What sort of company culture did you want when you first set up?
When I first started it was more about what I didn't want it to be. Especially with the amount of businesses that we work with, we get to see the culture of many businesses. It is amazing how many of them operate on fear or scaremongering. I remember when we were completing a site survey for a large company and not long into the visit we heard a ripple of: "She's here". They were referring to the CEO. People feared her erratic behaviour and were never quite sure whether their jobs were secure or what she would ask of them - horrible!
I definitely wanted an approachable, friendly and honest culture that appreciates the individual career goals of the people that work in it. As a leader, I have goals for the business and for myself and there is a clear direction that I want to take the business. It is important that the staff are engaged with what these goals are.
How has the company culture developed over the years?
The culture has certainly evolved. As I look to take on new people, I want to balance out the existing personalities as much as take on someone with the right skills. Culture and personalities are a balancing act. There definitely needs to be a right fit.
Having the benefit of working with so many businesses about their new spaces, I have seen the importance of culture externally. Having a great culture, and a good working environment plays a major part in staff retention and staff acquisition. We often work with companies to change their existing culture, which can become stale for a number of reasons - it's amazing what a new café/kitchen or some breakout zones will do to bring people together and make them feel like they are valued.
I certainly apply these things in my business. Retaining a good culture is often about making the staff feel valued and that they have a voice. We specifically have one on one catchups every second month, a confidential environment where they can talk about anything or anyone at work. It is totally unrelated to a performance or pay review. Whilst we do cover off performance and how they are going, it's not a formal review.
Do clients notice your culture?
Clients have certainly noticed that we are an all female team and they do notice that we have a lot of energy together.
We often collaborate on jobs, there will be two designers assigned to any project and we mix up the groupings when we can. This ensures the client gets benefit from two designers so nothing is missed and they get double the expertise.
This collaboration ensures that all the staff work together and get to know each other on a professional level. Mixing the teams up, means we avoid cliques and it is also a good support system.
Has it been difficult to keep it as it was in the beginning as you have grown?
Not difficult, it has just become something I am very aware of and I value the contribution a good culture plays in making sure the staff are happy and want to come to work.
Certainly as we get bigger, the management of the office culture almost becomes a job of its own. It is as important as paying the wages. Checking in with the health of the company culture is something I do regularly.
Have your staff played a big role in determining the company culture?
A big part. I play the biggest in terms of making sure the team are aware of who we are and how we operate. But then individual personalities either enhance the culture or similarly destroy it. I have seen many offices where there only takes a couple of key people to really destroy morale and ruin the culture.
Seeing the damage of poisonous people, I know the most important part of the process is in recruitment. Even in the recruitment phase we are open about our existing culture and how we like to operate.
A top tip?
My advice would be to appreciate that most staff will usually have career goals. If you can determine what these are - as long as they align with what the business does, supporting their achieving these goals, will assist in maintaining a vibrant culture where staff are excited about work and their development
Next week: So often, small business owners tell me about the support they have had from family to get their new companies off the ground. Sometimes it's financial but often it's them rolling up their sleeves and getting in there and doing the donkey work too when numbers are tight in the early days. Tell me of the times your family - wife, mother, brother, father - have stepped in to save your bacon. It's an opportunity to say thanks for everything.