Maintaining a positive workplace culture as your business grows will help drive collaboration, innovation and creativity, writes Emma Bannister
I have a classic kitchen-counter startup story: creating avocado sandwiches with one hand for my baby daughter while preparing PowerPoint presentations with the other.
This was back in 2006, when I was a graphic designer and tech geek who loved PowerPoint. I was clear and focused on my vision of ‘making PowerPoint sexy’ for my clients.
At the start, our culture, values and vision were loud and clear. As a result, my business really took off and grew. Yet as I added more and more people to my team, it became tough to adhere to those values, to keep cultivating the kind of creative culture I had longed for.
The mission evolved into helping our clients experience the value of their presentations, and we hired for passion and proof of our values: being creative, supportive, passionate and collaborative.
‘Vision’, ‘values’ and ‘culture’ have become buzzwords that are bandied about in meetings and by organizations. There’s a lot of talk acknowledging that we need them, but how many of us can define what they are exactly? More importantly, how do we bring them to life, especially as the business grows?
The overall vision of an organization must be set by the leader. It should describe the future direction that everyone on the team and throughout the business is heading in. It’s only when people feel like they are part of something bigger that they start to achieve together as a team.
As a founder, leader or someone on the executive team, it’s essential to provide regular, consistent updates to everyone. Without constant communication, the vision gets lost, and motivation to meet the goal dies a slow and painful death – and can be really hard to resurrect.
I’ve found that being transparent about the numbers and my role – and what I’m doing day-to-day – is crucial. Be present and connect with your team, and be there to listen to their ideas and challenges. Transparency alone doesn’t equal trust; that comes from consistently leading by example and by asking questions, listening and communicating clearly.
This also means being open and honest with your team when things aren’t going to plan or tracking well. There’s nothing worse than working for a business and feeling like you’re just being lied to – transparency is the key to trust and a thriving culture. It has a massive impact on your bottom line.
Your culture really dictates how everyone behaves in your business. It’s made up of the shared values and beliefs that you set and say are essential. These values, however, are more than slogans on posters or coffee cups. While a lot of people bring in the big guns to help them come up with a few summary words, establishing values requires much more than a set-it-and-forget-it activity.
For example, one of our values is creativity, so we regularly get together to help boost each other’s creativity through:
- Presentations to one another about our personal passions
- Sharing life experiences and listening to one another’s stories as a way of connecting and exploring
- Popcorn sessions at which we watch videos, animations, TED talks or debates
- Creative food days, when we share different recipes or new cuisines
- Walking meetings through the park
- Life drawing and watercolour classes in locations throughout the city
We invest lots of time and energy in creating activities that include the whole team. It’s not about drinking or holding office parties. (Many of our team don’t drink, and that’s the same throughout many businesses I know.) Instead, the focus is always on a mix of different things to ensure everyone is included.
Strengthen your team
When you facilitate this kind of collaboration, even if it’s not 100% work-related, then each of us becomes more innovative, and the office becomes more fun overall.
As I have experienced, keeping the culture going is the biggest challenge you will have as your business starts to grow. When there are only a handful of people on your team, then everything is really just an extension of you. Your passion is felt across the table and in a small room, and it’s easy to make that felt.
As you expand, it’s vital to strengthen your management and build a leadership team that is responsible for ensuring the message – your vision, values and culture – is clear and translated to everyone.
Emma Bannister is passionate about presenting big, bold and beautiful ideas. She is the founder and CEO of Presentation Studio and author of Visual Thinking: How to Transform the Way You Think, Communicate and Influence with Presentations.
For more information, visit presentationstudio.com.