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The book that helped define my company culture

In Culture, Leadership, Teams - 3 years ago - 5 min

The book that helped define my company culture

The right company culture can increase people’s happiness and productivity. Find out how one managing director gained the inspiration to change his company’s culture after reading a book about sandwiches.

Culture matters. Happy workers are more productive workers. The right philosophy, environment and balance can lead to growth, loyalty and unbounded enthusiasm among employees of all levels.

A study by the University of Warwick’s Department of Economics found that happy people are 12% more productive. But productivity isn’t the only upside of a happy workforce. Having a great company culture means you’re more likely to hang onto and attract the top talent. According to a Columbia University study, staff turnover at companies with great cultures is 13.9%. For companies with a poor culture, the turnover is 48.4%.

Perhaps you think that doesn’t affect you. And maybe it doesn’t. But it’s worth considering that almost half of the UK workforce wants to make a career change. Research from the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) showed in 2015, 47% of UK workers wanted to switch jobs. The LSBF’s report found that, after the prospect of an increased salary, the main causes of disillusionment are wanting a better work/life balance and improved job satisfaction.

It’s worth saying again – culture matters. Get it wrong and you could find yourself leading a team that’s scared to innovate or challenge traditional ways of working. Get it right and you could have a happy, productive team that can help your business grow.

But how do you get perfect balance – a culture where everyone feels keen to pull in the same direction?

Live and breathe your culture

“No one left a job because they were having too much fun,” says Peter Willson, managing director of Hopespare, a company that specialises in hydraulics and pneumatics. “If the culture of a business is such that employees are enjoying themselves, they will be enthused with the business. If the culture is right, I believe the business will be successful.”

When Peter first launched Hopespare, in 1986, the company’s culture wasn’t the most pressing issue. But as it’s grown he’s dedicated more and more of his time to getting it right. And his main source of inspiration – a book about sandwiches.

The insight gained from Tim Roupell’s Bread and Butter: Lessons Learnt Building a Successful Company from Scratch, has helped Peter evolve his company’s culture as it’s grown from a two-man team to a business employing over 60 people.

“Tim Roupell had a company called ‘Daily Bread’, where he started out making 50 sandwiches a day in the basement of a friend’s delicatessen. He went from that to making 50,000 sandwiches a day, employing 230 people,” says Peter.

“He was an amazing guy. He lived and breathed the culture of the business. Tim says, in the book, that anyone can make a sandwich, but it’s a company’s culture that’s the real differentiator. And I agree with that philosophy.”

One essential tip Peter’s taken from the book is to create a culture where people have the autonomy to make and act on decisions they know will help the company. The book talks about how business leaders need to let go. In doing so, they empower their staff. The book’s taught Peter that people feel happier when they know they’re trusted and valued and that’s one of the foundations he’s built his culture on.

“As we’ve grown, I’ve had to learn how to step back,” says Peter. “When we started it was just the two of us and I was the one with the experience. So I was always right. Now we employ over 60 people and now I’m probably the one who’s least right the most. Other people know how to do their job better than I know how to do their job.”

I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned through developing our culture, to give people the space and trust to do the work.

Now read these

Still hungry for more ways to create and define your company culture? Here are four more books that will teach you how.

1. Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – Ed Catmull

Pixar started out with one ambition – to make the first computer-animated movie. This book charts the history of the company and how important its culture and management techniques were to its growth.

Top tip for growing your company culture – encourage candour

The book focuses on how culture of candour creates a healthy feedback loop. Candour helps to create an environment where people are free to share ideas, opinions and criticisms and that this is a main contributing factor to avoiding stagnation and encouraging growth.

2. The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers – Gillian Tett

Why do so many organisations suffer from an inability to communicate effectively? This is key to Gillian Tett’s examination of why organisations hinder their own growth by marshalling people into unnecessary silos.

Top tip for growing your company culture – break down silos

Tett argues that people often behave foolishly when placed into silos, detrimentally affecting the way a company grows. The way people are organised and interact with each other can lead a company away from institutional blindness and towards 20/20 vision.

3. Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World – Adam Grant

In Originals, Adam Grant is issuing a call to arms to everyone feeling held back by conformity. This book doesn’t just tell you to see the world differently, it shows you how it can be done. Originals provides ways leaders can build cultures that nurture originality and embrace dissent as something that can positively drive change. 

Top tip for growing your company culture – champion originality

Having diversity as one of the core values in your company’s culture means you’re likely to lead a group of originals – not having people that will challenge conformity and traditional ways of thinking can lead to groupthink and stunt growth.

4. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t – Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek has a vision. A vision of a world where everyone wakes up, inspired to go to work. Leaders Eat Last presents ways companies can create these environments and, as a result, become more innovative, more profitable and command greater loyalty from staff and customers alike. 

Top tip for growing your company culture – create a circle of safety

This isn’t a way of closing ranks to avoid a potentially toxic culture. The circle of safety is a way of generating trust within a culture through empathy, autonomy and creating an environment where people feel valued and significant.

If you are looking for support to grow your business please get in contact with one of our team on 08081 722350 or drop us an email: