Cultures that inspire play come first

Talking to over 20 different startups this year there was one conversation that stood out from the rest. Cultures with less pressure come first.

“One day I’m going to get big offices and all my best friends working with me”. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Google offices with pool tables, different colour sofas, even beds if you need a post-lunch break at 3pm. Your mind can barely contemplate how any work gets done when you see photos of workers looking like they are on a Corfu holiday, getting paid near six figure salaries. But what is the real truth behind this dream? I think there is more behind the pursuit of perfect company culture and how it has shaped the world of consumers.

We’ve found that asking our community questions we can help transform the word culturefrom a mystery to a science: 1)What about culture makes you proud? 2) When is risk-taking encouraged, and what happens when people fail? 3) What is culture worth? 4) What was the biggest surprise when joining the team? In this article, we address if it’s the leaders or the who team engineer high-performing company cultures — and measure their impact on the bottom line.

1) The UK small business culture as it stands. Which bits makes you proud?

After talking to a range of startup companies, from food to job searching, we scoured the internet for academic research on the reasons of feeling a level of achievement. We then stumbled across one great conclusion: Why we work determines if we are proud of our work.

Research from Science Direct — motivation study seem to back the idea that fundamentally understanding why we are doing the work affects our levels of output. We decided to ask David Dews (Creative Managing Director at Speed) where he stands on SME culture:

I THINK UK SME’S CULTURE IS DRIVEN, EXTREMELY FOCUSED AND FAST PACED. MOST OF MY BUSINESS OWNER FRIENDS ARE VERY AMBITIOUS…. THEY TEND TO SCOFF AT THE IDEA OF THE ‘WORK-LIFE BALANCE’… I THINK THAT’S NOT A REALITY TO A SME OWNER BECAUSE TO US OUR WORK IS OUR LIFE AND THAT’S HOW WE WANT IT.

Team leaders often seem to grasp the aspect of unity and involvement much quicker than most. They shape their emotions around work-achievements itself. They want to understand the bigger picture — WHY. They unify and chisel away, one small task at a time, pushing the team forward. If everyone can do it successfully — you got it! The sense of proudflows through the team.

Giving the same task to a different team. They might still finish the work but their feeling of achievement is nearly zero. So how come some of us are emotionally attached to our work and others aren’t? No, it’s not just being perfectionist or having high standards. In fact, Humans have wondered why we need to work at all for nearly a century. A major breakthrough happened in the 1980s by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan who outlined the six main reasonswhy people feel they need to work.

The six main reasons being: play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia. If you notice, three are positive and the other three negative. Negative reasoning is known to cut performance as you’re no longer thinking about the work — you’re thinking about the disappointment, the short-term reward, or why you’re bothering at all.

Positive reasoning creates high-performing cultures. Maximising the play, purpose, and potential felt by the team, and minimising the emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia is known as creating total motivation (ToMo).

2) When is risk-taking encouraged, and what happens when people fail?

While it is difficult to measure whether someone is being creative, proactive, or resilient in the moment, you can actually measure ToMo using maths. But, it’s actually not difficult to see the effects of total motivation in action. Asking the question; what happens when people fail?

The most sensitive element is the identity of an organisation, which includes its mission and behavioral code. The risk-taking factor in a company can be a good indicator to the levels of ToMo. This is not saying the more risk you take on the more motivation you will have. It’s boils down to; do team members feel they can and what happens if its goes wrong? Is the failure seen as an obstacle to overcome, a way to improve on processes, or as stepping out of line?

An example would be Medtronic. They allow their engineers and technicians to see the medical devices they’ve made in action. They can see the purpose of their work. Michelle Blieberghe (Chief Talent Officer at UCB Pharmaceuticals) says he’s:

RECENTLY STARTED INVITING PATIENTS TO EXECUTIVE MEETINGS, SO THE PEOPLE MAKING DECISIONS CAN SEE HOW THEIR WORK MAKES A DIFFERENCE.

It also works the other way around too. If their work has effected someone in an unseen manner they are able to hear first hand how to improve their processes. The fear of failure is removed from the businesses as their team is focused on constantly improving, not making mistakes.

3) What is culture worth?

It is clear that we all want great company cultures. Most of us don’t even have a great definition for the word. The value of culture might not be a forefront but we found it can have real effects on revenues. For example David Dews (Speed) says they use Freelancers when we are over capacity but not sure he’d get that same out of his team if they were mostly contractors. This is because even though a sense of unity can happen online it’s never as strong as face-to-face meetings. Owners fear of the danger of team members getting bored and even worse clients getting bored of them.

In fact, cultures that inspired more play, purpose, and potential, and less emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia, produced better team unity and customer outcomes. We see this in most business sectors; retail, banking, telecommunications, and the fast food industry as well. Its been reported hedge funds with highest performing portfolio managers had high ToMo. And comparing two companies, the difference between a low-ToMo and high-ToMo sales associate was 30% in revenues.

4) What was the biggest surprise when joining the team?

A great culture is not easy to build — it’s why high performing cultures are such a powerful competitive advantage. Companies such as Speed tick all the right boxes by having annual company-wide bonus targets coupled with smaller individual bonuses given out as a reward when team members go over and above. Offering regular perks like lunch, team outings, beers after work can be a great base for leaders to create personal bonds.

Even without redesigning processes, Lindsay McGregor ( co-author of the New York Times bestselling book, Primed to Perform) tells us how we can start improving our teams total motivation (ToMo) :

  • Holding a reflection huddle with your team once a week. Teams we’ve personally worked with hold an hour-long huddle once a week in which each person answers three questions directed at encouraging: 1) Play: What did I learn this week? 2) Purpose: What impact did I have this week? And 3) Potential: What do I want to learn next week?
  • Explaining the why behind the work of your team. One executive at a retail store said she use to introduced a new project by saying, “We have to do this because Leela [the boss] asked for it.” This was motivating through emotional pressure, which was hurting her team’s performance. So she started explaining why a project would help the customer instead.
  • Considering how you’ve designed your team’s roles. Does everyone have a space to play? Think about where people should be free to experiment and make that clear. For example, a Starbucks manager told us that he lets each employee experiment with how they connect to each customer. Ask if everyone has the opportunity to witness the impact of their work, and think about what might help them build a stronger purpose.
  • Finally, find out where each team member would like to be in two years. Come up with a plan to help their reach their potential — we all know what happens when we squeeze too tight.

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