It’s our company culture that brings La Belle Assiette to life. Culture is something intangible, but critical. It’s a huge challenge to define. But thanks to the collaboration of our great team over half a year, we’ve managed to define it in 6 core values. Keep on reading to find out how we did it.
The path we have taken was strongly inspired by Zappos, and adapting their method to our business was essential to its success. This article is not a foolproof method or a universal truth. Instead, I’m hoping to provide you with a source of inspiration and a clear account of our creative process.
A few weeks ago I told you about La Belle Assiette’s entrepreneurial adventure; how it has grown and how its vision has evolved. Starting out in a 15m2 office with two co-founders and three catering partners, we’re now on the brink of revolutionising the catering industry.
This enormous amount of work has been driven by our team and its philosophy. A philosophy centered on results, creativity and passion, underpinned by an energy and ambition that is shared by all the team.
As a founder it’s fascinating, but also challenging, to watch a culture evolve as your team expands, funds grow, and offices change… Yet you soon realise this culture evolves organically. You can’t expect to observe a team of 5 people living in the same way as a team of 25, or 500.
I/ An Inspiration
In 2015, our team grew from 7 to 20 employees. This brought about several changes, especially with regards to our company culture, so I strongly felt I had to frame this natural evolution around a strong core.
These 250 pages provide a perfect, yet thought-provoking guide for entrepreneurs, exploring a number of prejudices that are involved in business management. Tony Hsieh explains how and why establishing your company’s culture should be your number one priority. This allowed him to create what is commonly known as a unicorn - Zappos was acquired by Amazon for $1.2bn in 2009.
By chance, I also had the pleasure of meeting and having a fascinating discussion with Frédéric Mazzella and Nicolas Brusson (investor in La Belle Assiette) from BlaBlaCar (the famous ride sharing platform).
In each case, their exemplary use of company values has played a huge role in managing the extraordinary growth of their company.
So it was time for us to get to work, to define our culture.
Your company culture is built on the sum of individual values, which provide guidelines for the everyday behaviour of your team, your partners and your investors. These values must be present in every area of your business, to guarantee the consistency of your brand to your clients as well as the public.
But, identifying these values is not easy. In fact, it can present a serious risk if they are ill-defined, with the potential to lead your team astray. While the short term is obvious for many start-ups, a serious consultation about your company culture should feature long-term objectives — and this takes time. Ultimately it’s about choice: choosing a set of common standards that will act as a guide, although this will not necessarily suit everyone.
On this point, Hsieh is perfectly clear:
“We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”
In the last quarter of 2015, I felt ready to initiate the process. The company was mature, with a stable team and history, which meant we could decide who we wanted to be.
II/ The Long Road to Values
The first step involved meeting with my co-founder Giorgio, and we decided on our objectives as well as the route we would take to achieve them.
It was obvious that we needed to start during our first ‘teambuilding’ weekend organised in mid-October. Deep in the Normandy countryside, two days promised to be a highlight of the year, and the perfect opportunity to explore our identity.
After a formal introduction on the topic, the team received this email:
“Hello ladies and gentlemen,
I hope you’re enjoying this weekend all together.
Once this will be over, I ask all of you to send me and Stephen (only) a list of 5 values you think people at La Belle Assiette have / should have / you appreciate a lot, giving a real practical real life example each. Feel free to identify the people who show particular behaviours you like and make you proud of being part of this group. They won’t be shared with others.
As we discussed today, values should be based on the behaviours and skills that are valued in fellow team members.
Values should meet the following:
- Is it distinguished?
- Are you obsessed with it?
- Will it outlive you?
- Can you actually “live” it everyday?
- Are you willing to sacrifice profit to protect it?
So please send me cc’ing Stephen by next Friday, October 23rd, a list like this :
1. Value name (title)
+ short description
+ real life example (ideally happened in the past within the team or an action done by a team member)
2. Another value name (title)
+ short description
+ real life example (ideally happened in the past within the team or an action done by a team member)
…and so on until 5!
Thanks a lot for your contributions.
At the end of the following week the responses were collected. For Giorgio and I, this meant a long month of reflection and judgment. We wanted to compile a list of ten values and put this forward to a vote, eventually deciding on five or six to represent our company.
By this point the founders had to make a choice. Albeit an essential inspiration, the democratic way was not quite enough. Giorgio and I also had to identify and select the values that reflected us the most. We had to consider the principles that we wanted to promote within our business, and more importantly, choose the ones that would help us achieve our vision.
In early December 2015, we had a lunch to present the 11 preliminary values to the whole team: Be part of the family, Start by doing, Optimise for efficiency, Push the extra mile for WOW, Take food seriously, Show your crazy side, Be frugal, Build trust, Help others grow, Show radical candor, Spread Infectious Enthusiasm
The presentation followed by this email:
Find attached today’s presentation.
