There are numerous studies available involving multiple data that show that conscious companies achieve superior financial performance. Becoming a consciously capital company involves a number of things but at its heart it is how a business treats its employees.
When a business leader undertakes a strategy review, he or she should not underestimate the power of employee engagement. Polling company Gallup, which has long been measuring employee engagement, suggests that there is a 20 per cent upwards boost to productivity and profitability for companies that achieve high engagement. One study by Hewitt Associates found that companies that consistently achieved double digit growth had employees who were more confident in their organisation’s future and understood the company’s goals and how they could contribute.
Fully engaging with your employees is far more than remembering birthdays, buying cakes and giving bonuses. It is a whole culture. Happiness is not a destination; it is a journey lived every day. The job of a leader is to create that culture: the culture that allows an employee to both be happy and flourish.
In our firm you will regularly hear people say “Everyone can copy what we do but they can’t copy our culture” – and we strive every day to improve that culture. Without creating a culture that employees wish to follow, as the leadership guru John Maxwell would say, you’re not really leading – just going for a walk.
When you create that culture and you communicate your vision on a daily basis – whether it’s short-term objectives or the type of Big Hairy Audacious Goals described by Collins and Porras in their classic book, Built to Last - it is at that point that you begin to create a fully engaged workforce who you can trust to not only follow, but also to lead.
Creating that culture is about creating meaning. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl the great Austrian psychologist who was interned by the Nazis, wrote that happiness cannot be pursued; it is the result of living a life of meaning and purpose. Business leaders should be aware that superficial happiness may result in short hedonistic pleasure but it does not lead to authentic and long-lasting happiness: that comes from living a life of meaning and purpose. Creating an authentic and lasting culture in a business goes much deeper than fancy offices and team building exercises; it is creating an environment and a business that your people are proud of, that they will want to talk about when they go home, go to the pub, or stand on the touchline with other parents.
There are some simple measures businesses in traditional sectors can take to free employees from unnecessary bureaucracy and encourage a strong culture. In our law firm, we don’t require lawyers to do timesheets – there’s no ticking clock. All partners operate as self-employed business people, who ultimately work together to ensure not just their own success but the overall success of their client. The lawyers at my firm work flexibly, and are motivated by the ability to maximise their earning potential. We copy the same model in both the consulting and the operating practices of our businesses.
Most importantly, we cherish entrepreneurial thinking and new ideas. We have four values – all of them are important, but my favourite is ‘Innovation’. We encourage innovative, gamechanging thinking, particularly when it comes to service. We even have a department called Imagineering which is given the freedom to improve any part of the business. When we set out, someone said to me that you can either be the best or you can be different, but it’s impossible to be the best on day one. Now we aim to be the best and to continue to be different.
Napoleon said that there are no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad officers. Leaders should spend lots of time together creating the culture of their organisation and planning how to communicate it: creating that strong vision and that sense of belonging, and creating confidence in the organisation. One of the things you will often hear our leadership team say is ‘there is no such thing as failure, the only failure is not trying’. You want your people to fail because that is how you learn.
I have never yet met an entrepreneur who hasn’t got failure written all over his or her CV. When you achieve that in your organisation, then you know that you are on your way to an unstoppable success. You have given your people the confidence they need to succeed. Employees that know your vision, believe and are proud of your culture will show you unbelievable loyalty and will contribute to and cherish your success as much as anyone. Most importantly, these employees will one day join you in leading your company to the success that everybody is working towards.
Create the culture, let them fly and watch the business soar.