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The 'Big Five' behaviours - Building and maintaining a values-led business culture

Business culture is a topic that I frequently see popping up on my LinkedIn feed, and something I'm deeply passionate about.

Many of us have read the famous Netflix slide deck that describes their own business culture, and even last night whilst digesting the day's technology news I read an analysis of Bezos' meeting culture in a digital broadsheet.

For my business - Conosco - the culture I joined and the culture I knew that I would be proud to lead and be associated with, have maintained a high position in my everyday thoughts whether on my morning drive to work, walking through the streets of London at lunchtime or sitting with my young children as they fall asleep at night after their bedtime story.

Having just spent a week with our teams based in South Africa, it's become ever more apparent to me that a relatively small number of leadership values and habits can help to drive what I feel are the most valuable team member behaviours to support our business culture.

In honour of our South African colleagues, I call them my 'big five':

  • Engagement
  • Motivation
  • Passion
  • Pride
  • Positivity

I like to speak from personal experience rather than attempt to rehash inevitably better-written, and likely better thought-through leadership concepts. As CEO for an established and growing technology business it's honest of me to say that each passing day has offered at lease one opportunity for me to learn more around nurturing a great business culture (both from staff feedback and trial and error on my part).

Rather than write a lengthy essay (I know how many of you reading this are time-poor and eager to read that next LinkedIn article!) I thought I'd distill my learnings to date in a simple top ten. I hope there are some fresh ideas described here that provoke new thought for other business leaders out there:
  1. Don't restrict 121s to direct reporting lines: A relaxed 'meet and greet' with as many members of your business as possible, on a regular basis, can not only help make blindspots appear, but also provides a wonderful way by which to give and receive constructive feedback.
  2. Set company challenges, and handsomely reward 'wins'. Earlier this year I set a complex technical challenge for the whole business to tackle voluntarily (with a great prize) and they astonished me by exceeding the goals. These benefited not only Conosco but also our client's experience of our services.
  3. If you are lucky enough for your Board to support you (as mine do), tell your staff that you are leading - and that they belong to - a business that puts people before profits. THAT is an amazing thing to be able to demonstrate to your teams.
  4. Don't allow titles, roles or 'status' to ever get in the way of having frank, open, honest conversations. Anyone can and should be challengeable by anyone regardless of rank.
  5. Encourage the giving of praise at all levels. The old adage of 'praise in public, and criticise in private' holds true for me, and positive management really is proving itself to be far more effective a way to encourage the 'big five' behaviours (Mark Robb provides an excellent workshop on the benefits of positive management).
  6. Exaggerate the reward level given to exceptional performance and focus on the great, don't celebrate or reward the average.
  7. Spend little time dealing with the under-performing - they steal valuable time and attention from those who are excelling at doing their jobs and show the opportunity to grow even further.
  8. Encourage constructive feedback (and get your leadership team to read Radical Candor). Never challenge people personally ('The problem with YOU is...' etc.) Instead challenge behaviours and hold a mirror up to show their effects on others.
  9. Share your vision. Often. People can only engage with things that are there to be engaged with. I'm yet to find that we are over-sharing the vision, direction and plan for our business with our team members.
  10. Encourage a sociable work-life balance: Every Wednesday for the past few months we have run our Conosco Cafe that allows time-out from people's day to eat, meet and socialise with their team members both local to them or via our video links to the UK and South Africa. The office has never been noisier, livelier and more full of energy.


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