Tom Lawson, CEO at Opencast, the leading IT consultancy
Following a year of unprecedented change and upheaval in 2020, it’s important that businesses take a moment to reflect on how they can ensure they meet their business goals in 2021. Whether it’s seeking to grow your business this year, or pivoting your businesses focus to fit the ‘new world,’ it’s important to ensure that all aspects of the business are aligned to offer the best chance of reaching your goals.
All too often, company culture is the last thing to be considered when it comes to business growth. However, for us, maintaining and developing our culture is a central, non-negotiable part of our growth plans. This focus enables us to maintain and enhance our employee wellbeing on our path to growth.
Therefore, as we embark on 2021, here are three aspects that management teams should consider when it comes to aligning your business goals and team culture.
- Structure and train your team to reinforce the company’s vision
Company culture is the bedrock on which a business is built. An effective organisational culture is central to making intelligent business decisions, improving productivity, and boosting employee wellbeing. It is also what attracts or repels top employees and clients.
Therefore, as your business grows or business objectives change, it’s important to change your team or business structure to fit this. For example, Opencast increased its headcount by 50% in 2020 to 120 team members, despite the economic downfall triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to do this, and meet our clients demands, we needed to think about how we could structure the business in line with this.
Our approach and structure to delivering optimum results and growth for our business has been designed to keep in balance:
- our purpose, values and culture
- the expansion and development of our team
- the development and delivery of interesting and challenging work for our people
These areas are all reflected in the leadership the members of our senior leadership team provide.
Additionally, should you need to refocus a team’s priorities or job role slightly, it’s vital that businesses invest in the necessary training to allow them to do this effectively. More often than not business leaders can overlook training for existing staff and instead focus the training budget on new recruits. However, to maintain staff engagement, it’s important to invest in development and ensure that staff are continually able to enhance existing skills whilst learning new ones.
- Recruit for culture and capability with equal weighting
The concept of a ‘T-shaped employee’ has become increasingly popular among recruitment professionals over recent years and in the field of agile software delivery. It broadly refers to an individual who adopts an interdisciplinary approach in the workplace. A T-shaped employee, unlike a specialist or generalist, will combine a deep knowledge of one area with a broader skillset, meaning that they are not limited in what projects they can contribute to.
By hiring a T-shaped employee, businesses are more likely to be able to prevent skills gaps, due to their cross-functional approach and adaptable knowledge being beneficial in almost all areas of a business. In a recent global survey by McKinsey & Company, 87% of respondents acknowledged a current skills gap in their company, or predicted one in the next five years.
However, it’s important to think about how an employee fits into the company culture, both now, and in the one you are trying to create. Skills are easy to learn, but personality traits are harder to change.
The Opencast recruitment process focuses on two areas: culture fit and capability fit. For example, when hiring developers, applicants complete a pair programming exercise in an unfamiliar language, so that the senior team can examine if each individual has applied a logical thought process. We also consider how the candidate interacts with the team and if they show the key attributes we are looking for. To be successful, a candidate must show promise in both areas.
This demonstrates why a strong sense of culture is important in identifying and hiring the right recruits, that will both fit in and support the business to achieve its goals.
- Values of empowerment, teamwork and a focus on doing the right thing provide flexibility as events impact your company
If 2020 taught businesses anything, it’s that we can’t plan for every eventuality and life is unpredictable. One aspect that couldn’t have been predicted is the mass overnight adoption of remote working due to government-imposed restrictions on movement in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. In the rush to get teams set up to work remotely safely, many businesses didn’t consider the impact that the long-term shift to remote working would have on company culture.
Now, however, as we start the year under various restrictions, it’s important to consider how you can still maintain company culture when working remotely. For us, our values have helped us during this period. The empowerment we give our people has enabled them to make sensible decisions about their working lives and environments, and the focus we put on supporting each other as a team meant that the challenges of the last 12 months were tackled together. In addition, by always thinking about doing the right thing for our clients and our teams, we were able to deliver on what was important.
Our teams’ flexibility allowed them to respond to the changing priorities of clients – including the Government, who have undergone huge, unexpected changes in priority this year – adapting their work and advice accordingly and without hesitation.
Whilst business plans may be in place for 2021, it’s also important to take an agile approach to these. 2020 may have been more unpredictable than any other year on record, but that’s not to say that 2021 will be any different. Regardless, it is clear that a purposeful company culture that values flexibility and innovation will be required by businesses to survive in whatever social, political, or economic conditions are produced.