Building businesses people want to work for

Importance of culture in business

I recently returned from New York having participated in Go Global, a 67-strong small business trade mission led by Enterprise Nation to explore the opportunities and potential of the US market for small business owners in the UK.

As well as meeting some impressive entrepreneurs and visionaries, one thing struck me, the importance of culture; I don’t mean in the definitive sense of theatre, film or dance, I’m talking about cultivated behaviour – a collective way of thinking, and how important this is in terms of building a business that people want to work for.

This is something I think the Americans do very well – the creation of cultures and communities. Take Apple for example. In addition to being at the forefront of technology innovation, they have successfully built an army of devoted employees committed to being part of something bigger than themselves (boosting Apple’s bottom line in the process).

Strong leadership clearly has an important role to play – evident from the passion and inspiration conjured up so successfully by Steve Jobs. Indeed, writer and motivational speaker Simon Sinek summed it up nicely when he said: “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first”. I strongly agree with this statement. Culture is the foundation by which the other success factors of a business depend.

So, without the ability or resources to promise six-figure salaries or the usual benefits associated with large corporates, I’ve been thinking more recently about how we as a start-up can go about attracting and retaining the best talent, and nurture a creative and innovative environment that people want to work in.

How can businesses attract and retain top talent?

Firstly, hiring well and seeing the opportunity in every person is crucial and a lesson I have experienced first-hand. I didn’t go to university, but have never seen that as a barrier to success, and have made the best of the opportunities I’ve been given. I look for similar qualities in the people I meet. Having a degree is a fantastic achievement, but university is not always an obvious route for those with entrepreneurial ambition who want to ‘get started’. I’d encourage anyone with an idea to go for it.

Your people are everything; along with having the belief in ability and not age and looking beyond the proof points of what’s on a piece of paper. In my view, it’s so much more than just a financial investment you make during the hiring process. It’s an emotional investment in people with the abilities and dedication to make a vision a reality.

Shoptility’s three core culture values

I also believe that at the core of culture creation are ‘values’ which form the DNA of any business, the three I’ve developed for Shoptility being:

People – Our people are everything, and values, both professional and personal form an important part of the people who make up our team. We believe in respecting each other and we place high value on honesty and integrity. We’re all in this together and see opportunity in every situation and in every crisis.

Pace – We’re always prepared to go the extra mile to succeed. Our great results are a direct result of the pace and effectiveness at which we work, and it is this example that we look to convey to each other, and new staff.

Passion – Quality is everything and will be the lasting difference as to whether something is good, or whether something is great. We think big and as a team, firmly believe that we can achieve anything. We believe in each other and my belief is that supporting and cultivating the right qualities from staff is demonstrative in our business performance.

Perhaps the biggest and most inherent requirement for us is to have a workforce conditioned to understand that customers are the number one priority.

I see my role as founder and chief executive of Shoptility as being at the forefront of making this happen. To take the time to know our staff, adopt an ‘open door’ policy, and absorb every idea or recommendation that is suggested to me.

As we edge ever closer to the official launch of Shoptility, putting these ‘foundations’ in place has never been so important, and to me, the ‘ROI’ on getting it right at this early stage means a dedicated and happy workforce in the longer-term.

The costs incurred by not having a positive work culture far outweigh the investment required to create the right one; motivation comes from creating the ‘context’ in which people feel motivated, instead of forcing motivation on them yourself.

In keeping with my US theme, I’ll end this time with a quote from American internet entrepreneur and founder of Zappos, Tony Hsieh: “We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department; it should be the entire company”.

A vision that I share for Shoptility.

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About the author

Will Lownsbrough is the founder and chief executive of Shoptility, a new shopping platform that aims to transform the way we shop online. Shoptility connects shoppers with retailers and enables a one-to-one dialogue, bringing together the best of the Internet and the high street for a quicker and more personal shopping experience. Will has a proven track record in managing businesses, developing innovative products and services and driving rapid growth, which he achieved latterly for market intelligence business Vizzihome, now part of Zoopla plc. More blog posts by Will Lownsbrough ››
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