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Building a culture of dedication

In this article I explore how creating a culture of dedication could have significant benefits for your business.

I am sure that any business owner/leader counts a great culture as one of the key factors in the success of their business. But what does a ‘great culture’ look like. While that may well be different for different businesses, I recently found myself wondering how many people think about whether a ‘great culture’ is a culture of dedication?

Should that go without saying? Of course we all want our employees to be dedicated. But have you stopped to ask yourself what dedication looks like, and just how you can foster it in your company? And if you could build a culture of dedication, exactly what difference would it make to your business?

I recently had to spend a few days in an NHS hospital in the UK. Those of you that are from these shores will know the huge stress the NHS is operating under.

While in hospital I watched how the doctors and nurses showed an amazing dedication to their patients, and I really do mean amazing. What I saw was a team of underpaid people who cared for their patients no matter what the circumstances. No matter how stressful it got, they never seemed to become annoyed and never once did I hear anyone complain. They simply got on with their work – shift work no less: working around the clock, 24:7. I left feeling so humble, knowing that I could never do what those nurses and doctors do. Let me say, they have left a mark on me that will stay with me for a long time.

Clearly since I never stop thinking about business, I got to thinking just what an impact this sort of dedication would be in any business. Imagine if you could create this sort of culture of dedication, where your employees come to work because they genuinely enjoy making your clients happy. Where after interacting with your company the client leaves thinking “wow, what service”. Now sure this is quite idealistic, but thinking it through opened my eyes to certain possibilities and pause to dig a little deeper into what we mean when we refer to a ‘great culture’. Like many business leaders, creating a great culture has always been a keen focus, but to witness such an example of a culture of dedication, I realised how much else would fall into place if one concentrated on this as a metric.

Clearly most roles in most organisations are quite different than the ‘calling’ of doctors and nurses but I thought about what factors could be relevant to inspire a similar dedication in other businesses. So here you have my thoughts on how a business leader might think about fostering a culture of dedication in their organisation.

You as a leader

It starts at the top. If you personally are not 100% dedicated to what you do, and the success of your company, then you have very little chance of inspiring dedication in your employees.

Recruitment

Clearly one of the easiest areas to look at is recruitment. It’s easier to hire the people with the right attitude than change bad attitudes in the ones you’ve got. During my time in the hospital I asked a senior nurse her thoughts on what created this culture of dedication. She confirmed what you might imagine: that it’s because they chose to work in an industry where you work for the love of what you do, not for the love of money. Therefore in recruiting for a culture of dedication you might say new staff members should be chosen not just for their skills, but on some more critical criteria:

  • Fulfillment: find people that just don’t like what they do, find people whose work genuinely fulfils them.
  • Alignment: that their beliefs/goals align with your company’s purpose, the reason that company exists.
  • More than money: find people who are inspired by the company and the role, not by they pay packet. If they want the position only because of the amount of money they can earn, then will dedication to the business ever be the reason for them being there?
  • Interpersonal skills: you want people that like dealing with people and have strong interpersonal skills. In order for the culture of dedication to have the desired effect of client satisfaction your staff need to be superior at dealing with people.
  • Flexibility: you want staff for whom ensuring the right result for the client is more important than being out the door the second their official workday ends.

Pride

The same nurse said secondly they all shared the desire to be rated as the best when compared other hospitals; that when their patients left they would say if you had to be in hospital then this hospital was the one to be in. The staff shared this common goal of therefore being the very best at what they do. It personally mattered to them. What could you as a business owner do to instill this sense of pride within your organisation?

  • Vision: make sure all employees are aware of the company’s overall ‘vision’ and believe in the company’s purpose.
  • Competition: build up a little (healthy) competition. Share KPIs with the staff and let them know how the company is doing against its competitors. As a side note, don’t be fearful about doing this even if your business isn’t near the top. Staff can still have immeasurable dedication to an ‘underdog’.
  • Celebrate: share your successes with your team.
  • Positive feedback: always let employees know when they are doing well.
  • Get them involved: ask your team for their ideas on how to improve client satisfaction. They are the ones working with them each and every day. Since they see the problems they are well placed to see the solutions. But in terms of pride, it’s the asking for their opinion that makes them feel involved.

Compassion and customer service

A culture of dedication is all good and well. But how can you make sure that the dedication your staff feels to their jobs and to the business is reflected in the service your clients feel they receive? I would suggest you need to look at how to build compassion into customer service:

  • Process review: go through your customer-service protocols with a fine toothcomb to see where opportunities exist to allow employees to demonstrate their dedication.
  • Allow a little freedom: if you’ve got the basic processes and protocols in place and you’ve hired/motivated the right team members, then allow them a little flexibility around these. Don’t enforce responses down to the word or else the genuine sense of your culture of dedication will never have the chance to shine through.
  • Service with a smile: make sure that service feels personal, that the first and last impression a client receives is feeling so very welcome. Ensure they receive a genuine sense that your employees want to help them and that nothing is too much trouble. You want them to feel that your business is a place they want to come back to, a place where you might even go so far to say that they feel among friends.
  • Focus on referrals: what if your no. 1 goal was that every client left feeling they needed to tell friends and family about their experience and an overwhelming desire to recommend your business?

As a side note, I would add that a business owner must ensure they are told when client complaints do occur. You can’t solve problems if the only news you hear is the good news.

So there you have my thoughts on building a culture of dedication that can hopefully apply to any business. To finish up I’ll leave you with a quote from John Strelecky (The Big Five for Life):

“If people can be successful doing things they don’t really care about, then they should be wildly successful at something that actually matters to them.”

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse. Visit LinkedIn to read the original article and the comments it received.

How’s the culture in your business? Could you benefit from a business advisor who can help show you exactly what needs to be done to take your leadership and business to the next level? Why not join our mentoring retreat in Tuscany this October?

The power of persuasion

I’ve alluded before to the rather interesting, though dubious, types of employment I had before I got a ‘proper’ job. So as a slight aside today I thought I’d share with you a funny story about the power of persuasion from when I was 16 years old and working for a guy who had a market stall on Petticoat Lane in London. The stall sold anything you wanted to buy, and plenty you didn’t want to buy until we’d convinced you that you did. Say what you will, the market-stall education I had certainly taught me more than a few things.

Anyway, one day the boss turned up with lorry full of ladies’ perfume. We opened a bottle. It was [insert expletive] awful. We tried to sell them, and failed. We often had our friends in the audience as we stood selling things, to make fake purchases to get the ball rolling. That normally got people buying stuff but not this time: even if you hadn’t bathed for a week you would smell better without this perfume.

I said to the boss that we would never sell these, ever. So we put them side as waste of money.

Four weeks later the boss told me to get the perfume out

We’re going to sell it all today,” he said

I was dubious. But after we set up and began to gather an audience, suddenly the boss brought out a well-known beauty magazine. As he opened it up, there – in the inside cover position – was a fabulous looking advertisement for our perfume; with a price tag five times more than what we wanted to sell it for before. (Remember at this time there were not many rules around what you could and could not do with advertising.)

Once he held up the magazine and the audience could see the perfume in this well-known publication, they felt the product had been validated. So then we began to sell:

“Normally X; yours for only X today,” we called.

We sold the lot, and for double what we’d originally planned to. We had a lot of very strange smelling customers over the following months.

How well do you know your accounts?

Lesson #6: If you don’t know the key KPIs that drive your business – you don’t know your business!

In this lesson, why you need to know your accounts better than the accountants.

Even though I didn’t have much of a schooling I was always good at maths, I’m sure in no small part thanks to the market-stall education I received, where I needed to be very quick with figures. It was quite an education, and if you’re interested in a bit of a laugh you can read about one of my favourite stories here.

In any case, back to today’s lesson. After a few years under Lionel’s tutelage he thought that I should run the monthly management accounts meeting, which basically told us how the company was going and how each magazine was performing. Lionel would still chair the meeting but I was to run the agenda. At the first meeting under this new structure Lionel did something that he had never done before. He stopped the meeting mid-flow.

“Eddie,” he said. “I want to ask you some questions about this month’s report.”

He then went on to ask me 10 questions about the management accounts reports and specifically about the key KPIs of the business. Although I was good at maths and understood figures, I hadn’t spent much time digesting the reports and could only answer four of his questions correctly. He closed the meeting, calling it a waste of time. As I went to leave (quickly), I heard a soft “Eddie stay behind please.” (Here we go again, I thought.)

He explained that it took the accounts team a long time to provide us with those figures and that they were our lifeblood.

“They tell us where we have been, and where we are going. They are our road map,”he said. “And the best you could do was answer four out of the 10 questions I asked.”

And so he said that I must learn the key KPIs that made Newbourne profitable, and that I must go through the management accounts every month with these in mind. I had to go beyond just reading them. I must understand and question them. And never again ignore them. He provided sufficient stick to get me to do it: warning that at next month’s meeting I would again be asked 10 questions, and he expected me to get nine out of 10 right.

Luckily I did. And this one lesson, more than any other, has stood me in incredible stead for a career at the helm of businesses. From that day I have always scrutinised the monthly accounts; always made sure I understood the key KPIs that make a company profitable (normally there are only two to three really key ones).

