As a nurse working in the NHS, I never expected to become an entrepreneur and run my own business. One thing I have learnt since doing so, though, is that each business has its own culture and way of doing things that work best for its unique structure and the employees within it. However, building a successful culture can be both challenging and gratifying. In building our aesthetic distribution company, AestheticSource, my business partner and now husband, David McDonnell, and I, set out purposefully to build a team based on three core values of trust, passion and authenticity. We wanted to create a ‘family feel’, to empower each person to be brave, to be different and to be their best self. But, most of all, we wanted every individual to feel supported and cared for.
Achieving this family feel has been a collaboration between, at first, just the two of us, but then through our growing teams. We have always run an open-house culture, not just that our door is always open, but that our home is where the heart of the business is. For example, at sales meetings David used to cook dinner and everyone would join us around our dining table – we can’t do this anymore as there are too many of us, but we maintain that spirit. However, truly building this culture is more than just involving people in our home life, it is involving the team in decisions on how the business will grow and evolve. Selecting, communicating and sticking to the right culture is, in my opinion, a pivotal element of developing a successful business.
This article will explore my tips on how you can do this effectively.
There are many recognised ways to define company culture. We have believed in and use Hofstede Insights,1 which is a resource built on approaches developed by Professor Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist. He has studied and written about how values in the workplace are influenced by culture and has written many books on the topic; I suggest reading Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind.2,3
The most recent definition of culture by Hofstede Insights is ‘the way in which the members of an organisation relate to each other, their work and the outside world in comparison to other organisations’.2,3 Put simply, Professor Hofstede’s ideology allows conversation internally around how the culture can best be developed to enable, rather than hinder, company strategy and goals.
One of the most valuable tools we have used is ‘the cultural web’ (Figure 1). This is a tool taken from Fundamentals of Strategy that allows us to dispassionately review how we are perceived by our team (our internal customers) and by the clients in the businesses we sell to (our external customers).4 Businesses can note down their strategies under each heading of the cultural web, for example, at the core of our cultural plan are authenticity trust and passion, shown in Figure 1. In the next section, I will explain, with examples, how this plays out in a growing business. To reinforce these tools, I advise that your management team meet regularly to discuss how your organisational culture is fairing, what work you might need to do to improve the culture, and how your staff, customers and team understand your culture. This can be time consuming, but has proven extremely valuable to us.
In the development of our culture, we firstly set out to create a team of creative leaders who were willing to have a voice in the business. This runs throughout the business, and the trust we have in each other grows as the company expands.
There are many ways you can build trust in a business. One exercise we have done to not only encourage trust, but to also facilitate any change in the business, is to ask our employees a series of open questions at a team meeting, which we hold regularly. We have monthly management meetings, and quarterly full team meetings. For example, we ask:
- Why are we here? I mean, each of us at this company?
- What do we want from the days we work?
- What changes do you want to see here at the company?
These questions are often complemented with a quote, that aims to help inspire them. One I chose recently was, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple” by Dr Seuss.
This kind of activity puts some power into the employee’s hands and gains their trust when they are listened to. Based on the responses, a business might indeed need to restructure, such as your leadership team, or maybe you need to move to new offices, which has happened in our case.
There are many tools available to help decide which decisions will bring the best results, I favour simplicity and like to use an Eisenhower matrix (Figure 2) to prioritise. The results of this exercise can be further growth and a re-energised team that works with collective enthusiasm and drive.
I have worked for several great employers; all of which were extremely passionate, not only about their field, but for honesty, relationships, individuals and to succeed.
This struck a chord with me, and enabled me to see the value of this in a workplace and to lead by example – if you want your team members to be passionate, you must first be passionate yourself. So why is passion so important? In entrepreneur Richard Branson’s blog, he states, “Passion is one of the most effective motivators when it comes to launching a business – and often one of the strongest predictors of whether an idea will lead to success.”5
It is important that the whole team are passionate about not only the business, but also about each other. Creating and maintaining passion and enthusiasm starts with careful recruitment; employing people who already have these qualities. I also recommend to take chances when strangers present themselves to you and announce that they want to work for the business and allow them to prove their value to you.
You should focus on developing the passions of each and every team member and allow them the freedoms to develop in the areas they have particular interests in, whilst holding the balance of ensuring that this does not deviate too far from the overall business strategy. I recommend that you watch out for habitualised patterns, and gently examine the root causes should you find them. Where necessary or beneficial, encourage people to change their embedded habits to develop new, more productive strategies – this, I find, helps develop passion.
As well as being engaged with your business, you should ensure that your staff members are fully engaged with one another. To do this, you can hold team building days to build relationships, or arrange ‘away days’ together, for example a spa day. It may well be the most basic of tools, but in my experience, it can be very effective. Putting people in a new environment to see each other in another light often allows more creative thought by removing any restraints so often felt in the enclosed and sterile surrounds of a meeting room, as well as making them feel appreciated and valued.
You could also run a voucher scheme that rewards short term, achievable targets that focuses the team on specific objectives and at the same time creates real excitement and passion to do well. Another way to help your staff be passionate about one another is for them to truly understand each other, beyond knowing each others’ birthdays and pet’s names.
