Creating a Positive Culture for Success

By Stuart Rose / 08 Jun 2021

Business consultant Stuart Rose shares advice on setting goals and establishing purpose to inspire your team

Gandhi said of a nation that its culture resided in the hearts and minds of its people. As such, culture is intangible. Yet how is it that this intangible thing is so powerful that it unites groups of people to achieve amazing results, (and makes them feel good along the way)?

Success in business is so often discussed in the context of conflict and we only have to look at past wars where apparently insurmountable military might has been defeated. North America in Vietnam and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan were classic examples where vastly superior firepower was not enough. Why? Because the most potent weapon lay deep within the hearts and minds of the defending nations’ people. A profound belief in what they are doing – an unshakeable sense of purpose.

Belief in purpose (mission) is arguably the single most powerful thing that a business can forge. Accompany this with a set of values and overlay it with an inspiring vision and the stage is set for a consistent set of behaviours. It is these behaviours that become the observable culture of a business – of the way we do things around here.

It’s well-established that a good culture promotes profitable business growth and staff wellbeing. But if it’s that obvious why isn’t everyone doing it? The reality is that, in our busy worlds, people are focused on near-term operational issues, (the day-job), and this can distract us from focusing on the important things, because they happen to not be urgent.

The worth of culture

To fully understand how powerful culture is, it is helpful to employ an analogy. Cast your mind back to genetics and the genotype: phenotype relationship. The genotype is the invisible coding for a set of proteins that determine the function and appearance of so many biological systems and manifestations – our phenotype. Just as when our DNA becomes aberrant, either through inherited gene defects or through faulty repair, the physical manifestation can be profound. A healthy genotype gives rise to a successful phenotype.1

Without getting too Darwinian, the concept of culture is the same. The mix of beliefs, values and goals, (genotype), combine to make us behave a certain way, (phenotype). This analogy gives rise to the concept of Foundational Culture – the bedrock of all that becomes manifest in a business.

Healthcare professionals know that the best way to manage disease is through addressing the underlying cause rather than treating symptoms. The same is true of culture – investing time in understanding the elements (diagnosing) and then nurturing them (treatment) makes the same sense as practising medicine itself. And to a private medical practitioner who is running a business, the sense becomes more obvious when you consider the impact good culture has on business performance.

Over the last two decades the concept of employee engagement has grown in popularity and credibility. A key publication over 20 years ago into the relationship between fulfilment and productivity noted that employee satisfaction and, more importantly, employee commitment to the company, directly affect sales increase. It was also noted that it affects sales through improved customer loyalty and improved staff attendance.2 Building on this work, a highly validated workplace survey exists which quantifies the impact of what is called ‘sustainable engagement’. The results, drawn from global employee databases of close to 150,000 respondents, are compelling.3

Companies whose cultures are strong have employees who feel emotionally engaged and are willing to go the extra mile, have the right tools for the job and score well on emotional and physical wellbeing. These employees typically deliver three times more operating profit than those with low engagement scores. They also take 6.5 fewer days off a year, (per employee), and are 41% less likely to leave their job.3

Translating this to a small clinic with few staff is sobering – and exciting! An unstable culture with disengaged staff has some obvious symptoms. It is hard to attract the candidates that really excite you and, on the occasions when you can land them, they don’t stay. The net effect is that you, as the clinic owner or business manager have more work on your plate backfilling the vacant role.

On average it takes eight months to get a new hire in place and operationally effective, costing you between one and three times the job holders’ basic salary.4 Staff turnover begets more turnover, compounding the problem. And how much time do you personally invest in recruitment? Each time you lose a good staff member that time becomes an opportunity cost, robbing the business of your expertise in the things that only you can do well. The effect on your business becomes diluting and exhausting.

The great news is that understanding and implementing a great culture is actually quite simple and, like eating an elephant, best done in parts! Let’s take a look at the foundational building blocks that comprise culture.

