Simon Slade Shares Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture

Pride in one’s company leads to greater pride in one’s work, which leads to overall better job performance and therefore better overall company performance.

Spend time outside your office so your team has the time to build real relationships with each other. Designing a fun environment creates happier employees and happier employees produce better work. When scheduling these events, try to be as inclusive as possible. Events such as happy hours can exclude parents who have to get home to their kids. Or, scheduling outdoor activities can be preclude those with heavy allergies. As our interviewee mentioned below: become the boss you wish you had.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Simon Slade from SaleHoo for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.

Simon Slade is CEO and co-founder of SaleHoo, an online dropship and wholesale directory, and Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training community. He is also co-founder of Smtp2Go, an email delivery service, and an investor in SwiftMed, a virtual GP clinic. Through these companies, Simon provides the education and resources for ecommerce professionals to start their own businesses and achieve occupational independence.


Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?

Simon Slade: Independence, improvement and fun. With much of our team working remotely all over the globe, we obviously value independence. We have created a culture that is free of micromanagement, where employees are assessed on their deliverables, not the path they take to creating those deliverables.

We also have a culture of consistent improvement in all realms of our business. Our staff is always thinking of ways to provide more value to our customers, to improve their experience with us and guarantee their success. This includes making our current systems better, adding new features, providing constantly awesome content and always seeking feedback from customers.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, we have a culture of fun. I try to be the boss I would like to have, which makes fun an essential. For my New Zealand staff, we bond at wine tours, ski trips and, on Fridays, we barbecue together. A substantial number of my employees works in the Philippines, so once a year, I fly there to treat them and their families to an all-expenses-paid vacation. By having fun together and enjoying the perks of company outings, staff members feel greater pride in the company, knowing we truly care about them and their happiness. Pride in one’s company leads to greater pride in one’s work, which leads to overall better job performance and therefore better overall company performance.

Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”

Simon: As a millennial myself, I am confident that the disparaging dialogue we sometimes hear about this generation is not only false but really damaging for everyone involved. It’s hard to change our decades-old, perhaps centuries-old, idea of what productivity and hard work look like — namely, people slaving away in a cubicle or factory. Millennials are just as committed to hard work as any generation before them, but we also recognize that there are better ways to get things done. So I suppose my approach with managing the millennial mindset is to recognize that young people have innovative, cutting edge ideas and to make sure I’m utilizing my team to their full potential.

Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.

Simon:

  1. Start a “wish list.” To promote creative thinking, all employees are encouraged to contribute to our company wish list. I entertain all suggestions, and together we implement the best ones. This small exercise not only generates incredible ideas that help us improve, but it also makes our team members feel heard.
  2. Take a vacation together. Again, I return to the concept of a fun culture. While struggle and hardship are a natural part of working to create something together, fun and joy should also be a prevalent part of your company experience. One of the quickest ways to achieve this is to take everyone out of the office for a work-free retreat or vacation.
  3. Ask questions. Perhaps one of the most central tenets of a great company culture is the importance of building personal relationships. You need to know about your team in order to give them what they need, make them feel valued and ensure their success (and, by translation, your company’s success).
  4. Solicit input. Keeping employees happy is all about making them feel valued and making work fun. Show you value your employees by including them on key business decisions and listening to their input. You don’t have to implement every suggestion, but you should listen to them.
  5. Be available. While an open door policy has sort of fallen out of vogue — especially considering that some offices these days don’t even have doors! — I think one of the greatest motivators of a positive company culture is the availability of the CEO or founder. Having higher-level executives that is present and accessible will foster open lines of communication and a sense of camaraderie. Make sure your team knows you’re invested in their success and you want to hear about their needs and progress.
It’s not enough to simply hire the best and the brightest — you have to hire people who will fit within your company framework, engage well with other employees, and make an effort to continue building the company culture you are trying to nurture within your business.

Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?

Simon: Organizations struggle to create these work environments in part because they don’t consider company culture when hiring. It’s not enough to simply hire the best and the brightest — you have to hire people who will fit within your company framework, engage well with other employees, and make an effort to continue building the company culture you are trying to nurture within your business. That’s not always the shiniest resume that lands on your desk. The work environment is largely defined, if not entirely defined, by the people within that environment. If you hire the right people and give them the guidance and resources they need to create a positive company culture, it won’t be such a challenge.

Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?

Simon: Tunnel vision. When you get too obsessed with a vision, a better strategy can be right in front of your face and you won’t see it. Startup founders sometimes get so deeply committed to their mission and their company vision that they forget to be flexible and embrace change. This is one of the most important and defining skills of a true leader: being able to let go of the ego and recognize when a better idea or method comes along. I’m not suggesting that founders should compromise their dreams or values, but simply that they need to truly listen to their team and allow them to contribute to the business.

Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?

Simon: Ditch email as a communication method for your team. Emails arrive chronological, with is an inefficient organization method that can leave you sifting through non-urgent things to find what really needs your attention. Instead, find a project management platform or software where your team can communicate about individual projects, log their time and track progress. This allows everyone to be more goal-oriented and productive, which will put everyone in a better mood.

This is one of the most important and defining skills of a true leader: being able to let go of the ego and recognize when a better idea or method comes along

Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?

Simon: After reading Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, I discovered telecommuting not only benefited my employees, but it also benefits my company. This was a major turning point for our company culture as our team is now predominantly remote. Remote work and work flexibility have become an important part of our company culture (and our customers!) and I really found the courage to embrace that framework after reading Remote.

Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?

Simon: I would warn an employee against trying to “take control” when they have a bad boss. Bad bosses are usually poor leaders, which means you might threaten your job security if you threaten their power. If an employee has a bad boss, I would encourage them to try to find out what that boss wants from them and provide it as best as they can. If the requests are too outlandish, try to be honest and provide genuine feedback in a one-on-one meeting with the problematic boss. If none of these things work, I’d attempt to give some feedback to upper level managers in the company so they know they have a managerial problem. Then I’d start looking for another job!

Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?

Simon: It might seem like a simple feature — I don’t know if you’d call it a “hack” — but our Skype chatroom has been really helpful to all of our staff for building personal relationships. It provide a laid-back setting that mimics the traditional office watercooler. It serves both professional and playful purposes and it’s been a major factor in connecting our team.

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