An exercise we are currently undertaking is sharing our top 10 personal goals, with the aim of really getting to understand each other’s potential dreams and aspirations. Measuring the effects of this are simple, we notice increased productivity as well as a team that ‘gels’ and who will laugh together, be silly together, share together and grow together.
As well as being engaged with your business, you should ensure that your staff members are fully engaged with one another
The importance of authenticity in building a business cannot be underestimated. In 2017 Stackla, a marketing and research firm, published research suggesting that 86% of 2,000 people surveyed felt authenticity was a key factor when deciding which brands to support.6 Creating a culture of authenticity means ensuring that words are consistent with deeds, and being relatable. This creates some significant challenges in running a small business. You run the risk of being ‘all things to all people’. An article on authenticity published in the Harvard Business Review states, “To attract followers, a leader has to be many things to many people. The trick is to pull that off while remaining true to yourself.”7
This makes clear the case that authenticity is not an innate quality; it does not ‘belong’ to an individual. It is a quality that others must attribute to an individual, or a group of individuals or a whole company. For me personally, authenticity has meant aligning my passion for skin, my vocational need to care for people, and my business drive alongside the ever-present juggle of family life and business life. Being true to each component has allowed me to form a team that relies on me to be ‘real’. Simply put, the way I ensure my employees have faith in the business’s authenticity is leading by example, and by being a ‘real’ person that my employees can relate to. What does this look like? In part, it involves sharing my thoughts, about admitting when I am scared, nervous, unsure; talking about the challenges of balancing business and family life; sharing in failures as much as in successes.
But more, it is about sharing the exact same when anyone in the team feels scared, nervous, unsure or challenged by work/life balance.
So why is this important?
For you to really understand why it has been vital for me to create a successful business culture that is based on trust, passion and authenticity to create a family feel, you need to know a little about my personal journey. In my early nursing career, I was thrown into management. The clinical lead of my department advised me that although I was a good nurse he felt I was capable of leadership, and that the NHS would not provide any support or training. He therefore recommended I explored working in industry instead and learn management skills in a different environment.
Since then, I have worked for many great employers; including previous Aesthetics journal editor Amanda Cameron, whose passion for great leadership and encouragement inspired me to study for an MBA, and who continues to inspire me today. Chairman of Wigmore Medical, David Hicks, was my last boss before myself and David McDonnell set up our own distributing company; his consummate networking skills, also based firmly on authenticity, fired my drive to build another successful business.
Now, every business owner has their challenges (Figure 3), but in summer 2018, I went from seemingly fit and healthy to going between Moorfields Eye Hospital and Bedford Hospital Stroke Clinic. My diagnosis was inferior homonymous quadrantanopia associated to probable stroke; likely as a result of years of ‘life’ with the inevitable stresses of divorce, business and, possibly, perfectionism. This turned my life upside down, resulting in an inability to drive, and a decision not to continue my nursing practice. I was required to take a lot of unplanned time off but the response from my family at the company was beautiful.
In adversity, the AestheticSource family stepped in, pulled together and took over my entire role. They even changed my email password to force me to rest! We talked together about the trust we needed in each other for them to do this; the confidence they knew I had in them that they would take care of all my responsibilities with care and authenticity; their confidence that I would be comfortable with their decisions.
Without trust, passion and authenticity in my business culture, none of this would have been possible and the business would have sure enough failed. I am now back full time, and it’s thanks to my team, and our strong culture, that the business continues to expand, and is stronger with more energy and passion than ever. This is, despite my absence for most of the summer, autumn and into the winter of 2018.
My business is a family built up over many years and it is achievable to create this feel in your business too. Remember, have authenticity in everything that you do. Trust each other, your brands and services, and any partners you have. Finally, have passion for your ethos, brands and your customers/patients. If ever you need to take a step back from your business, your team need to be there to take over, ensuring your business maintains its success and continues to allow you to excel.
1. Hofsted Insights <www.hofstede-insights.com>
2. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. 1st edition, McGraw-Hill USA, 1997.
3. Geert Hofstede, ‘Why is culture so important? <https://geerthofstede.com/>
4. Johnson, G et al., Fundamentals of Strategy, Pearson UK, 2017
5. Natalie Clarkson, Richard Branson: The importance of passion in business, 2015. <https://www.virgin.com/entrepreneur/richard-branson-the-importance-of-passion-in-business>
6. Peter Cassidy, Survey Finds Consumers Crave Authenticity - and User-Generated Content Delivers,
7. Goffee R, Jones G. Managing Authenticity; The Paradox of Great Leadership. Harvard Business Review 2015, <www.hbr.org>
8. Chris Winfield, What a Day In the Life of an Entrepreneur Actually Looks Like, Entrepreneur Europe, 2016. <https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/274831>
9. James Clear, ‘Use the ‘Eisenhower Box’ to Stop Wasting Time and Be More Productive’, Entrepreneur Europe, 2014. <https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/233054>