On a mission

First, mission and purpose are one and the same. Big businesses often have a mission statement, but the use of ‘purpose’ is becoming increasingly mainstream because it is more literal and self-explanatory. In its simplest sense it is the raison d’etre or ‘reason for being’ for any business.

The purpose of a business is strongly aligned to beliefs. As we grow, we form beliefs based on a blend of facts and opinions. Beliefs are strongly held and so where a mission aligns to an individual’s beliefs there is a natural sense of belonging. A study into what attracted people to a job showed that a decade ago the key attractant was salary and benefits, (culture didn’t even feature back then). Now mission and culture combined are most influential.5

Having a sense of purpose in our work and lives also boosts our mental health, which is an important consideration as clinics emerge from the pandemic shutdown.6 A systematic analysis shows that having meaning (purpose) in our daily work is significantly beneficial in terms of work engagement, commitment, job satisfaction, life satisfaction, life meaning and general health.7 The great news is that defining your purpose isn’t difficult. Investing just half a day of work with all of your staff is enough. The golden rules with a Mission Statement are to keep it succinct (one to three sentences and less than 100 words), and to capture three key elements:

  • What you do / offer
  • Who your business serves
  • Why your company exists

Take a look online at some examples to get the hang of it. Many of the big companies have them on their websites. For example Zoom’s is: make video communications frictionless and secure.

20:20 vision

Sometimes referred to as a strategic goal, the vision of a business, (specifically from the leader), is where they see the business in the long-term. This needs to strike the balance between being realistic, (therefore achievable), and aspirational, (so that employees are excited by that destination).

Zoom’s vision is: Video communications empowering people to accomplish more. But that’s a big company – what might an aesthetic clinic’s look like? It’s important to remember that it doesn’t need to be rocket-science or overly complicated. Something like:

  • To be the number one provider of aesthetic services to frontline staff in South West England; or
  • To be recognised as the go-to destination for aesthetic safety and care

What is important is that everyone in the business can understand and believe in the vision so that they can apply their daily work toward supporting it.

Value proposition

The final building block of foundational culture is values. These are closely linked to, and influenced by, beliefs and can be seen as a set of standards by which a person evaluates the world. If, for example, a person held the belief that all people are equal, and everyone should be treated fairly, then they may have personal values along the lines of equity, integrity and fairness. Anything that is incongruent to these values, (and therefore to their beliefs), would feel wrong.

Zoom’s company values are: Care about: Community, Customers, Company, Teammates & Selves. Typically values for all organisations are things that we all feel some alignment to and, unlike the mission and vision these can be more generic, so don’t worry if your values are similar to some other clinics. In the world of aesthetic medicine values such as safety, compassion and care are all good examples. But do make sure that your values sit well with your mission and vision. If it feels right, it probably is!

Size matters – doesn’t it?

If you think that culture is exclusively the domain of big corporates think again. Culture is always there – its presence is not a choice. Your choice is making it what you want it to be. So, the first thing to be clear on is that your clinic, however small, WILL have a culture. The question is whether it is as good, strong and healthy as it could be. Secondly, scale has nothing to do with culture. Just think about your own family and compare it to others. Small units can still have deep-rooted cultures that are quite different.

Paying attention to a culture, nurturing it and the people within makes business sense. Ultimately it will save you time and money. And because your staff are more engaged, they become more effective at their work, they engage your patients and improve their loyalty, thereby improving profitability and the reputation spreads, making your clinic an aspirational place to both work and have treatment.

The rub, if there is one? It takes time to invest in culture, but the time invested up front pays huge dividends downstream. If your long-term plan is to exit with a trade sale your chances of doing so are much higher if your business is profitable. It will be much more likely to be profitable if you have stable, engaged and productive employees. Since trade sales are typically based upon factors including a multiple of EBIT (profitability), the time invested up front is worth it.

Culture works – can you afford not to be investing in it now?

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