Preena Gadher on how to create a GOLD standard company culture in 6 steps

18 Aug 2021 -

Riot awarded gold accreditation by Investors in People

This month, we received the wonderful news that we had been awarded GOLD accreditation by Investors in People. Going from zero to gold is “unprecedented” according to our assessors; we’d
never entered the accreditation scheme previously and so went in blindly, simply reporting all the things that are part and parcel of Riot team culture. But it left me wondering why it was so rare. As an agency leader, investing in our staff welfare and our company culture is a top priority – we put as much effort into it as we do our fee-earning client work. After all, we work in PR, a people driven industry. Without our people, we have nothing.

According to research by McKinsey “organisations with higher performing cultures create a 3x return for shareholders”. But too often, creating and nurturing the organisation’s culture is seen as a side project – a nice to have, or worse still, something to do with Gary from finance bonding with Sonali the Creative Director in an excruciating team away day.

So what is company culture?

For us at Riot, it’s what we do, how we do it and why we do it. We have absolute clarity on why we exist as an organisation and what we are collectively trying to achieve, coupled with clear values and behaviours so people know what a good job looks like. And our culture has our people at its core.

Truth be told, the road to creating a winning culture at Riot has not been linear; we have done a lot of listening and reflecting along the way, about what works and what less so. But crucially, its
importance to our success has never an after-thought.

So here are my top 6 tips for creating a gold standard company culture:

1. Have purpose.

A 2019 Deloitte report concluded that “purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction”. Be clear on what problem it is your organisation is here to solve – your why – and then use that as your canvas upon which to paint the rest. Staff are more likely to feel engaged (think proud and enthusiastic) when they know they are working towards a higher purpose. The anecdote about the NASA janitor – who told JFK he was there to help put man on the moon – is a great way to remember this.

2. Identify your values.

Put another way: “how you do what you do”. What behaviours are important to you as a business and how does that differentiate you from your competitors? If you are an owner-manager, working with a coach and / or a change management consultant can help with this process as it did for me. Once identified, ensure everyone in your business knows what the values are and use them as your daily guiding light, especially when faced with difficult decisions. At Riot, our values are baked into absolutely everything we do: from determining which pitches we go for and defining who the right clients are for us, to giving daily feedback to colleagues.

3. Create trust.

Research by Harvard Business Review found that employees at companies where trust is high report 106% greater energy in the office, 74% lower stress levels, 76% greater engagement, and 50% more productivity than their peers at low-trust businesses. Be as open and transparent as you can be with your team. I never try to sugar-coat information. It’s disingenuous. Does that make for harder conversations at times? Yes, but ultimately, it helps build confidence in leadership. Trust is also a two-way street. Trust your colleagues to deliver. Give them space to experiment, question and learn for themselves.

4. Communicate.

This one can’t be stressed enough. Communicate your vision and your strategy so people are crystal clear on where the organisation is going and crucially how they can help play a part in the adventure – more on that shortly. Avoid information black holes and consider how key messages will impact at the various levels of your organisation. People feel valued when they are kept up to speed, which feeds back into a sense of trust.

5. Treat your staff like individuals and celebrate uniqueness.

At Riot, during the interview process, we always ask ourselves “what difference does this candidate bring that will make our agency even better?” We ask new starters “what do you need to help you thrive at work?” and we do our best to make it happen. A colleague’s personal career development is a key part of line management but so is individual accountability. Identifying and working with natural strengths and building bespoke development plans linked to the overall strategy of the business allows staff to grow at the same time as the agency. This linked structure allows people to feel the impact of their daily effort on the overall success of Riot, which in turns leads to a more motivated team. Development plans are reviewed and renewed frequently – no one waits for an annual appraisal to find out if they are doing a good job or not.

6. Be open to change.

The last 18 months has demonstrated that change is the only constant. Work with it rather than resisting it, even when it feels uncomfortable. I have had to work hard over the years to lean into change against my natural disposition. Change is essential to helping us grow as individuals and as an agency; disruption often unlocks potential. Though we are 12 years old, we still operate with a start-up mindset which is encouraged across the team. Counterintuitively, we have put in place more structure and process to make us more efficient, but which crucially can be flexed quickly when needed.