Please send Giorgio and I, without a reply to all:
- any feedback you have (all impressions, positive and negative)
- your top 2
- your bottom 2
- real life examples to illustrate the values you prefer!
The responses were generally positive, although some choices that had been discussed were eventually rejected. All that remained was for us to choose the values that were closest to our hearts, and that we felt would unify us.
In early February, five months after the first stage of the process, we completed our final list: six values that represent La Belle Assiette’s entire ecosystem, to help us achieve our vision.
Trust is the basis of every relationship. We build up the confidence and trust of our customers by consistently delivering excellent work. This is also enforced through complete transparency, open communication and strong integrity. Trust allows us to make decisions independently, without having to validate them.
Start by Doing
Thinking and doing are two very different things. We believe ‘being done’ is better than ‘being perfect’. Success comes to those who do rather than those who think. We do and we finish what we start. It is essential to be agile, flexible and prepared to abandon anything that doesn’t work.
Excellence is about performance, not perfection. We work hard and strive for outstanding performance. Expect this from those that surround you. We don’t just do what is asked of us, we go above and beyond to deliver the extraordinary. For our customers, our partners, and our colleagues, we are prepared to take this step further to make their lives even more beautiful and hassle-free.
Take Food Seriously
We appreciate food and have enormous respect for it. We talk about it all day and never tire of it. It’s our common denominator. We believe food provides wonderful experiences, shared moments and strong emotions. We are not elitist when it comes to food, we can all appreciate a good kebab.
Spread Infectious Enthusiasm
We remain optimistic when faced with challenges, and we always share our wins. We have a common goal and so we celebrate each others’ victories, large or small. Each individual should be a source of motivation, something we expect from our partners too. And with our customers, we make sure that every point of contact gives them a reason to smile, laugh, and be happy.
Be A Family
We’re a family, act as such and are proud of each other. We show kindness and attention. We support other and are always there to help. Like a family, we question certain decisions and give our honest opinion, while always being involved and respectful. The chefs, caterers, investors, customers and the brands that work with us are all part of our family.
III/ From values to culture
After you define your values the first step is simple. Stick them up all over the office and use them whenever you can. From the founders to the interns, it’s up to each individual to harness them at every level and in every activity.
To guarantee this, we think about the ‘cultural fit’ whenever we are recruiting. During the process, each candidate will finally meet four members of the team for 30 minutes. This gives them a chance to discuss their experiences, their ambitions, and in turn, their values. If there’s any uncertainty, it has to be no. Over the long term, an employee that doesn’t fit with your values will have a negative impact on your business, however talented the candidate may be.
Subsequently we set up the ‘LBA Awards’, a kind of “employee of the month”. Every three months, we recognise 6 team members for their contribution to one of the values (each manager puts forward one from their team). For example, I nominated Astrid, our Growth manager, for her work:
“Astrid should be rewarded because she illustrated the value “start by doing”. Astrid kick started the pitching to prospective B2B clients in France as soon as we started thinking about Catering Delivery. Despite not having a product to show or suppliers to execute events, Astrid launched a sales process and pushed the service to clients. She also constituted a small task-force-team by collaborating with Mathieu and by doing so, spread this attitude of Start By Doing.”
Our last six nominees were rewarded with a drink on a small private boat. By doing this, you encourage the values to develop not only in the company as a whole, but in each individual’s life.
Only six months have passed since we began the process, so naturally it’s a bit early to draw any conclusions. However, I’ve noticed a real backing from the team, and we’ve now created a model that suits everyone. These values have become a solid template for our actions, decisions, behaviours and objectives. La Belle Assiette is ready to grow, and grow in the right way.
Within the team, values have become a sort of evaluation. The importance of respecting and nurturing them has become so clear to us all. And everyone makes sure of this.
What’s more, for a CEO seeing his team expand and thus lose sight of daily operations, these 6 small expressions guarantee a common set of standards. I trust each individual’s behaviour, and am confident the company will grow in a perfectly durable way.
Now these values take centre stage, displayed looking out over the office. They have finally allowed us to determine our company culture and have become fundamental to our business, although they are not fixed and may evolve as the company does.
For the first time since the beginning of our adventure, we have a concrete identity. This will undoubtedly support our vision to become the best online platform for the catering industry.
Let’s see what happened in a year’s time?
A huge thanks to Franck Mithieux for his great work on this article.
La Belle Assiette is a food start-up that is revolutionising the catering industry by bringing tailored experiences to people’s homes. Customers can simply book online and then the chef takes care of the rest, allowing people to host dinner parties effortlessly.
With an ever-growing community of 700 independent chefs selected according to their culinary experience and personal qualities, the La Belle Assiette brand offers its services in 6 European countries: France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium. Its team of 25 people are shared between 3 offices in Paris, London and Berlin.
Stephen Leguillon & Giorgio Ricco founded La Belle Assiette 3 years ago.