Emma Bannister CEO of Presentation Studio, APAC’s largest presentation communication agency shares her startup story and explains why vision and culture are vital for small business growth.
I have a classic kitchen bench, start-up story: creating avocado sandwiches in one hand for my baby daughter and PowerPoint presentations in the other.
This was back in 2006 when I was a graphic designer and tech geek who loved PowerPoint. I was really clear and focused on my vision ‘making PowerPoint sexy’ for my clients.
At the start – our culture, values and vision were loud and clear. As a result, my business really took off and grew. Yet as I added more and more people to my team, it became tough to adhere to those values, to keep cultivating the kind of creative culture I had longed for.
The mission evolved to helping our clients experience the value of their presentations, and we hired for passion and proof of our values: being creative, supportive, passionate and collaborative.
Vision, values and culture have become buzz words that are bandied about in meetings and between organisations. There’s a lot of talk that “we need them”, but how many of us actually know what they indeed are? More importantly, how do we bring them to life, especially as the business grows?
The overall vision for the organisation must be set by the leader. It describes the future state that everyone in the team and throughout the business is heading in. It’s only when people feel like they are part of something bigger, they start to achieve together as a team.
As a founder, leader or someone in the executive team, it’s essential to provide regular, consistent updates to everyone. Without constant communication, the vision gets lost, and motivation towards the goal dies a slow and painful death – which can be really hard to resurrect.
I’ve found that being transparent on the numbers and my role, what I’m doing day to day is crucial. To be present and connect with your team, and be there to listen to ideas and challenges. Transparency alone doesn’t equal trust, that comes from consistently leading by example and asking questions, listening and communicating clearly.
This also means being open and honest when things are not going to plan, or tracking well. There’s nothing worse than working for a business and feeling like you’re just being lied to – transparency is the key to trust and a thriving culture.
Your culture really dictates how everyone behaves in your business. It’s made up of the shared values and beliefs that you set and say are essential.
These values, however, are more than slogans on posters, or coffee cups. While a lot of people bring in the big guns to help come up with a few summary words, they require much more than just a set-it-and-forget-it activity.
For example, one of our values is creativity, so we regularly get together to help boost each other’s creativity through:
- Presentations to each other about our personal passions
- Popcorn sessions where we watch videos, animation; Ted talks or debates
- Creative food days – where different recipes or new cuisines are shared
- Walking meetings through the centennial parklands
- Life drawing and watercolour classes in locations throughout the city
- Sharing life experiences and listening to each other’s stories as a way of connecting and exploring.
We invest lots of time and energy into creating activities that include the whole team. It’s not about drinking or holding office parties (many of our team don’t drink, and that’s the same throughout many businesses I know). Instead, the focus is always on a mix of different things to ensure everyone is included.
Strengthen your team
When you facilitate this kind of collaboration, even if it’s not 100% work-related, then each of us becomes more innovative, and the office becomes more fun overall.
Like I’ve experienced, keeping the culture going is the biggest challenge you have as your business starts to grow. When there are only a handful of people in your team then really everything is just an extension of you – your passion is felt across the table and in a small room, and it’s easy to make that felt.
As you expand, then it’s vital to strengthen your management and build a leadership team that is responsible for ensuring the message – your vision, values and culture – is clear and translated to everyone.