At Clarasys, we pride ourselves on our great culture. It’s important to us both internally and externally: what we’re like to work with is a key reason our clients keep coming back to us and it’s one of our USPs in the employee marketplace. Our people say our culture is one of their favourite things about working here. In fact, we recently came 3rd in The Sunday Times Top 100 Best Small Companies awards and in our recent employee engagement survey, 94% of our people were either satisfied or very satisfied working here!
So of course, the most common question we get asked during our recruitment process is ‘how will you retain Clarasys’ unique culture as you grow?’. The thing is though, we already are maintaining our culture as we grow. We’re eight years old now, and we’ve gone from four people in our CEO’s living room to 105 people in our fifth office. And our culture is still something we pride ourselves on. So the question is: how have we and how will we maintain it?
In many ways, I wish there was a single answer to that question. However, “culture” isn’t something that can be articulated in a single sentence. Our culture is embedded in every interaction, every structure and every decision that make up our day to day. It’s everything from the way our people speak to each other to the decisions we’re making about the future of our management team. Over the years we’ve changed some things and kept others the same, with all decisions underpinned by some key principles.
Take our passion for helping our people grow and develop. A huge part of this is our belief in coaching. We have always believed that in order to both grow and perform, people need to meet with a coach every week. In the midst of the normal week, there should be time carved out for our people to focus on themselves, reflect and get support. Over eight years, every one of our employees, from our new graduates through to our management team, has received a weekly coaching session. This is something that we will protect as we get bigger.
However, about four years in, we found our annual appraisal cycle was hindering our people’s growth. People would wait until their appraisal to focus on growth and development. So we changed to six-weekly check-ins and quarterly reviews to make sure everyone is better supported. We have found this drives better behaviours in our people. Our passion for looking after our people remained the same but our approach changed as the business matured.
We also value people for their skills, behaviours and attitudes not their hierarchical position. This has been a key principle for us since we started out. For our first four years, we didn’t have ‘levels’ for our consultants internally. As we grew, we realised our people needed to feel they were progressing. We introduced levels of seniority with as few hierarchical implications as possible: we de-linked level and pay, promotions can happen once a quarter and internal roles are not constrained so you can take them regardless of level. We have a peer reward scheme where anyone can reward anyone, and have recently introduced peer interviewing because everyone’s view is valid in determining whether someone is right to join us.
We’ve always wanted people in our business to feel and act like they are owners of the business. From the outset, this meant everyone is involved in building the company they want it to be in the future. As we’ve grown, we have increasingly spread responsibility through the organisation. Managing accounts, defining capabilities or building internal functions aren’t done by a ‘management team’ – they are done by people in our business for people in our business. And at the end of 2018, we became majority employee owned so our people now truly are the owners of our business.
So my answer is this: really, the way we have built and will maintain our culture is through a sustained and relentless focus on how we build and maintain our culture. There is no silver bullet or shortcut that will ensure Clarasys is a great place to work. And right now we’re going through an interesting time; as we near 120 employees, we’re just at the point where everyone can’t know everyone. What I do know, however, is that we will keep caring about our culture, keep focusing on it and keep employing people who want to build and maintain a business that truly cares about its people. Whilst the specifics of our business may change and grow, the ethos hasn’t and won’t.