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How to make organisational culture your competitive advantage

Culture & mindset development 25th June 2019
Photo by Prince David on Unsplash
Photo by Prince David on Unsplash

In the second of a series of interviews with senior business leaders, our culture change consultants talk to Adam Blaskey, CEO & Founder of The Clubhouse – London’s leading business club. 

In this interview we talk to Adam about culture, how it can be your greatest competitive advantage and how The Clubhouse is focusing on building a positive workplace culture. 

Question 1: What is your definition of culture in the world a business?

I think there are two elements to defining culture: the first considers culture as a framework which creates a balance and approach that enables people to make their own decisions in the organisation but an awareness of where the boundaries are in the decision-making process.

The second is mind-set – the values, behaviours and understanding that help to define the way people operate within the business.

I read a fair amount about culture – it is a hotly discussed topic and at the top the agenda for many organisations right now. For us at The Clubhouse, creating the right culture is important because we’ve grown quickly and our team comes from a diverse range of backgrounds and nationalities.

Question 2: In your opinion, why do you think so many companies struggle to change their culture?

There is a lot out there to read on culture. But I think that is all a lot of people do – they read about culture and tackle it as a box ticking exercise, rather than recognising why it is important and working on culture regularly.

I went to an executive’s dinner a few months ago and many people who were around the table couldn’t even recall all their company’s values. It was then that it hit me: many business leaders spend time creating the values of their business, but don’t dedicate the time or focus on building the eco-system that will enable those values to thrive and deliver. Ultimately culture has to be worked on and led from the top.

At the Clubhouse our corporate values were created by our team (not the senior leaders) so belief existed around them. They are:

  • Premium
  • Productive
  • Professional
  • Personable

We quickly recognised that these were quite strategic, so we created a framework of 9 individual values and behaviours that would enable everyone to ‘live’ and breathe these values. These were further brought to life by offering positive and negative examples in the context of working at The Clubhouse on a daily basis.

By giving context (a framework) to the behaviours we want to encourage, we are able to deliver our mission and purpose: To make our members and their businesses more successful.

Question 3: You’ve built a positive workplace culture at The Clubhouse, and are continuing to build upon this. Why is culture so important to you?

My previous experience saw me running a business that didn’t have full-time employees. Instead, I used consultants who I hired on a project by project basis.

The Clubhouse is different. We’ve scaled up very quickly and have a diverse set of backgrounds and nationalities working for us. We began addressing The Clubhouse culture from a top down perspective, but quickly realised that we also needed to understand and address the drivers of the business – this requires a bottom up approach to really build the beliefs and behaviours required in the business.

Question 4: What results have you witnessed to date through focusing on building a positive workplace culture?

As business leaders we have expectations – we want our people to share the same passion that we do when it comes to the business. We also want a mind-set to exist where people are engaged with the work they do, feel empowered and trusted to make decisions and compelled to drive the business forward.

Historically I’ve found the biggest challenge around all of this is not only finding the ‘right’ people, but keeping them. Every business works hard at attracting talent, but if people don’t feel engaged and motivated that talent can easily be lost, which comes at a big cost.

When recruiting, I only spend 5 minutes looking at a CV and previous experience. I then have 20 questions that I put to a candidate based around values. These questions tell me a lot about the person – their mind-set and their individual values. It also gives me a steer on whether their values correspond with those of The Clubhouse. This approach has helped hugely in The Clubhouse recruitment process.

Question 5: In your opinion are there stand out mechanisms (regardless of organisation or industry) that should be leveraged to support a shift in culture?

To give a workplace culture the best chance, I think the one fundamental thing is to let everyone feed into the development of the business’ values.

Building belief and buy-in for how you operate cannot be a top down directive. Engagement has to be driven by the people that live and breathe your business every day.

To build on this, we also look to understand what drives those people who we regard as high performers i.e. what are their motivations and personal traits. In understanding this we can look to build and replicate this right across our business, from the ground up.

Question 6: Workplace culture needs to be instilled by leaders. What advice would you give to a leader who is seeking to change their business’ culture?

Leaders need to be prepared to take a hard look at themselves and be willing to change their approach in order to build the workplace culture they are seeking. I certainly have had to evolve my leadership style in order to build the right culture at The Clubhouse – this hasn’t been easy (particularly in the early stages as things never go to plan), but I’ve persisted and it is now paying dividends.

For example, during this process, I’ve found corporate mindfulness to be hugely useful in enabling a positive workplace culture. We introduced corporate mindfulness a few years back at The Clubhouse. It has helped the whole team to build resilience and an ability to accept that things do go wrong, and to focus on how to learn and progress.

Tools such as corporate mindfulness are hugely beneficial as it equips people with skills that will make them so much more successful – more so than traditional mechanisms like sales training – and these are useful both in and outside of work.

Question 7: If you were to offer one piece of advice to an organisation looking to shift its workplace culture, what would it be?

Don’t look to change your workplace culture project unless you are committed to working on it regularly and ‘living’ the values that you are creating for the business. If you aren’t committed, your efforts are a waste of time.

Question 8: You’ve already embarked on the journey of building a positive workplace culture at The Clubhouse, but there is always room to improve. What else would you like to do/build upon in the future?

We’ve begun the groundwork. Now we want to hone and refine it – ensuring our culture remains appropriate to the business as it grows. We are already putting mechanisms in place to support this for example by linking our review process and personal development plans to our nine individual values and behaviours. By doing this, it encourages the right behaviours and ensures we aren’t just focusing on hitting the right KPIs.

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