By David Rajakovich
Richard Branson once said that there is no magic formula for great company culture, but that the key is to treat your staff how you would like to be treated. It seems like such a simple thing to say, and you certainly don’t need Branson’s experience to reach this conclusion, but far too many business leaders are still overlooking the importance of company culture and it’s costing them dearly.
Over the course of my career as an entrepreneur, I have served as Founder, VPO, Managing Director and CEO. I have learned many things during this time, and over the last two decades, it has become increasingly apparent that a poor company culture can be the death knell for a business. Sadly, many business leaders neglect to acknowledge this fact, operating with a clear hierarchy and poor dissemination of information. Often, CEOs will address company issues or KPIs individually, believing that this will improve the company collectively. The reality, however, is that this is rarely the case.
When I worked in senior management at Skill Dynamics, we regularly held meetings where our objective was to discuss a number of metrics that we needed to improve. To achieve this, we would brainstorm feasible cross-functional solutions, discussing the best possible options to reach the desired conclusion. This proved hugely effective for the business because when your collective goal is the continued success of your company, concentrating on growth and development is key.
When it comes to growth and development of a business, the entire company needs to be involved in the conversation. This is something that concerns every single person in an organisation, and no one in a company – no matter what position they hold – wants to fail or to see that their efforts were in vain. In a business, knowledge is a valuable resource that needs to be shared, and company culture has an important part to play.
There is also a lot to be said for approaching your role and your team with enthusiasm. I have always been a believer in the importance of approaching every situation with high energy and with the mindset of building a high-trust culture. In business, encouraging and challenging each other is a positive norm, not an exercise at undermining or belittling. This was my approach at Skill Dynamics and I succeeded in bringing our Employee Net Promoter Score first above 40, and then above 50, all while we were still transforming our senior management team.
Culture truly drives the performance of a company and yet, for some investors, their eyes glaze over at the mere mention of company culture initiatives. The reality, however, is that if culture initiatives are to yield positive results and improve the working environment for everyone, then it must come from the top. I have always believed that the CEO or Founder is responsible for cultivating strong team relationships and I have a particular dislike for the blame game. For the most part, everyone takes what they think to be the best course of action at the time, and often this is indicative of the need for a skills gap assessment and potentially a team restructuring. There is a huge difference between calling out an individual’s performance and using it as an excuse to undermine their abilities.
When it comes to ‘fixing’ issues within a company, a common universal error is a belief that parties outside of the company are somehow more competent than those on the inside. It should be remembered that simply giving someone the title of consultant doesn’t mean that they are an expert in your business. It all comes back to fostering a relationship of trust between team members and encouraging upskilling. Getting the culture dynamics right is about putting egos aside and placing the team at the core of the business. It truly is not about perks, office set-ups or bold proclamations, but rather about how you treat your team, day in, day out.
Another common mistake is hiring someone because they are fun to hang out with or are a great socialiser in a group setting. Some of the worst hires I have made, and the ones who had the most damaging effects on company culture, were people who were ultra-charismatic in their interviews. Of course, this can’t be taken as a blanket statement, but some of the best hires I have made over the last two decades were people who tended to be slightly more reserved – smart individuals, who were experts in their fields.
To build the most successful teams, it is important to have a clear vision of where everyone slots in and where they can work to the absolute best of their abilities. Problem-solving is a key criterion when it comes to hiring. In fact, one of the greatest hires I ever made, working in a senior position, did not have a university degree, but he was an accomplished problem solver. Sometimes it’s not about what they have on paper, but about what they can really bring to the business or organisation.
As a business leader, if you want to instil a content, productive cultural company policy, you need to understand your own limitations and work to surpass expectations as simply and efficiently as possible. Internally, building and fostering a company culture that makes people want to get up and come to work in the morning is key to this success. When it comes to clients, the cultural emphasis must be on getting to the root of their problem and solving it as simply as possible. When everyone has that shared understanding, comradery develops and success follows.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, business leaders must give their teams a sense of purpose beyond just making money. Financial stability is vital, of course, but I have found over the course of my career that we all need to strive for something more. Personally, my goal has always been to improve the lives of others, and I relish the opportunity to help people realise and achieve their career aspirations. Thriving in your career plays a crucial role in personal development and it is both encouraging and fulfilling to play a small part in an individual’s journey towards building a happy and successful life.
About David Rajakovich
US born thought leader David Rajakovich grew up in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Throughout his youth he was driven to succeed becoming accomplished in both sports and academia. He attended the prestigious La Salle University, graduating with a Degree in Economics, International Studies and Spanish. Seeking to gain more hands-on experience, he changed direction and joined the US Army as an Air Defence Officer, amassing a wealth of leadership and interpersonal skills. It was during his time there that he built his mental and physical resilience. Over the years, David has worked in top positions across several technology, e-learning and procurement companies. Familiar to the C-Suite, he has experience as Founder, VPO, Managing Director and CEO. At Skill Dynamics, David became a hugely positive disruptor in the world of e-learning, developing innovative new ways to transform higher education in business. Looking to the future, he plans to commit to a start-up or early-stage company and, through hard work and investment, take it to unicorn status.