Everyone talks about culture. Everyone tries to build a culture. But many don't see building the right culture as a competitive advantage -- and one with a direct impact on a company's financial performance.
Don't just take my word for it, though. Another guy who feels this way is Ed Reeves, co-founder and director of Moneypenny, the market-leading provider of telephone answering specialists with offices in the U.S., the U.K., and New Zealand. (Instead of having random people in a massive call center take your calls, Moneypenny assigns one person to your account.)
When my sister, Rachel, and I set Moneypenny up sixteen years ago we made ourselves a promise: to create a company where we would want to work.
It was a simple idea, but one that we soon realised was extremely powerful. We had, it seemed, accidentally stumbled on the secret to success. We're not alone in recognising this link either. Some of the biggest companies in the world credit workplace culture as having a direct impact on their financial performance.
A prime example of this is Google. The internet giant is continually named as one of the best places to work in the U.S. and seems to be loved by its employees. Why? Google's leaders have successfully created a company where staff actually enjoy working.
So, that of course, leads us onto the billion dollar question--how? How have Google become the type of company that employees in other firms whisper about by the water cooler, imagining what their work life could be like?
Here are four ways they've nailed it:
1. Make the right hire.
Not long after we founded Moneypenny we fired our first employee.
It wasn't a decision we took lightly, but the truth was we weren't right for them and they weren't right for us.
Until then we hadn't realized quite how much impact the right--or wrong--person can have on a company. It was a lesson we learned the hard way. And quickly. As an entrepreneur you can create the most inspiring company in the world, but if your team don't share those same values this atmosphere will soon disappear.
The experience altered our entire approach to recruitment. Instead of focusing on aptitude, we switched our attention to attitude.
The result? Our office began to fill with incredible, glass half-full people, people who have that magical "can-do" approach to life. And they're worth their weight in gold.
Google has a similar strategy. It looks closely at attitude when recruiting and selects candidates that will thrive in its culture.
Think long and hard about it. Ask yourself what you want in your staff and what attributes are most important to you and to your business. If you don't shape your company culture, it will inevitably shape itself--and you might not like what you end up with.
2. Life is short, so have fun.
We've all seen pictures of Google's indoor putting greens, tube slides and hammocks. They're amazing, like playgrounds for grown-ups, and perfect for encouraging the company's creative culture.
More importantly though, Google's offices also encourage employees to have fun.
As adults we spend over half our lives at the office, so making work a place your staff actually want to be is a no-brainer, surely? A good job isn't just about the paycheck and the health insurance.
Think of the bigger picture: The day-in day-out details that make somewhere a great place to spend time. Bright, vibrant office spaces where staff feel at home. A busy calendar of activities and events throughout the year.
At Moneypenny we've consciously set out to achieve this since day one. During downtime we have a "playroom" where staff can eat, sit, chat and relax, and in terms of events there's always something going on--be it bungee jumping, baking competitions, fancy dress days or our own Oktoberfest.
No idea is off limits and the end goal is this: do something that will make staff excited for months before and months afterwards. Fun doesn't have to cost big bucks either.
In reality most of us don't have Google's budget, and that's fine. Better than fine, in fact, because a small budget means you have to get creative.
3. Give employees space to shine.
Your employees are brilliant. That's why you hired them. And brilliant people thrive when they're given the opportunity to do brilliant things.
Google knows this. As Laszlo Bock, its Head of People Operations, sums up perfectly: "if you give people freedom, they will amaze you."
We believe that too. We know from firsthand experience just how fantastic our receptionists are, so surely it makes sense to listen to them -- and they never fail to blow us away.
For example, a few years ago one of the team suggested it would be great if our IT system prompted receptionists when a caller gave a telephone number that was a missing a digit. It was a simple but highly effective idea.
To encourage more of these 'light bulb' moments we set up a suggestions box, making it easy for our staff to submit ideas as and when they strike. The best of these then receive an award and are proudly displayed on our 'wall of fame'.
Employees work hard to gain your trust, and in almost all instances will surpass your expectations if given a chance.
4. Make your people part of the family.
This is extremely important. Employees who feel they have a stake in your company have a real incentive to contribute to its success.
That drive and energy is infectious. At Google, employees are motivated by the knowledge that their work will have a positive impact on the lives of others. I recently read an interview with a Google developer who said: "It's cool [creating] stuff that makes people happy."
Staff at Google know they play a fundamental part in the company's overall success, and that knowledge is crucial.
We aim to do the same at Moneypenny. Our receptionists are the lifeblood of our organization; without them we wouldn't be where we are today. We know that and we tell them--loudly and often.
As a business we rely on the close working relationships that they establish with our clients. We trust them to be amazing and they are. It's this trust that makes them feel part of the family, and in turn, valued and engaged.
And isn't that how you want your employees to feel -- and to act?