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Creating a successful culture: seven decades of lessons


Creating a successful culture: seven decades of lessons

As the CEO of a family-owned and operated engineering and services business, ensuring that we have a good company culture – in terms of purpose, values and behaviours – is one of my key priorities. But what does a ‘successful culture’ look like? What does it mean?

I believe that the clearest sign of a successful culture is employees who are happy, fulfilled and trust the company. We are a very close-knit team and our people are our greatest strength. Our founder and my grandfather, Ernie Simm, had a vision of building a ‘family’ of colleagues and we still take pride in valuing and investing in every individual who works with us. We aim to bring out the very best in people, giving them the support and training they need to learn, grow and achieve more than they ever thought possible.

In my experience, business success then very often follows naturally. Employees who enjoy their job are more productive and stay longer, reducing turnover and the cost of recruitment and training. Having the right culture enables people to keep delivering quality day after day, motivated by genuine concern for the business because they feel that it’s their business.

This has been starkly demonstrated over the past year. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a sink or swim scenario for many businesses in the UK and it is those with a strong culture that have managed to weather the storm best.

So what steps can businesses take to create a successful culture?

Align strategy and culture

Most businesses recognise the importance of having a strategy – a long-term plan that includes goals and objectives, products and services, who your customers are and the markets you serve. What many fail to do, in my experience, is ensure that their company culture aligns with this strategy.

Culture is the engine that drives your company strategy. If your company culture doesn’t underpin your strategy through the values and behaviours it promotes, then your strategy is likely to fail.

Learn from your ‘moment of truth’

Covid has been a real moment of truth for the construction industry. It’s at tough times like these that you find out whether your culture is worth the paper it’s written on. Good culture isn’t just about what you say as an organisation; it’s about what you do.

Like all businesses in our sector, we have had to make some difficult decisions over the past year. However, we have tried to always lead with authenticity and take action that is in line with our fundamental values and culture. Firms that didn’t do this – that unnecessarily delayed payments to suppliers and didn’t adapt, for example – will have had their moment of truth. And in most cases, the outcome is unlikely to have been positive.

As we begin to see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, now is the time to reassess and realign your culture moving forward, ready to meet whatever challenges lie ahead.

Lead with values

It is vital for business leaders to reflect their company culture in all they do. My grandfather’s ‘motto’ was: “If you’re honest, treat people fairly, provide a superior service and quality, and always deliver, people will trust you and work with you again.” It’s an old-school way of looking at things, but rings true to this day.

Our values – teamwork, people, excellence and honesty – underpin every decision I make as CEO. I believe this enables me to lead with consistency and has helped to win the trust and confidence of customers and employees alike. On a personal level, creating a team of people who are eager to come into work every day and be at their best has been hugely rewarding.

Empower employees

By enabling employees at the coalface to make decisions and take responsibility for their work, we have also empowered them to drive our company values in everything they do. To really embed a culture and ensure that it informs everything your business does, you need to create leaders everywhere.

If you expand your idea of a culture through to all touchpoints of the business, the benefit is immediately noticeable. People like to be treated with respect, regardless of whether they’re a CEO, an engineer, receptionist or supplier. Before you know it, your culture will permeate every aspect of your business, including the supply chain.

Think long term

A key difference between our family-run business and a big PLC is that ours works for future generations and prosperity, rather than quarterly financial figures. With a focus on long-term stability and performance rather than short-term profit and growth, it is infinitely easier to create a strong culture.

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed holes in many organisations that made hay while the sun shone, but neglected the idea of rain. Beyond this pandemic, there’s going to be a new normal. Businesses will have to adapt their cultures to be successful; adapt to decentralised working structures and, in many cases, material or supply chain disruptions. Ahead of the next crisis, I believe the industry as a whole needs to shift from focusing on short-term goals to longer term solutions underpinned by forward planning and, crucially, strong culture.