Many times business leaders and executives undervalue the role the finance team play in a business. They spend days compiling figures so directors and managers have a real understanding of last month’s result (good or bad) and the trend for the year. They can provide insights and prescriptive information that is so critical to business planning. So when you think about your key players in your team don’t undervalue your finance team and the figures they provide you with. But equally don’t leave it all to them; you should know your business’s finances inside out and what stories these little figures are telling you. Even at the market stall we knew our key KPIs. Do you know yours?

If you could use some help getting to grips with the finances in your business why not let me help you during our five-day mentoring retreat in Tuscany this October?

This is an article series based on lessons learned from my great mentor Lionel Morely Joel. Read the first article to understand the background and then dip in and out of the lessons as you please. 

Next: How listening to your young employees will improve your business.

Have the courage to face the truth about your business

Lesson #5: Don’t be afraid to change course, even when you are in front.

In this article I discuss the dangers of complacency.

Over the years, there have been amazing success stories of companies who knew they needed to make changes in order to prosper. Not many of us know it but Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram evolved from apps that never gained traction in their previous incarnation. Nor that Suzuki’s origins were in looming and Nokia’s as a paper mill. There are just as many who didn’t. Blockbuster and Blackberry anyone?

Within our group of publications at Newbourne we had a publication called The Baby Book (not the most intriguing name), and it was a very successful publication. We distributed 650,000 copies to expectant mums through 250 UK hospitals. Uniquely at the time, we over-printed the front cover with the name of the hospital, and inside the front and back cover we inserted information specific to each hospital, such as visiting times. So to the expectant mum it looked like the publication was produced by their local hospital.

This was 1975 and no small task to personalise a book for 250 hospitals, but it worked really well and was extremely profitable. Moreover, this one publication generated more than 100,000 reader inquiries per annum, from mums asking for more details from advertisers. After five years we had a database of more than 500,000 names, which in turn allowed us to earn additional income from list broking (there were no data protection laws like today).

At the same time, the Midwives Association were very concerned about the amount of advertising material being made available to mums, so they were calling for more and more and restrictions to be put in place. One day Lionel called me into his office and said we needed to start looking for alternative distribution channels to reach mums. He believed within two years the hospital distribution of The Baby Book would be severely restricted if not stopped entirely.

“That won’t happen,” I disagreed. It was our most profitable title, we had good relationships with all the hospitals and the hospitals wanted the book so why change course?

Lionel insisted we start to plan for such an eventuality, so within the next two years we launched two new baby publications, with very different distribution channels. We now had our contingency in place, and of course (as so often happened), Lionel was right. The Midwives Association’s voice got louder and slowly eroded our distribution at hospitals, to such an extent that within three years only 100 hospitals were still taking personalised copies of The Baby Book.

The lesson was very simple. Just because you are in front it does not mean you are going to stay there, especially if circumstances beyond your control are looming in the background.

Thinking of print publishing more generally is another good example, this time where a whole industry failed to look ahead not just a single company. Through the newspaper industry ran “Rivers of Gold” (recruitment, real estate and classified advertising). Then websites started being launched, not by the publishers but independently. I remember a very well-known newspaper publisher saying to me that a recruitment website wouldn’t work. He thought it was a waste of time (how he regrets that statement now) and he was not alone. The Rivers of Gold were deep, many thought endless, and by the time they realised what was happening for many it was too late.

Custom publishing was no different. In 2009 at Edge (formerly Edge Custom Media), where I was CEO for seven years, we were doing really well, winning many new clients and all looked good. But it soon become apparent that custom publishing was going to be affected to the migration to online publishing just as much – or more – than mainstream publishing. So we decide to completely change direction and transform ourselves into a content-marketing agency.

“Why? When you are doing so well, winning all these new accounts. Why change, why reposition?” one of our major competitors asked me when we rebranded. But thank God we did. Edge made it through the transition and through the financial crisis, while many of our original peers were not so fortunate.

So what is it that separates those companies that evolve and prosper from the rest? I think author Steve Tobak puts it well:

“The truth is staring you right in the face. Every company I’ve watched go down the tubes in agonising slow motion – from Sun to Blackberry – had one thing in common: executives and directors living in denial. Don’t live in denial. Have the courage to face the truth and deal with reality.”

The world is changing at such fast pace, what is successful today can become irrelevant tomorrow. It’s more difficult to predict the future than ever before, but if you stick your head in the sand, one thing’s for sure you will get run over.

If you could use some help wrestling with challenges in your business why not join our mentoring retreat in Tuscany this October?

This is an article series based on lessons learned from my great mentor Lionel Morely Joel. Read the first article to understand the background and then dip in and out of the lessons as you please. 

Next: Why you need to know the finances better than your accountants.