Returning to the office requires a re-inventing and re-igniting of company culture

Culture in a company born during the pandemic requires shifting gears to build a truly people-led business.

Zoom Fibre, a multi-million rand South African company born 18 months ago in October 2020, is predominantly led by millennials, with the average age of employees being 26. When we started the company, we were five employees; we are now well on our way to 70 people with a goal of being 100-strong by the end of the year – with a zero percent natural attrition rate to date.

One of the key founding principles of the business was to be people-led. It’s one thing to say this, but it is another to truly mean and embody it. Truly understanding what this means, and how best this culture is implemented, has required us to invest in a People strategy that includes the business’s people. Let me explain.

You hear many organisations say they are people-led, but when the people leading do not create a culture of inclusivity among the rest of the people, then there are just people leading other people. One of the key strategies we have deployed in the business is a two-way communications approach with our people. By doing this we develop an understanding of the nuances that drive each individual person in the business, and this helps to build the collective people-led approach.

There are 10 foundational building blocks underpinning our people strategy and they are proving to deliver real impact.

People to Person
Understanding the individual moves your strategy from “people” to “person”. Do this by working hard to understand what makes the person you are engaging with “tick”, from their hobbies, to passions and purpose.

Pulling instead of pushing forward
Encourage people to take the business into their own hands. Businesses often say, “Treat the business like your own, and you will be rewarded.” This approach is often found to be pushing the individual in the direction the business desires. However, instead of pushing, this principle requires bringing the person into the business decision-making process, which builds a culture where the people pull the business forward.

Culture-first approach
As a business, we ask ourselves constantly: “Why should the employee choose us?” And so, when we hire, we ask the candidate why they would choose us and what would motivate them to become part of the business. Then, once we have hired a new person, we work with them on setting goals aligned to their passions, and this authentically makes them feel that they are building the culture with us – because they are! The company culture should be about what the people want, not what the business thinks it needs the culture to be.

Inclusive + personalised = engaged
This formula allows our incentive programmes to deliver personalised rewards that truly meet the motivational needs of the individual person, intrinsically motivating staff further. For example, one of our employees is an avid gamer. Knowing this nuance when the employee was incentivised, we rewarded him with a state-of-the-art gaming chair for his home. The employee feels valued – because he is – and is appreciated in the business for his individuality. He continues to perform and has a vested interest not only in his continued success, but the ongoing success of his team.

Ensuring employees see their input realised
Smaller businesses are by their very nature more agile and can act and move faster, with more inclusivity. As far as possible, we try to include our staff in decisions that they can physically see. This can take many shapes, such as getting them to help choose the font for a new corporate identity, marketing designs and even the car wrap design for the business’s fleet.

This may sound trivial, but if you are asking them to treat the business like their own, then you should give them the opportunity to participate in the decisions that drive the business forward.

Data-led people insights
Because we are generally highly engaged with our employees, our response rate on surveys internally is generally high, at an average rate of 80 percent participation, with 100 percent of participants indicating that they are proud to work for the company. Not many organisations can say this, but it stems from keeping your finger on the pulse of the data coming in on the engagement tools within the business, and this allows you to change and shift the strategy to meet the needs of the people.

Avoiding dilution and cultural distraction
Culture will develop and dilute over time. You can manage this by listening to the people. Even as a small business that is growing, you must empower teams, leaders and staff constantly to carry forward the culture they want to build.

Leader-ship can’t sail alone
We pride ourselves in having an open-door policy in the business. With offices and employees spread across the country it is important that each person is empowered to make decisions, consult the leaders of the business where needed and lead their teams as required. This is, of course, underpinned by the requisite skills development. This is a given: less talk, more action on the values of the business.

Agility to action quickly
Be agile, evolve with guidance formed from the opinions of employees. Listen to really understand, and don’t just react. Encourage employees to be creative across the entire business and then take this creativity seriously as the team starts contributing towards building the business everyone wants to be a part of.

Retention and attraction
We believe that if you treat your employees with the respect and value they deserve, they, in turn, will spread the word about the business. In our case this is spreading the word about the “Zoomer Way”. Employees are often said to be a business’s most important asset – once you attract them there must be strategies in place to retain them, and then they’ll help you attract the next talent.

Each business is different, but I do believe as we move back to our offices, there will be a need to re-engage employees beyond just “Wellness Wednesday” programmes, and such initiatives. This re-engagement needs to be deep, meaningful, and authentic.

As an HR or CHRO in your own business, you have the tools to see what the employee sentiment is. Beyond this, you can deliver more for the workforce, which ultimately will impact the bottom line. Beyond that, in a climate where skills shortages make hiring difficult, working towards a zero percent natural attrition rate is a strategic business imperative.