How to create a positive company culture

It's rare to get off an eight-hour flight with a huge grin on your face because you're excited about Monday morning. But ESM Inbound is back from Boston after four days of inspirational talks from some of the world's most successful people, including Deepak Chopra, Beth Comstock and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

We felt incredibly privileged to be part of this unique event, so we are now duty-bound to pass on our smiles by sharing some of the most helpful and inspiring lessons we learnt from the speakers at this year's INBOUND conference.

1: Define your mission, then put it at the heart of everything you do

When we sat down to compare notes, we found two central themes in common that really resonated with us: mission and culture  the importance of having a mission for your company that drives everything you do, and the fact that it is the culture within your company that determines how you achieve this mission.

Listening to Alex Williamson's talk — "How to build a brand with kindness" — really forced us to think about this. The eureka moment for us was when she said, "if we can't grow, we can't achieve our mission" — rather than "if we want to grow, we have to have a mission."

Alex is the chief brand officer at Bumble, the social networking app that encourages equality, kindness and respect. Their mission is to make the world a kinder place, and their culture is to lead by example:

"Our brand voice is kind. If you do things in a kind way, you can really push the envelope in lots of ways... one person having a bad experience is our opportunity to delight that customer and make them an advocate."

Finding and maintaining your brand voice really depends on the people you hire — so hire people who reflect your values, and create an environment where they can thrive. Our favourite tip from Alex in this area was Bumble's 72-hour rule:

"If you have an issue with a colleague, then it is your responsibility to resolve it within 72 hours. If you haven't addressed the problem head-on in that time, then you have to let go."

This is especially powerful. By empowering their employees to solve their own issues for themselves, Bumble is stopping them from holding on to any resentment which could get inadvertently passed on to their customers.

2: Surround yourself with good people

If your company's culture is its personality, then this means recruiting great people who are passionate about your mission. New York Yankee and successful entrepreneur Alex Rodriguez put this simply in his spotlight:

"You are a product of the people you surround yourself with. So surround yourself with good people. Look for people who are hungry and driven people who are willing to work as hard as you do. You shouldn't need your CEO to motivate you to do your job."

We heard a powerful example of this recruitment philosophy in action from Julie Rice, co-founder of SoulCycle. SoulCycle's mission is to "bring soul to the people through exercise classes that are as joyful as they are effective". The promise is that your classes will be an experience delivered by "one-of-a-kind rockstar instructors." Rather than looking for personal trainers to fulfil this mission, Julie tapped into her experience as a former Hollywood talent spotter and recruited cheerleaders, actors, singers and inspirational speakers to lead spin classes at SoulCycle.

The lesson here is to consider recruiting for your mission, not for a specific position. Recruiting a diverse team is crucial if you want your brand to resonate. Of course, there are specific skills and experience you'll be looking for on top, but these shouldn't be your main focus if you want to find truly remarkable people. Once you've got the right people, give them a voice within your brand. As Payal Kadakia, founder of ClassPass , said in her spotlight: "hire the right people and let them have a say in your culture — you can't just tell people how to behave."

3: Relationships need nurturing

As a business leader, it is important to consider the cause and effect of the relationships between you, your staff and your customers. If your staff feel valued, this will be reflected in the experience your customers get. If your customers feel valued, they will stay with you.

Consumers have more choice than ever before. So, if your customers don't feel valued, they will choose to go elsewhere. This means that nurturing positive relationships with your staff and customers is absolutely crucial to your success.

World-renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel really hit the nail on the head here:

"KPIs used to be the bottom line in business. Today, relationships are the new bottom line."

The same is true when it comes to retaining your staff, says Perel :

"Longevity and loyalty have been re-defined in the workplace. We used to leave jobs because the factory closed. Now we do it because we can find more fulfilment somewhere else."

If you're considering how you can build more positive relationships with your customers and staff, the following three questions might be a helpful starting point:

  1. How are relationships created, sustained and developed at your organisation?
  2. Is this the same for everyone?
  3. Is this helping you to achieve your mission?

Let's consider the first question — how are relationships created, sustained and developed at your organisation?

The key to this is in how you communicate with your customers at each stage of your relationship with them. Does the tone and language change for your customers as they move between the stages of the buyer's journey? Take your longest-standing customer and have a look through your correspondence with them, from your very first contact up until the present day. Is there something you've been doing in the way you communicate that makes them feel valued?

Now look at any customers you lost in the first three months of working with you. Was their experience different? Was the onboarding process easy for them, or did they experience problems?

"Becoming a customer should be easy and enjoyable. Make your copy customer-centric. Show the customer what it feels and looks like to use your product successfully." — Lisa Pierson, The Conversion Copywriter

But before you start making any changes to your copy, go back to your mission to ensure you are really focused on the purpose of what you are writing. Then circle back to it again when you've finished. If you can answer question 3 with a resounding "YES", then go for it!

ESM Inbound's mission

And what, you might ask, is ESM Inbound's mission? We used to say that our mission was to change life chances, and encourage inspiring learning experiences. Now that we've stepped off the plane from our INBOUND 2018 adventure, we simply stand for one thing: Everybody Smile More. We want to make people smile, we want the world to be a happier place. We will achieve this by building a team committed to continually solving for our customers, by creating a culture that empowers them to do this.

We hope this blog post made you smile. If it did, then pass it on!

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