Culture engineers speaks to students at London Business School

Founder and CEO, Ashley Walker, spoke as part of a change management course today at London Business School. Read about the discussion below. 

Today, as part of Raina Brands' course at London Business School, I had the pleasure of sharing some of my experiences and stories regarding creating strong company culture - a topic we are quite passionate about at Culture Engineers! :-)

Coming from a marketing background, I learned early on the importance of the 'soft issues' in business, and the importance of 'inside-out' brand development. Your companies’ people have the ability to make or break a business. They are your most important asset.

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to work with some businesses that cultivated a positive company culture, consistently had great customer service and were successful. However, I have also worked with some businesses that had low employee engagement and morale, constant client issues, and poor performance. 

From my experiences, I’ve observed three things in common among the great companies I’ve worked with:

  1. There was a clear vision and strategy – ‘what are we trying to achieve and why’ and this was cascaded down to every employee in the organisation so each person understood his/her role as part of the bigger picture.
  2. There was clarity around values and more importantly, their leaders’ actions reflected these values. Employees held each other accountable for living these ideals, and if someone was not playing as part of the team, a manager took up a quick decision to move that person on. 
  3. They supported these things with effective practice and communication. The company values and strategy were embedded in day to day practices - from their customer service policy to internal performance management and recognition systems. People were clear about what these practices were and why. In terms of communication, the management team was transparent and communicated in timely fashion with their employees, customers and partners. They didn’t just communicate via email, sitting in their top floor offices but instead communicated in person, social media, email, video, phone, and more! And most importantly, they listened. They walked the floors and asked questions. They visited customers and genuinely listened to what they were saying. They had multiple channels for feedback – not just a once per year customer or employee feedback survey. 

Whilst none of these exercises are necessarily “easy”, it is often less challenging for businesses to define their strategy or values, but a lot harder to ensure everything happens in practice. Everyone can come up with some business buzz works that sound good (customer first, transparency, trust, etc)…. But some nice plaques on your office walls are simply not enough when it comes to nurturing your company culture!

We talked a lot today about the importance of ensuring employees have a sense of ownership when it comes to embedding culture. When there is a sense of ownership vs. when people are passive recipients, they are more committed to the outcome — it increases the chance that they will commit to bringing the values to life. 

Following the discussion, there were some great questions, such as how do we, at Culture Engineers, go about helping organisations with defining their vision and values, as well as embedding these and coping with the inevitable cynics. One question I particularly enjoyed was around measuring engagement, given I've worked at a few research companies in the past.

Most companies these days do a good job of getting feedback from their customers, but many of these same businesses fail to communicate regularly with and get feedback from their own staff. Every growing business risks hiring the wrong people, communication challenges grow as you have more staff and more locations, and M&A or international growth can bring different company and national cultures into play. Old practices and processes may no longer be fit for purpose. Clarity of strategy, vision and values may blur. Good communication (which is not just one-way) is vital! 

Ultimately, these three things - being clear about your vision and strategy, being clear about your values and behaviours, and supporting it with effective practices and communication - are key to a strong culture, which is why when launching Culture Engineers, we made it our aim to help businesses with these things!