Culture is what happens when no-one’s watching!

In recent issues I’ve spoken about Vision, Mission and Values but in this article, I’d like to explore how getting all 3 right can create the kind of culture that can absolutely secure the future of your business.

Your organisation’s culture is its personality. It defines the environment you create for your team. Your culture will be impacted by many aspects of your business… vision, mission, values, ethics, expectations and of course your goals.

My earliest experience of great culture was in my early 20’s.

I played rugby for a local team and the games were often pretty dangerous. Don’t misunderstand, the standard wasn’t that high, but we would take a hit for each other without hesitation, and boy, were some of those hits painful. Our commitment to each other was total – 100%.


I think my love of rugby may have been one of the reasons I enjoyed James Kerr’s book, “Legacy”. James goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary New Zealand All Blacks.

He combines anecdotes from not only those directly involved in the success of the team, but quotes and stories from some of the most successful coaches involved in sport and other business leaders.

The All Blacks have always worked to create a long-term successful cultural legacy but the lessons in the book apply equally to us as business owners as it does to sports teams and coaches.

Kerr said it perfectly when he spoke of, “a values-based, purpose driven culture”, and he makes a great point when he says the All Blacks competitive advantage is helped by “attaching the players’ personal meanings to a higher purpose. It is the identity of the team that matters – not so much what the All Blacks do, but who they are, what they stand for, and why they exist.”

In our early days, Darren (my business partner) and I decided we wanted to build a family friendly culture. We wanted everyone to feel they belonged and were valued. Just one of the many small ways we did this was to organise a BBQ for Guy Fawkes night.

Our printing business generated a lot of waste material, so we saved it all for a couple of months and built a huge bonfire. We invited all members of staff, their families, children friends, customers and suppliers. We arranged “refreshments” and Darren built a huge steel drum BBQ and became Chef for the night.

We bought a ton of fireworks and arranged for one of the staff to be the “firework launcher” and a couple more to be the “safety monitors”, walking around with fire extinguishers just in case!

The event was going well until the Fire Service turned up after a complaint from our nearest business neighbours who’d become scared our bonfire might spread to their factory. An exaggeration, but maybe they were just upset we hadn’t invited them?

What they didn’t know was, I’m a local boy and knew most of the guys on the fire engines and within minutes of arriving they were enjoying hot dogs and burgers… they even let the kids jump into the engine and have photographs with the firemen.

The crowd thought I’d planned it all and I still hear comments to this day from people who were there. We still have all but four of the staff who were with us that day and of the four, two have passed away, one retired and one left to join a bigger firm.

For years after that event, we had people asking if they could get a job with us.

If you want to develop a great culture in your organisation, I recommend you read the 15 lessons from the book Legacy as soon as you possibly can.

Meanwhile, here’s 7 more steps you can add to your Vision, Mission and Values to build a great culture in your organisation.


Step 1 – Structure

This is how you do things in your business. The policies, processes and procedures you adopt to ensure you deliver a consistent experience each and every time. The organisational structure to clarify the chain of authority and who’s responsible for what. How will you communicate? How will you train your staff? How will you measure performance? How will you evaluate staff and reward them? Who’s responsible for what? How are your meetings organised, held and reported? Who attends them? Get this right and it will become the foundation of your cultural statement. People already in your business, and those who join will, become significantly more effective.

Step 2 – People

You cannot build a great culture without a team that shares your core values and are willing and able to embrace them. To get your team on board you must communicate openly with them. Lots of business owners are unwilling to share the key numbers in their business, but this only leads to suspicion, paranoia and fear in the staff. Sharing will help your team feel part of your strategy, understand their responsibilities within that strategy and they can share ideas and feedback whatever their role.

Step 3 – Balance

Accept your staff won’t have the same mentality as you. Be careful to encourage balance between hard work and a personal life. Too much work and not enough down- time can cause burnout in you or your staff. Not only will this negatively impact organisational performance and efficiency, it will also result in a reputation of poor culture you definitely don’t want, thus making it harder to fill vacancies as you grow. Life has a habit of getting in the way of business from time to time and everyone should be allowed to take care of personal issues.

Step 4 – Empower

Be careful not to micromanage. Empower your staff by giving them general guidelines instead of detailed instructions. Give them some freedom in how they achieve the goal and allow them to fail without criticism or judgement. Empowered employees will be involved and the more freedom they have the more they’ll feel connected to, and part of, the company’s culture.

Step 5 – Workplace

Whatever your workplace, be it office, factory, retail or outdoors… give consideration to the needs and behavioural styles of your staff. Some people like the ‘noise’ of open office space, others can’t concentrate unless they’re alone. Some companies provide fitness suites, pool tables, café bars and restaurants. Whatever you provide, it must fit with the needs of the staff but also with the culture you wish to create.

Step 6 – Communication

According to John Maxwell, “Good Leaders ask Great Questions”. We can often be blinded by our own viewpoint and should be open to ideas from those around us who may be better placed to comment such as our staff and customers. So ask questions, lots of them.

My business partner loves to do this. Internally, he loves to walk the floor and ‘keep his ear to the ground’. By speaking to the staff he can find out any issues they might have and get a measure of happiness in the team. Externally, he still likes to speak to customers and find out what they’re thinking, what they need… then feeds this back to the staff.

Step 7 – Story

Be inspired by some of the famous, such as how Jobs and Wosniak founded Apple. How Bezos started Amazon with money he borrowed from family and friends. How Ray Croc bought McDonalds from the McDonald brothers. How Branson started the Virgin empire. We all have unique stories… Craft yours, explain your history and show how it’s played a part in who you are and what your organisation stands for today. So, what’s your story?