Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Recently, I was privileged to interview Andy Green for Phenomenal People’s Conversations with Leaders. Andy is one of the Veterinary Directors of Pennard Practice, a six centre, independent animal practice, based in Kent.

It was an inspiring conversation, as Andy shared how the company has successfully navigated the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. I was curious to know how he and his fellow directors were able to ensure the company continued to thrive in such challenging circumstances.

Andy admitted that some of it had been a lucky break. They had recently updated their IT system, allowing them to offer remote consultations, which put them ahead of the curve when other practices were trying to support their customers via phone and email. Great systems certainly help but this wasn’t the major factor in their resilience, which became apparent the more we talked.

Very early in their business expansion the directors made a decision that has been the foundation of their success: they made the well-being and development of their teams a top priority.

Going into the crisis the directors made it clear that they wouldn’t be making any of the team redundant. They regard their employees as family and have a number of long serving team members who have been at the centres for decades.

As the pandemic continued, the directors kept the team informed throughout the rapid changes that they had to face. Transparency was preeminent; Andy and his colleagues explained their decisions around furloughing some team members and what that would mean for the centres as a whole. Because a strong foundation of trust was in place the team not only complied but actively supported the directors and their fellow team members, instead of going into panic or anxiety about their personal situations. They’d always been taken care of and they knew could trust the directors when they said that commitment would continue.

The directors have consistently invested in the development of the teams, not only supporting them to upskill in their their technical and clinical capacities but also providing personal development programmes. Andy is committed to his own personal development and has ensured the teams have the opportunity to progress and grow, too. It’s important to him that the team are aware of their own potential, so he has become certified in the cutting edge behavioural profiling systems, Talent Dynamics and Contribution Compass, so that he can support them most effectively, as individuals and as a unit.

Obviously, the benefits of having a happy, congruent, fulfilled team are felt by their clients in the quality of their customer experience, which goes towards creating a loyal client base. Pennard Practice has a clear set of company values, which are more than just an academic exercise, they are the standards that the directors and teams believe in and adhere to on a daily basis.

These values adorn the walls in the centres’ back offices, so that everyone is constantly reminded of the ideals the company upholds. This long term, consistent investment in their people and culture has certainly paid off in the current climate.

Pennard Practice are a great example of why it’s crucial to invest in your company culture, from day one. When we first start a business, our focus is usually on providing a great product or service and making some money – which is, of course, the main priority. It’s important, though, even at that early stage, to harness the vision and passion that caused us to take the leap in the first place.

Your leap might have been caused by a desire to get out of the corporate rat race, be your own boss, or create a better lifestyle. Regardless of what motivated your decision, it is worthwhile considering the values you want to underpin your culture and what kind of people you want to work with, as you upscale. This will save you some frustration, heartache and, potentially, money, when you reach the recruitment stage. If you’ve employed people on the basis of their academic prowess, or their sales ability but they don’t share your values, it will probably cause problems at a later date.

While we might not have the budget to invest in people development, initially, it’s important in the early stages that we take time to sit down with our team, revisit the vision for the company and brainstorm about the company culture you want to develop.

If you’ve recruited people with the same focus and values, this can be an engaging, stimulating experience and cement a foundation of trust on which to build. People will be much more committed to the company culture they have co-created – and it will yield long term benefits, as Pennard demonstrates.

Of course, it’s easier to lay a strong foundation in the first place, rather than trying to change the foundation once your business is established. People can be very resistant to change, even if, supposedly, it’s for improvement. That’s one of the reasons why 70% of transformational change programmes fail. Much better to get it right in the first place.

As Peter Drucker one famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, operational expertise for lunch and everything and everything else for dinner.” Wise words that are worth remembering.

How healthy is your company culture?

Felicity LerougeAbout the author

Felicity Lerouge is a Leadership Development Consultant, specialising in communication, company culture, team development and productive conflict. Since she founded her company, Phenomenal People Ltd, in 2010, she has supported her clients through consultancy, programme design, facilitation and executive coaching. She has worked with clients such as corporate giant BA as well as start-ups, SMEs and not for profit organisations.

She is known for her insightful, engaging style, which inspires leaders to reconnect with their passion for their roles, fine tune their skill sets and empower their teams.

Her leadership insights come from a melange of unconventional environments, where collaborative, self-leadership is more effective than bureaucratic models. She understands what makes teams thrive in rapidly changing environments.

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