How to create the right business culture

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Culture. Everybody talks about it, from small businesses to big corporations, yet not everyone gets it right. It can be a difficult thing to describe, let alone create and it’s an easy thing to get wrong.

In my experience, it’s a broad mix of the right people, and a company that has a clear purpose supported by a solid infrastructure of the right processes and systems to scale. The right culture differs from company to company and making it ‘perfect’ is a continually evolving process but one thing you can rely on is that you’ll always know when you’ve gotten it wrong!

The thing about growing a culture is that intangible though it might be, it is a living thing. It is the beating heart of any organisation and whether you’re a two-person small business or an ASX-listed company you can’t afford not to invest in it. The challenge of maintaining that culture can be exacerbated when your workforce isn’t co-located. Maintaining a culture of excellence can seem daunting but it doesn’t need to be complicated.

Below are some lessons we have learned as we scaled from a small business to a global player.

Communicate where you’re going
Like any good roadmap your business needs a destination from day one, or you won’t know where you’re headed, or indeed when you reach it. It’s an oft-cited adage but your people are your best asset. Make sure they know that, and make sure that you bring them on the journey with you.

To that end, internal communications are key. Whether you choose to have an informal stand-up meeting every Monday or you have a highly structured internal communications framework is to a large extent immaterial. The key is consistency of message and ensuring that everyone in the organisation from the highest executive to the newest starter knows exactly what that vision is, and the part they play in that vision.

Know your values
‘Company values’ is a term that is bandied around to the extent that it could be rendered meaningless, but your values are the building blocks of your business culture. They’re not just words to put on your website and leave there.

If you determine your business values early on, they will be one of the most important means of attracting and retaining key talent, and those people will be the key drivers of growth for your business as you scale.

Examples of such values could be:

  • Passion never fails – It’s what drives and what makes a business great
  • Agile in our pursuit- Never rest on laurels
  • Brave but not reckless – Give yourselves permission to fail

These values have enabled us to attract top quality people who are driven, passionate and smart. It has led to internal employee-led hackathons all over the world — the most recent one was held in Melbourne and in Russia — and fostered a global mentality and a culture that ensures even our team members from the furthest-flung locations feel part of the team.

Foster cross-team collaboration
As your business grows you’ll find that suddenly not everyone works on the same teams together and therefore might not have the opportunity to know the entire team. Scaling culture isn’t down to investing foosball tables, free food and beer. We have those benefits too but they need to be underpinned by substance. Growth can lend itself to silos so to circumvent that we have found a novel approach to fostering cross-team relationships.

When a new team member joins, rather than spending their first few days with their department team, they spend it with teams across the entire business taking the time to get to know what each department does and who works where. It allows them to see their role in the broader business, and the respective contributions of each department. The feedback from the team on this approach has been incredibly positive and it’s a tradition we intend to continue as we grow.

As part of that process, we include the new joiners in ‘pay-it-forward’ lunches. This means that on the day a new team member joins the team, the most recent person to join the company brings that person to lunch (on the company) to help them to get to know a bit more about the company in an informal environment and ask the questions a new person might be a little too nervous to ask on their first day!

Everybody is responsible for People & Culture
Ultimately the biggest lesson I have learned as we’ve scaled is that everybody on the team is responsible for people & culture. Irrespective of size every single job role plays a part in building the culture. Your job as the founder is to signal the way and give your team the tools to succeed. Whether you scale to five people or five hundred, bringing your team on the journey with you will be the ultimate assurance of your success.

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Aleksandra Bugajewska
Aleksandra is People & Culture Leader at Travelport Locomote, focusing on aligning the People & Culture strategy with the growth of the business. She has over ten years of human resources experience in both the business and not for profit sectors. Aleksandra drives Travelport Locomote initiatives to create an engaged, diverse, talented and impactful workforce.

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