Words by Caitlin Allwood

How many of us can say we have a ‘people first’ culture?

We recently held an event here in Birmingham where our guest speaker was the inspirational Paul Spencer, Director of Operations at Locke Hotel, he spoke about the importance of Building Culture and crucially where to start. Locke has created an enviable culture that can serve as a shining example to the rest of the hospitality industry. 

Paul made the point that businesses will pump thousands of pounds and deliberate for hours regarding their decor, design, brand, or furniture, fixtures and fittings but how many of them really invest and get a sign-off on their culture? It’s a fair point, many perhaps let this happen quite organically – we’ve all been guilty of this. But culture is the heartbeat of every business, it ties it all together, so if you aren’t getting this right then it stands to reason that this will be reflected in your staff retention, your guest experience, and of course, your sales and ultimately profits. Your culture is the sticky part of the experience that drives brand equality and loyalty. You can have the best-designed business but if your first interaction is with a disengaged team member, you’ve lost.

So, how do you decide on what you want the culture in your business to be like? First of all, ask yourself how you want your team to feel and write it down. You might want your team to feel engaged, motivated, focused, to work with integrity and honesty. These are all things you would want from your team, but do any of these really mean anything if the people in your business aren’t happy? Surely, what you really want is for everyone in your team to feel happy, safe secure and valued? That’s what’s going to really keep someone in a business over time.

When putting pen to paper and writing down what your Culture should be, dig deep. Your Culture should have depth and meaning. As Paul tells us, it’s vital your Culture has soul and it’s this that will deepen your purpose and will help your team feel invested. Your Culture should be succinct and easy to understand, think about where the business is going, what do you want for the future? Your vision for the Culture of your business can be ambitious and seem a way off, but it should be something you and your team is striving towards.

It’s a phrase that has maybe been done to excess, often without any meaning behind it, but “be kind” is at the core of Locke Hotel’s Culture; to be truly kind to one another and to give without expecting anything back. 

And here’s why. Most of us have worked for a tyrant at some point, and if we haven’t we’ve certainly heard of them or seen them represented on TV? Those that tell how they were “broken down and built back up” and that’s how they got to where they are today. What they experienced on the way up then trickles down, then it trickles down again breeding bad, deep-rooted culture. The fact so many people have left the industry and the sector is now in recruitment hell is surely a testament to the fact this tact simply does not work.

Too often in hospitality, there’s this idea that prestige is enough to keep people engaged, but this will not go far if the person in that role isn’t happy. It may attract someone to a role, but it doesn’t keep them there. When you’ve had a tough day at work, you maybe didn’t feel listened to or appreciated, it doesn’t make you feel any better about that situation knowing that the place you work at has a Michelin Star or is number one on Tripadvisor. It doesn’t compensate for the lack of respect you feel. You are a human.

When you’ve had a tough day at work, you maybe didn’t feel listened to or appreciated, it doesn’t make you feel any better… knowing that the place you work has a Michelin Star… You are human.

Being kind to your team will help them feel motivated, happy and relaxed which in turn means they’ll do their jobs better resulting in good staff retention, returning customers and improved profits. Putting your people at the heart of what you do, isn’t a waste of time or “fluff”, it should be your priority; what you discuss before sales or anything else. It’s not only the right thing to do but selfishly will make your business more profitable; look after your people and they’ll look after the pounds.

Considering where you want your culture to go is not a solo project, so don’t feel daunted by the prospect. Get your team involved, listen to them, put your ego aside and be ready to be corrected. Remember they really need to believe in this because ultimately they are your brand advocates.

But what about the people that don’t believe in it? It’s a reality that not everyone in your team will be on board from day one or will be willing to accept change. So, do you try your powers of persuasion? The brutal truth is, it’s probably not worth your time. The people on the periphery of your business who don’t live and breathe your company culture will eventually leave, and that’s okay because you are laser-focused on a different future. As long as most of your team believe in it and are living it, lean into them because they are going to be what helps push things forward.

Hiring when you have your culture nailed needs to be a slow and careful process. You want to create an environment where all your team is happy, living and breathing the culture but at the same time creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. We mentioned previously in our article ‘Creating Diverse and Inclusive Teams’, about avoiding risky hires at all costs, and this ties perfectly in with that. When hiring it’s up to you to strike a balance between skills and fit because nobody will thank you for employing someone who isn’t right. Avoid a risky hire – we’ve all made them, and they always cost.

But what if you aren’t a new business but feel your company culture needs to change? Paul stresses “don’t be embarrassed about your heritage”. Whatever you did before is what got you here now, and it’s okay if that needs to change – acknowledging this is a step in the right direction. It’s when leaders aren’t willing to accept change is possible that there’s a problem – we’ve all heard the phrase “it’s just the nature of the beast”, well we’re here to tell you it’s not. It might feel like a mammoth task; building culture in your business is no quick fix, but by putting your people first and really investing in them now you’ll start to see a positive impact on your business a month down the road.

  1. Dig deep when deciding on what you want your Culture to be
  2. Get your team involved, they need to believe in it
  3. Make sure your culture has soul, give it deep meaning
  4. Aim high, elements of your culture can be slightly out of reach
  5. Remember there’s no silver bullet, this will take time
  6. Accept not everyone will be on board
  7. Allow space for mistakes along the way
  8. Hire slow and carefully. Quality and stability equal good staff retention
  9. Live and breathe your culture every day, make sure it’s in everything you do
  10. Keep your culture succinct and easy to understand

So, when building in your team culture, consider what will really make a difference to someone’s happiness and well-being, focus on what will really make people happy and be considerate of your team’s social needs. It’s time to truly invest. 

T x

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