Sometimes it needs to get personal!

I’m seeing first hand what it’s like to be hunting for a job.

My daughter is fresh out of university (well, after 4 months exploring Australia) and actively seeking her first job. She’s putting in the legwork – finding job adverts, writing tailored applications and answering all the questions asked. And on the whole its going well. But what’s really getting me annoyed is how few companies respond to her applications.

Come on people, it’s not that hard. You are dealing with often stressed out minds so please send out responses. I understand that tailored responses (the gold standard) take time but even a standard response would let them move on. At the very, very least, please be up front and tell them not to expect a response.

The best companies treat all applicants as the fragile humans that they are. A few companies have treated her exceptionally well and I want to take the opportunity to applaud them. These companies will win in the end as their reputation as great employers will draw in the best people.

What is culture?

Culture is such a hard thing to tie down that I love collecting quotes from culture leaders. Here’s one from Howard Schultz, founder and now Chairman of Starbucks.

Culture is about “understanding human behavior and how to elevate a group of people to realize, believe, and trust that they are a part of something larger than themselves; where each person has a responsibility to shape the behavior of the organization.
That behavior is the foundation of the company – it should express the company’s values and guiding principles, which ultimately define its core purpose and reason for being.”

Love it!

Oh, and by the way, if you doubt that Starbucks is a culture leader I strongly suggest you read ‘Onward’ by Schultz.

What’s your true north?

What makes some companies more inspiring to work for than others? My view is that it starts with these three things:
1. clarity of vision;
2. courage and conviction to stick to it no matter what;
3. ability to effectively communicate those two things.

For a small busiess, a vision needs to be your dream, your true north. Often described as the change you want to make in the world.

It doesnt have to be huge:
– “to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.” (Microsoft)

It can be focussed:
– “to make Horsham a fitter and healthier place to live.” (Example)

But beware, if you don’t feel it authentically, if you’re just saying the words but don’t believe it deep down there’s no way your people will sign up for that journey. Much better to have a vision like “to create a great life for my family” if that’s what you truly believe. The trade off? You still might find it hard to get your team to sign up but at least they’ll see you’re being honest.

When a vision tells your people where they are going, they will be in a position to help work out how to get there. This will drive productivity and switch on creativity.

Once your vision is clear, your role is to (over) communicate it so that everyone around you is in no doubt that you believe in it. I’ve heard it said that you’re only communicating enough when you are sick of hearing yourself say it. Find as many different ways to say it, and show it, as you can. But above all live it.

Is it fair to expect discretionary effort?

Discretionary effort – the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, above and beyond the minimum required.

As a responsible employer is it right to try and release discretionary effort from our people?

Yes – if the goal is extra thought, determination and creativity.

No – if the intention is purely extra hours.

Above all, it has to be deserved and freely given rather than expected.

What is a great company culture?

What is a great company culture and how do you know when you’re looking at one?

Company culture may be hard to define but you’ll recognise it when you see it. Everyone will be involved in decision making, will be well informed of plans and know the part they are to play.

Staff will be willing to raise concerns without fear; bullying and harassment will not be permitted. Everyone will be working hard but will be have sufficient time to recuperate and enjoy time with their families.

In other words, treat staff as people not resources.

Why ‘People First’?

Organisations are no more than the people that represent them.

Your people control how your business is perceived by the outside world, not you or the organisation itself.

For customers, the least senior people have the greatest influence. So it makes sense – look after your people and they will look after the rest.

Competitive advantage

How do you develop a sustainable competitive advantage?

Businesses can no longer compete merely through the products and services they offer when these can be copied (sometimes very quickly). I’d argue that the one remaining point of differentiation is a businesses “personality” displayed through its culture and especially through it’s values.

Culture gives a more enduring competative advantage than any new product or service and had the added bonus of creating a place where people want go to every day. People say they like working with Breathe because of our people and their approach to business, not just because of our great product.