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Culture:The secret of success!

Over the last 18 months or so we have continued to look forward and work hard to improve our effectiveness in all aspects of our work, despite the difficulties the global pandemic has brought.  We have and continue to look outwardly beyond the world of education, to the rich experience of the very best businesses across the globe, particularly looking at how they approach growth and development. It is through this work and our changed approach that we identified the crucial importance of culture, happiness, trust and the need to focus heavily on our people.  

My own research has led me to become obsessed with organisational culture and how this can and will drive improvement and secure the very best for our staff and children. The focus on the outcome is not what will get the results. Instead we have to be asking ourselves,  What is the best way to achieve our outcomes? The answer for me lies in creating the right culture to support our people to be the best they can be. I am convinced that it is our culture in its broadest sense and the positive impact this has on our staff,  that will ensure our long term sustained success.  

This is the first in a series of blogs where I discuss my experience with culture development, what we have done to design and develop a stronger culture, and most importantly the impact this is beginning to have. In this first blog I hope to set the scene and provide evidence as to why culture including staff happiness and trust,  are essential to any organisations success.  

In order to demonstrate the importance of culture I think it is helpful to go straight to some real life examples of businesses and organisations where strong cultures have led to success. This is not to say that you cant be successful without a strong culture but I would argue it is not sustainable.  

If we look at the list of the largest companies with the best cultures, according to their employees. We find google sitting on the top of that list closely followed by Adobe, Samsung and Microsoft. Huge players in the world market. After seeing these giants at the top of this list it quickly becomes apparent that the biggest companies on the planet value the importance of their culture and want to be known as having great cultures. Not because it is nice to be nice but because there is a direct link between great culture and performance. Dan Pontefract in Forbes magazine identifies that,  if culture comes first, performance will follow.  

A longitudinal study of car dealerships across the United States found that those dealerships with a positive culture had higher rates of customer satisfaction and sales. Specifically, the organisations with an engaged culture showed that they achieved: 

  • 65% greater share-price increase 
  • 26% less employee turnover 
  • 100% more unsolicited employment applications  
  • 20% less absenteeism 
  • 15% greater employee productivity  
  • 30% greater customer satisfaction levels  

It is obvious to see the importance of culture when we look at these numbers. Companies with great cultures also don’t report that they cant get employee great people like many businesses do when they identify a war on talent. People are banging on the door to go and work there. As work takes up such a significant part of our lives it seems obvious that employees want to work in a place where they feel happy and respected. The question or suggestion could be that if you have the right culture the war on talent doesn’t exist and it is merely an excuse made by those who’s culture doesn’t attract the best people.  

Gary Ridge, MD of WD40 company believes culture to be essential to the success of his business. More specifically he identifies the importance of looking after the people. He said ‘I think on e of the biggest opportunities we have at the moment is to really get a message across to leaders that it is all about the people. If we can create environments where people go to work every day, they make a contribution to something bigger than themselves, they learn something new, they feel safe, and they go home happy.’ He goes on to say ’leaders have to understand that their role is create an environment where people like what they do because when they like what they do, they will do it better.’  Gary lives by the mantra identified by Aristotle who I said that ‘pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.’ 

Peter Drucker the legendary management consultant once said ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ This could easily be misconstrued, I believe that he isn’t saying strategy is not important but rather that a powerful and empowering culture is a more reliable way to organisational success. I think strategy and vision remain vital components of any organisation. It is essential to have clarity of where your are wanting to get to and what this will look like, without it you are rudderless. I would contest that what you want to achieve and what it looks like is the easy part. Working out how you are going to get there is where the real work begins.  This is where culture becomes the most important thing any business can focus on.  

My own experience as a school leader has shown me that focusing on the goal doesn’t bring about the results. Focusing on culture and staff development within this culture means that results take care of themselves. I agree fully with Ridge and Drucker in their assessments of the importance of culture. If we can look after our people by providing an environment where they are trusted, valued and supported then they will achieve the results we are looking for.  

At Excelsior we have worked hard to start the journey of cultural development. We are by no means there. Developing culture is a complex thing with a vast array of contextual factors to negotiate. However, I believe we are well on our way to creating the kind of cultures talked about above.  

Over the next few weeks I will be focusing on specific aspects of our journey. I will share resources and experiences of the process we went through in the hope that others can see the value in this work. I’m sure everyone wants a great culture, what has been revolutionary for us is that we have set about designing it. Culture is not something that happens by accident it has to be worked on. 

In the next blog I will focus on the tool we used to design the culture we wanted at our MAT but also at each school. The Culture Design Canvass.