Yes I really do! I hear it all the time from business owners and Human Resources leaders in Greater Western Sydney and I’ve lived the fragility of it myself. And you’re getting sick of hearing how important having a good culture is! You already know that. How do you actually create a good culture? How do you keep it? I thought I’d ask a friend and entrepreneur, Mark Lewis. Mark has been studying culture and high performing teams since 2016 for his new venture Crewmojo.
Hi Mark. I know you’ve been studying company culture for the past couple of years whilst developing Crewmojo – what lead you to study culture and see there was a business in it?
I’ve experienced first hand the ineffectiveness of the old school ‘command and control’ style leadership and recognised a more modern approach can empower employees to deliver results – growing the company through happier and more successful employees.
Before Crewmojo you were in another tech start up in the finance industry that you built up and sold. Did you have ‘culture’ issues during that time or have you always been a bit of a guru?
Can I take you back a step earlier? Before that business I was managing 80 staff in an ASX listed company and I was leading them the way I “thought” managers were supposed to work; I made decisions without engaging team members and I thought I needed to know all the answers. Which I eventually learnt was completely wrong!
When I started IP Payments (we grew it to a team of 50) I came with a very different approach. I engaged deeply with my team to understand how they could help us grow the business. We would win business against our competitors who were far more resourced than us and I learnt to genuinely collaborate with employees in every role.
Crewmojo is an app that helps businesses who are interested in working on their culture. Who are more likely to be your clients? Is it certain industries? Is there a commonality of companies wanting to work on their business?
Many sizes – CEO’s of smaller sized businesses – plus HR departments in larger businesses – a key theme is companies with a commoditised product or service. If you can imagine an accounting firm or an insurance business where the product or service is exactly the same as can be bought down the road. The only way to differentiate… is how they go about delivering the product, and the customer experience they wrap around it. As I learnt early on in my leadership career – engaged happy staff have a big impact on service delivery which in turn can generate lasting customer advocates.
Why do you think it’s such a moving feast? Why is a company culture so difficult to contain? I know I’ve found it’s something I can never take for granted – one wrong hire and it feels like it falls flat again, or someone important doesn’t take regular annual leave and the tension in the team mounts.
The work that we’re doing now is cognitive based – the more we are moving into this age of digital transformation we’re automating the mundane tasks; and we’re left with the cognitive tasks like building and maintaining relationships with customers, working in teams, problem solving, etc. As soon as something annoys us or frustrates us, perhaps a miscommunication or injustice, our feelings of frustration immediately clouds our ability to do the cognitive work. Our minds go straight to the personal injustice and it won’t be working on building a customer relationship. Cognitive work needs us to be tuned in to be able to achieve a good outcome. When something has frustrated us, for example a manager using their authority over us, rather than treating us respectfully, we can’t focus on the cognitive task at hand. Maybe another example is If you’ve given feedback when it’s too late – “why didn’t you give me this feedback 6 months ago when you knew about it?” and they sit there and feel terrible about it.
Are any industries more prone to have fragile cultures? Does size of company matter?
What we’re seeing in our research is it’s not the company, or size or industry – it comes down to managers. If a manager takes the time to coach & develop their team, and show that they care, managers make all the difference. Team members need to know it’s safe to communicate, that they won’t get shot down, even with a contentious topic. A leader needs to build a foundation of trust in their team . So the challenge is not an industry or size of company problem.
If you could give tips to creating a good culture in a business what would they be?
Create a forward looking relationship between managers and team members – don’t judge what has happened; As a manager, how can I help you be successful, what can I do to help you on your journey?
Work towards quarterly goals – the environment is moving so fast the everything keeps changing, keeping goals quarterly will help to keep the reality alive.
Try to create a workplace of asking for feedback – “I’m about to do this presentation to a new client – what do you think of the way I’m presenting? How can I improve it?” Be vulnerable and model learning and willingness to improve.
Employees have to take responsibility for their own their performance too, be proactive and communicate a status snapshot once a week – what have you achieved, what do you plan to achieve and any roadblocks you’re facing. Managers are not mind readers and without communication won’t know what’s going on in your world and may not think to ask.
As an employer, there’s been a big shift in what employees are looking for over the last few decades:
– In the 80’s you gave people a job
– In the 90’s you gave people a job with benefits
– In the 00’s people wanted a job with benefits and perks
– Now people are looking for a job, perks, benefits and fulfillment.
– It’s all about fulfillment – personal growth, human relationships and an opportunity to make an impact.
Thanks for sharing your findings with us Mark.
Interview Conducted by Erica Westbury Managing Director of Norwest Recruitment
Mark Lewis is Co Founder and CEO of Crewmojo a People Management Platform. Mark is a people focused entrepreneur with a “passion and curiosity for discovering new approaches to traditional ways”. Since 2016 Mark has been researching leadership and developing high performing teams on his journey to develop Crewmojo. Check it out at: