Engaging the hearts, minds, and hands of talent is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage
Greg Harris, Quantum Workplace
No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energised employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it
Jack Welch, General Electric
To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.
Doug Conant, Campbell Soup
Culture is everything when it comes to success in sales.
Attend any marketing or strategy class in any business school in the world and you’ll hear about creating a competitive advantage. In other words, defining something that you or your company does better than anyone else which in turn gives you an edge over the rest.
The next level up form a competitive advantage – the one that we strive for – is a sustainable competitive advantage. In other words, a place where the risks of that ‘edge’ being copied, surpassed or eliminated are remote in the long-run.
So here’s the interesting thing.
If your competitive advantage is a piece of intellectual property then it can be surpassed and probably will be. Sure, it may take time, but if the ‘edge’ is in the widget then it’s only a matter of time before someone somewhere finds a way to do it quicker or better.
But take culture, and you’ve got a different proposition all together.
The culture – the focus on the people of the organisation – transmits to customers. And its fair to say that if the organisation is a great place to work then by default it’s likely to be a great organisation to do business with.
And that culture starts with the people at the top, the decisions they make and the actions they take. It’s all well and good a business leader standing beside the company poster and talking about the company values of ‘respect’ and ‘recognition’, but if the next step they take is to shout someone down for suggesting an alternative and cancelling the free lunches in the canteen, there’s likely to be a feeling of dissonance amongst the company’s employees between the culture they’re told exists and the culture they feel exists.
As with everything, perception is reality.
Your customers’ aren’t number one – your people are – because if you get it right with your people then you’ll automatically get it right with your customers. Give your people a great experience and they will in turn give your customers a great experience.
Customer experience and sales are two sides of the same coin. Create a poor customer experience and sales will suffer. Conversely, create a great customer experience and sales will respond.
But the key is to put employees first – to ensure they are happy and motivated and fulfilled in their work. Sounds simple but is that what you do? What you really do?
So here are ten ways by which you can create a great company culture.
1. Allow people to practice in a safe environment
Imagine a professional sportsperson turning up for their game on a Saturday and saying to the coach, ‘I’ve not trained this week, I’ve not had a chance to go over the drills, but don’t worry, I’m ready to go – just let me at them’.
The notion that this would be accepted is absurd, yet in business and in sales, this is what happens all the time.
Take a new start, give them the car keys, the product catalogue and their list of customers and send them out. Promote someone to sales manager, give them a new job description and a pay rise and tell them to get started. Launch a new product, or develop a new sales approach and send out the promotional material and ask them to get to it. Ask someone to talk to more senior members of the customer base, to have a more detailed commercial discussion and just sit back and wait for the results.
We do it all the time in a variety of scenarios. And it isn’t because we’re deliberately trying to encourage mediocrity or failure, but because we’ve created a mindset that there’s something wrong with practicing for the role, the scenario, the new product launch or the difficult conversation and that practicing is something you did when you first started out.
But consider any of the above and the improvement you see from the first time you deal with that scenario compared to the third, fourth, tenth or one-hundredth time. It’s so obvious it’s alarming.
Allowing people to practice for their role is imperative in creating a high-performing culture and providing the opportunity for individuals to make mistakes in a safe training environment, with colleagues and trainers, rather than out there with customers, leads to increased and more consistent performance.
2. Provide opportunity for growth
This doesn’t just mean vertical development. It can be cross-functional or horizontal development. This not only produces rounded leaders but it also offers aspiration – something for people to strive for.
If open positions are only filled externally, where is the motivation in the long-run for the incumbent employees? For while not everyone want will want to or be able to move roles, the greater the culture of the development then the greater the likelihood of growth.
So encourage development and growth of people in whatever form that takes.
3. Give people responsibility
Empower people and allow them the chance to take responsibility. Like the case of the whining dog, people have to take responsibility for changing the status quo – but they have to be given the opportunity to do so, feeling encouraged and supported.
