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On Thursday 15th November, Briony Phillips (Scale up Enabler for the West of England) hosted a Scale up Briefing at Engine Shed, Bristol to explore how ‘keeping people happy’ can be key to organisational growth. You can check out the event slides here: https://www.slideshare.net/BrionyPhillips/scaleup-briefing-keeping-people-happy
I opened the event by sharing a few provocations about organisational culture and what it is. I mentioned a recent podcast by Reid Hoffman which highlighted the concept of ‘cultural co-founders’ being the first 150 employees in any scaling organisation – as their diversity and values set will hold the course for the organisation more than any other intervention (according to him and his guest Aneel Bhusri, CEO WorkDay). I also shared this marvellous diagram which I found on an old wordpress page – which starts to articulate all the dependencies and variables related to organisational culture. My favourite aspect is the notion that culture is historically determined and socially constructed.
Before I handed the stage over to our lightning talkers I shared a few choice quotes and factoids from the Scale up Institute’s latest report which was released on Tuesday 13th November. Organisational culture was only mentioned a handful of times but the greatest challenges identified by scaling businesses was that of ‘access to talent’ and as we heard over the evening, there’s no question that a positive organisational culture will pay dividends in terms of the recruitment process whether in attraction or selection or retention. The report also highlights that cultural alignment is seen as a barrier to collaboration between scaling businesses and corporate and public sector. The report offers a checklist for those wishing to collaborate/procure work with scaleups and one of the four key areas is identified as the need to adjust organisational culture.
I was most excited to hear the lightning talks from three local organisations who each have their own take on how their organisational culture has helped to unlock growth.
Heather opened her talk with some impressive stats and highlighted some key Ultrahaptics facts, not least that they’re about to turn 5 and that they’ve raised £30m in investment so far. The focus of her talk was on people not numbers and she discussed the importance of inclusion to the organisation (“diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is wanting to be there). She used a fantastic basil plant metaphor to highlight the importance of treating your employees as individuals when building an organisational culture. She also spoke about the power of bringing the team together for regular meals (pot luck lunches and charity bake sales) and for family and friends walks like the Parkinson’s walk that many of the team participated in recently. Finally Heather described 3 ‘c’s that are fundamental to Ultrahaptics – character, capability and confidence, and one which undermines them all – complacency.
Ally started her talk the same way her organisation starts meetings – with a moment of silence to regroup and get in the zone (my language, not hers!) for what is to come. She then went on to explain the impressive journey that Pukka Herbs have been on to refine their values and bring them to life every day. From a job application process that focuses on 4 core questions like ‘head or heart?’ for example to the prompt cards that candidates are invited to consider and discuss in lieu of a competency-based interview. Ally also talked about the comprehensive induction processes at Pukka Herbs and the opportunity that every employee has to participate in a 4-day personal professional development course in partnership with the Eden Project called Chrysalis.
Steve brought the lightning talks to a close with his reflections on the values and activities that underpin the culture at their creative digital agency. Steve put the emphasis on their people – the clients and the team and on creating space for culture. He introduced the ‘Great People Index’ which they employ which offers a useful, transferable structure for their cultural activities – pay, play, performance and purpose. The index also provides a way to measure your ability to form the perfect team that supports the company vision. Steve also used a couple of impressive videos to bring their work and their culture to life which sadly didn’t translate to Slideshare.
A very brief Q&A session with the lightning speakers yielded some interesting insights into the tension between being a values-led organisation and one which is open and inclusive (not felt to be a tension at all by our speakers) and where values come from – which was universally a product of the work with or by the founders. It was interesting to note that all three organisations used plant-related analogies and all of them mentioned the importance of values in enabling the scaling of their culture.
Our next guests were two scale-up supporters who work across multiple scaling businesses in their day-jobs (recruitment and applied marketing) and inviting Gabby Shaw (ADLIB) and Natasha McKenzie (Estrella Green) onto the stage for a quick fireside chat and exploration on what they have seen triumph and fail amongst the companies they have worked with. We discussed the unintended consequences that can impact project success when values and existing practices aren’t taken into consideration, and we talked about the importance of culture being a collective effort which is led from the front- which isn’t always easy when a founder or CEO is busy building the plane and flying it. We also discussed the power of using organisational culture in the recruitment process – and sharing it publicly through Instagram or other social media, and dipped our conversational toe into what can happen when this goes wrong.
The event closed with a Mexican wave thanks to our sponsor the University of West of England (UWE) as Tracey John announced the newest Scale up Programme on the block which offers not just workshops and specialist support but also cash grants of up to £40,000 to businesses looking to grow, register to find out more: http://scaleup4growth.co.uk/
If this topic is one which interests you, or that your organisation is grappling with, there are a few great organisations locally that I’ve discovered on my travels and that you might want to explore:
• The Great People Index: https://www.experience5.de/en/great-people-index/#
• Eden Project Chrysalis retreat https://www.edenproject.com/learn/for-organisations/creative-leadership/hothouse-consultancy-and-custom-programmes
• Walking the Talk, Carolyn Taylor
• The Reputation Game, David Waller and Rupert Younger
• The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz
There’s also a great podcast on the topic which I mentioned at the event – **Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale Podcast** – The elusive formula for great hiring with Workday’s Aneel Bhusri. Listen through apple podcasts or Stitcher: https://mastersofscale.com/
Scale up Programmes including the Scaleup4Growth announced at the Scaleup Briefing are a great way to access support and to learn from peers. You’ll find more details on the local scale up programmes here: https://scaleupgenerator.co.uk/articles/scaleup-programmes and also on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and other national programmes here: https://www.goldmansachs.com/citizenship/10000-small-businesses/UK/
As a fast-growth business in the West of England, you’ll find all the support that I have uncovered as Scale up Enabler over the last 18 months via the Scale up Generator support map: https://scaleupgenerator.co.uk/