’s a great culture, and the founders are genuinely people-orientated. Our people are key,”

Thank you for reading my blog! Thanks to all those who help and inspire.



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