And that will only happen if there is the environment in which to do so. It’s all well and good to ask people to ‘go and take responsibility’ but as with everything they have to feel supported in doing so. In addition, they need to know that there’s no undertone of anticipated recrimination if things don’t go well and they need to understand that empowerment is the accepted norm.
4. Live your company values
Much like the anecdote at the top of this article, nothing is worse than seeing someone trot out a set of company values without even the slightest hint that they believe in them, that they’re willing to live by them and act congruently with them.
What brings a set of company values to life is seeing employees at every level of the organisation living them out and being recognised for doing so. Because the values are the life-blood of the company and it’s what drives the culture.
If you understand what the company values mean to you and can articulate that link, them there’s a greater likelihood that they will be lived out and replicated amongst others.
5. Be opened minded and forget fear
A poor customer experience driven by employees who aren’t empowered to take ownership and make decisions.
So they don’t think for themselves and default to a place of ‘computer says no’.
But in order to encourage a ‘yes’ mindset or one which produces a great customer experience, two things need to happen. Firstly, failure in the pursuit of trying to do the right thing for the customer should be encouraged. Secondly, failure in the pursuit of trying to do the right thing for the business should be encouraged.
It’s only in allowing that freedom of thinking and action that both creative development and empowerment will be encouraged and increased.
6. Make it fun
If you make the company a great place to work, then the chances are it will be a great company to buy from. Many of us spend more time with the people we work with than family and friends. So it figures that if you create a fun environment – where people laugh and can be open and enjoy the experience – then people are more likely to find it a great place to be.
Richard Branson said, ‘At Virgin, we have always believed that if you have fun and do good things then success will come.’
Give people the opportunity to build stronger relationships both in and out of work, liven up the workspace, create some out of work excursions, take breaks or play games.
7. Bring in the best (fit) and over-emphasise the onboarding process
You can go and hire the best person out there in terms of skill or technical ability, but if they’re a bad cultural fit or have values misaligned with the organisation, then you’re in trouble. Far more important is hiring for best fit.
But recruitment, as with training, is not a process, but an event. And nothing damages people quite so much as a poor induction to the company. At a time when there can be understandable uncertainty, now is not the time to get the basics wrong.
So after hiring for fit, the onboarding process should be done early, it should be done thoroughly and it should be staged over the first twelve months to ensure greater chances of successful integration.
8. Keep your best people. Praise them and recognise them
It sounds obvious but you need to keep your best people. Too many good people leave organisations, rarely because of the product or service or business but because of the way they feel.
And whilst this is a broad area and could touch many points, often this is down to praise and recognition – or a lack thereof.
They key is to praise and recognise sincerely, frequently and using a range of approaches in keeping with the motivational drivers of the individual.
9. Over communicate
I talked here of that fact that in employee engagement studies, one of the top three reasons for disengagement in organisations is lack of role clarity. Well, right up there with that is a lack of communication.
Long story short, there can never be enough communication. If you think you’re doing enough, you’re wrong. You can do more. And it shouldn’t just be one way – top down. It should be two-ways, vertically and horizontally. It should include forums and feedback, face-to-face meetings, seminars, educational events, social medial, webinars, newsletters – the list is endless.
Importantly, any communication should be open, regular and timely.
10. Coach people
The idea that coaching is for professional sportspeople only is passé. The reality is that any professional who wants to improve should have access to a coach. And that coach could be either internal or external to the organisation and could be through formal or informal conversations.
As coaching focusses on increasing awareness to different options and then allowing the individual to take responsibility for the decision making and implementation, coaching therefore not only leads to improved performance but greater accountability and empowerment.
Foster a culture of coaching within your organisation and you will improve creative thinking, decision making and empowerment.
If you can figure out how to create a culture where people enjoy what they’re doing and enjoy where they’re working, everything else will be easier. If you can create an environment where the people who drive the organisation don’t struggle into work in the morning but are delighted to arrive, then sales performance will undoubtedly improve.
After all, if the organisation is a great place to work in then by default it’s likely to be a great organisation to do business with.