HR & Management

People over profit? 7 SME Culture Leaders explain how one drives the other

9 min read

03 August 2018

Former special projects journalist

Where should a business place its priorities – with people or with profits? Here, seven of our SME Culture Leaders demonstrate how, often, the two are one and the same.

There may well be ways for businesses to cut corners and save a few pennies, but you can end up missing out on so much more – taking the time and money to invest in staff’s happiness can bring added value to your business.

The happier and more engaged your employees are, the more productive they are, and the more likely they are to stay with you – which is all good news for your bottom line.

Real Business recently joined forces with breatheHR to find the UK’s top 25 SME Culture Leaders, and one recurring theme from the entries was how much a business can benefit financially from fostering a strong culture. You can read more about the selection process and the winners here.

Here are some of the ways investing in people and culture can provide a return on investment, drawn from the experiences of seven of our Culture Leaders.

  1.   The freedom to innovate  

According to Rachel Mendel, the employee that nominated PR firm Eight&Four, staff here are given the “freedom to innovate”.

“This isn’t a place where emails are scrutinised, browser history is analysed or work is micromanaged. It’s a place where you’re given freedom to work in whichever way you work best,” she said.

Giving your employees the chance to think outside the box – to make mistakes, even – means giving them the chance to think of something new, to change things. It gives them the opportunity to help improve the business, and to be a part of its success.

  1.   A brand-new point of view

Building a diverse team is another thing that’s not just great for the business culture, but for the bottom line too, as it offers a new perspective.

Rachel Jones, CEO of SnapDragon, has built a very international team.

“What we do, which is fight fakes online, you absolutely need language skills – and I absolutely believe passionately in the fact that people from elsewhere with excellent language skills just add something to the business.

“They add so much, they add culture, experience of elsewhere, working elsewhere, living elsewhere, looking out of the box,” she said.

Approaching a problem with fresh eyes can work wonders – and can help you find new opportunities that might have previously been overlooked.

  1.   Learning to listen

Of course, having brilliant staff with a diverse range of experiences and ideas is only worth having if you listen to them – and that’s something Boost Drinks has worked hard to achieve.

According to its submission, “every two years the company commissions a 360-degree qualitative review of the business to hear not only what Boost does well, but what it could do better, or change”.

Having staff surveys is a simple way to hear what your employees think of your business – sometimes anonymised ones may be preferable as some staff may be hesitant to offer constructive criticism.

“Insights are only as good as the implications and actions you uncover from them” argues the submission, “and the findings over recent years have been instrumental in shaping the people strategy, internal communication, working practices and remuneration amongst other things”.

  1.   Earn your loyalty

Another benefit of a strong company culture is that your staff enjoy working for you – but you’ve got to earn that loyalty, and a decent pay packet alone may not be enough.

According to Rhea Cairns, who works at Neo PR, the business is very inclusive of those with medical conditions, and there are support measures in place for those that need it.

“The management team even amended working practices to help accommodate employees returning to work from sick leave, and those who regularly need treatments to manage conditions of a long-term illness,” she said.

“The result of this is employees who know that they will be supported and who will therefore remain loyal to the company for the long-term.”

  1.   Training and staff retention

The benefits of training your staff in new skills is twofold: firstly, your business gets new skills to help drive it forward; secondly, your staff feel valued, and can see you are investing in their careers.

Fordway takes it a step further, and also provides training for employees’ health and wellbeing.

Kathi Churchill, who works at technology business Fordway, explains: “Over the last three years, Fordway has invested in numerous on-site training days. These courses varied from presentation skills to stress management. As well as providing training in these softer skills, we of course provide all the requisite technical training our staff require. We encourage all learning to be shared where at all possible.”

Feeling valued is great for staff retention – which again is great for business’ bottom lines. Recruitment is expensive, and a high staff turnover can be costly.

  1.   Delegate and give responsibilities

Propellernet’s submission demonstrates the approach it has taken with regards to responsibility – and it’s a little off the beaten path.

Its success is measured on revenue generation, and specifically, revenue per employee.

“Propellernet could increase revenue by hiring more employees. However, they have put in place a ’60 Precious Seats’ business model, capping headcount at 60 employees.

“In doing this, they create an environment that supports business innovation and diversification, and is a radical re-interpretation of industry norms regarding growth.”

This move might not be for every business – but it certainly lays responsibility firmly at employees’ feet, and shows them they are valued by their employer.

As people feel more valued and more responsible, they have more incentive to be productive

  1.   Employee ownership model

As far as motivating employees to work hard towards the business’ success, an employee ownership model is one of the most direct ways.

Natalie Ewens, who works at Mindworks, explained in her submission how there is a strong sense of “employee empowerment” as they “all share directly in the profits of the company”.

“As with other companies who have moved to employee ownership, as well as enhancing our ethos of maintaining a supportive and enjoyable workplace culture, it is proving to be a really sustainable business model,” she said.

Overall – the link between people and profit should be pretty clear. Morale at work should not be considered a soft issue – people need to feel they are working towards something they can believe in, and this can really pay off.

Small businesses have an advantage in many ways when it comes to building a good company culture – having a smaller team means being able to dedicate more time to each employee, and in the long-term this can help your business grow.