From teams that only connect via Zoom meetings to manufacturing workers that now need to maintain social distancing, creating a strong company culture has never been more important, first because businesses still need to function as cohesive units, even if everyone is working remotely, and second because without a strong culture, obsessive customer service is impossible to achieve.
Ian Fuhr, the founder and former CEO of Sorbet and the founder of the Hatch Institute, which is championing culture-driven leadership and a new style of business he has coined ‘cultureneering’, believes that culture needs to be every business owner’s number one priority if they want to survive and thrive in 2021 and beyond.
Refocusing your workforce on what matters
“A good starting point is to remind everyone why they come to work – if it’s just for a salary, even now when things are so uncertain, that’s not enough,” says Fuhr.
“For culture-driven leaders, earning the trust of their employees and the moral authority to lead are their top priorities. As a leader, if people don’t trust you or they feel that you haven’t treated them the way they hoped they would be treated, you will have to work hard to re-earn the respect of your team – if you ever can.”
The good news is that according to Fuhr, there are a number of things that leaders can do to earn the moral authority to lead.
“First, show genuine concern for the well-being of everyone in your organisation. Show a commitment to the development and growth of your people and create a place of safety where people can speak up if they have any problems or grievances, without fear of retaliation.
“In particular, work hard on all the socio-political and diversity elements of the company to make sure that no polarisation or discrimination exists in your business.”
Start with a shared purpose
Culture always begins with purpose. “We call this the Reason for Being. Everyone in the organisation, starting from the top, needs to understand where their purpose lies. Why do we exist, why are we here, and why do we come to work every day? The answer should always begin and end with the customer – and purpose is first, the result (which is the money you make) is the reward. It should never be the purpose,” says Fuhr.
“As the leadership team, it’s your job to inculcate that purpose, throughout the organisation through your core values. However, you cannot state values and then not live by them. You must practice them. Consistency is key – if you are not consistent, you will not win the hearts, minds and respect of your people. If you say one thing and do another, your people won’t follow you. It’s that simple.”
According to Fuhr, in a world that has experienced a global pandemic, people are looking for reasons to believe. They need stability. “The culture you build and the consistent message that you share will help them find something to believe in and work towards. People naturally want to make a contribution to others. The right culture of service gives them that ability. The key is to link what they do on a day-to-day basis to a larger purpose.”
For example, if someone is on a production line, show them the bigger picture. Who is the customer? What problem are they helping to solve or what joy are they bringing because of the important role they play? “We all need a purpose in our lives, now more than ever.”
Put people before profits
The traditional focus on the bottom line and cost-cutting has proven itself ineffective in creating a competitive edge for businesses operating under tough conditions.
“A bottom-line focus puts profits before people. Culture-focused businesses, on the other hand, always put people before profits. Focus on only profits and your perception of people changes – they become a cost burden, instead of an empathetic and caring core to the business. When people are listed as expenses on the balance sheet, they feel it – they see themselves as cost burdens, which is not very different to any other overhead that can be trimmed or cut when necessary.”
Fuhr believes that commitment, loyalty and customer service will slip fast and furiously when people don’t have a reason to believe in the businesses that employ them, their leadership teams, or the company’s purpose.
“Why should an employee put all of their efforts into supporting the customer if they don’t feel supported in their own right?
“I’m hopeful that this is the beginning of the next world – a world in which these ideas become compulsory and the only way of doing things. Business leaders have a financial and moral obligation to uplift the people of this country. A narrow focus on profit won’t achieve that, but a culture that puts people first can.”