The culture of an organisation or company is shaped and nurtured by its bosses. So make certain it’s not a negative or destructive one, says the co-owner of The Cheeky Panda, Chris Forbes.
In my previous four columns I wrote about ‘bootstrapping’, ‘understanding the market’, ‘raising capital’ and ‘attracting and retaining talent’. I now move on to the important topic of ‘company culture’. Before I established The Cheeky Panda with my wife, I ran an executive search business in which my areas of specialism were ‘capital markets’ and ‘management consultancy’.
Having interviewed tens of thousands of people, I discovered a lot about how culture defines an organisation. This can work in either a positive or a negative way. I always found that when a company emanated a negative culture, it usually stemmed from its leadership. As they say: ‘A fish rots from its head’.
Organisations that put ‘profit over purpose’, ‘politics over productivity’ and ‘cost cutting over innovation’ are ‘ in my opinion ‘ extremely unhealthy. This type of culture generates the worst in competitive behaviour, where people stand on top of each other in a race to secure promotion and get ahead.
It all means people build mini-empires from within an organisation. They focus more on getting ‘one over’ on other departments, rather than getting ahead of the competition. This particular culture is quite common and once it gets control of a company, it becomes very hard to shake off and reverse.
The best cultures I encountered were those where employees had belief in company values. They also had belief in their bosses and felt they had opportunities to grow and expand. These same employees worked in an environment where they were encouraged to be creative and offer up ideas. Bosses at these companies empowered their staff to become a huge part of their success, and would offer employees long term incentives such as equity options.
Yet, developing a positive culture isn’t just about having a games’ room where employees can play pool or table tennis. I’ve seen many companies provide such amenities but the real reason for this ‘false show of consideration’ is that they are simply trying to impress visitors to the premises. A positive culture is when staff members have a passion for what they are doing. It’s not merely a job for clock-watchers.
The best culture I have witnessed is where people aren’t concerned about earning an extra £5k, but believe they are growing, learning and working for great bosses that care about them. It’s perfectly acceptable for people to disagree with each other, and challenge long-held views by department heads or bosses, providing this is done with a sense of purpose over politics and, of course, constructively.
Often the most diverse businesses, with its melting pot of different skills, personalities and ideas, are the strongest. Success is an adrenaline rush. Look at some of the world’s greatest sporting teams, where mercenary players come and go, preferring to chase money over trophies. Such clubs fail to enjoy long-term success over many seasons and any glory that comes their way is usually fleeting.
When we created The Cheeky Panda, we wanted to develop a culture where the entire team were able to share in our success. We wanted them to understand and believe in our vision for manufacturing sustainable products that are good for the planet.
We have company ‘away days’, team meals, and offer share options in our business. Strong leadership is about leading from the front. It’s about not asking an employee to do something, that the boss wouldn’t be happy to do themselves. This is the definition of a successful culture.
The Cheeky Panda is an eco-friendly bamboo household goods company. Chris Forbes founded The Cheeky Panda with wife Julie in 2016, after witnessing bamboo being harvested while on holiday in China. They have built a business that’s now valued at over £75m and is trading in more than 25 countries. The company has made it into the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list and, for the past three years, been among the UK’s top 100 start-ups. This is the fifth monthly feature written by Chris for Elite Business, providing tips for small business owners and budding entrepreneurs.