Company culture that delivers results

By Andy Smart
Posted on 25 March 2019

Developing and fostering a great company culture has always been a central goal for Softwire. This is partly because all of us want to work somewhere we feel motivated and empowered to grow into the best people we can be. It also makes good commercial sense. Happy employees are more productive, as research has shown. And this means our customers are more likely to be satisfied, and therefore more likely to return for repeat business and/or recommend us to others.

 How to attract the best talent and fuel profitable growth

The newly published 2019 Sunday Times Best Small Companies To Work For ranking has us among the top 25 for the ninth year running, and we’re now the highest-placed software developer. We were also recently shortlisted for ‘Best tech place to work’ at the 2019 National Technology Awards.  Things like these are perhaps why we often get asked the secret of creating a culture that attracts and retains the best tech talent and enables us to deliver consistent, profitable growth.  There’s no silver bullet, and admittedly we don’t get things right all of the time, but the key, we believe, lies in our relentless focus on three pillars:

  • Maximise employee happiness
  • Maximise customer happiness
  • Share our commercial success

While these may not sound particularly earth-shattering, the key is to strike a balance between all three. It would be easy, for example, to say you’re going to maximise employee happiness purely by maximising profits and then sharing a percentage among staff. But this in isolation could lead to a culture where everything is about the bottom line, and has people working long hours on uninspiring projects. Your workforce may end up financially richer, but they probably won’t be happier.

Equally, too much focus on employee happiness at the expense of customer happiness could result in lower profits, which would mean there’s no commercial success to share (or even keep the business afloat).

Balancing the three values

So how do we strike the right balance between all three pillars at Softwire?

The starting point is to ensure as many initiatives as possible are driven by employees, rather than management.For example, we regularly ask staff for their thoughts on the sorts of customer projects the company should be bidding for. By knowing what our people want to be doing, we can ensure we are, as far as possible, providing work that’s challenging, rewarding and makes them enthusiastic about coming in every day.

Our perks programme, rather than being run by HR, is overseen by elected ‘morale officers’, who are allocated a budget to spend on company benefits. Employees are invited to put forward ideas. Ditto our corporate social responsibility work, which is structured to enable employees to directly support causes close to their hearts, both through individual and company-wide initiatives.

Elsewhere, we support employees’ own projects, even if they’re not work-related. A team of Softwire people used one of our meeting rooms to set up an escape room game for their friends, family and colleagues to pit their wits against. Another team wrote, rehearsed and performed a pantomime for the company at Christmas.

And there are lots of other things we do besides: faith holidays (where employees who don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter can work those days and take holiday to coincide with other festivals), an expense policy that allows anyone in the company to self-authorise up to a certain limit (to empower people to give themselves the tools and environment they need to do their best work) and our management team’s inherent desire to listen to employee wishes (our MD has regular drop-in hours for people to make suggestions or raise concerns).

All of these things combine, we hope, to create a workforce that’s happy, loyal, enthused by the projects we’re delivering and inspired by the range of technologies they’re working with. And this means our people are more likely to do their best work, which, of course, increases the probability that our customers will be happy.

Ensuring customer happiness

A happy workforce is just part of the picture, of course, when it comes to ensuring customer happiness. Other things we do include taking a pragmatic, open and honest approach when working with our clients. If what they ask for isn’t the best way to solve their business challenges, we’ll show them better alternatives. If a project is going to take longer than expected, we’ll be upfront about it. And if the project scope needs to evolve once we’re in-flight, we’ll always look at ways to accommodate this. In short, we focus on business outcomes and are always completely transparent.

In the same way the Sunday Times ranking enables us to measure our employees’ happiness, we also like to quantify customer happiness. Our rating of 4.7 out of 5 on company review site Clutch.co, high rate of repeat business (80%) and our customers’ willingness to provide public testimonials (see what David Lloyd Clubs, the Fleming Fund and the Open Data Institute had to say) are three indications that our efforts in this regard are paying dividends.

Sharing our commercial success

Happy customers help deliver commercial success for our business. And sharing this with our employees – in a number of ways – has always been one of our cornerstones.

First and foremost, a significant proportion of our profits are shared among all employees, meaning everyone benefits when the company is successful. Commercial success also enables us to fund an annual company holiday for all employees and their partners. It means we can invest in celebrating achievements through our marketing and public relations activities. And it’s enabling us to expand the business into new regions, giving our people opportunities to relocate or work in new roles.

This sharing of commercial success helps create a virtuous circle, by feeding back to make for a happier, more engaged and consequently more productive workforce.

In summary…

We hope this has given some insights into the way we try to foster a great culture, why we do it, and how it helps drive the commercial success that’s essential to any business. So remember: everyone needs to buy into your ethos. Listen to your employees, make sure both they and your customers are happy, and share the commercial success that results. And if an initiative doesn’t have the desired effect, don’t be afraid to hold your hands up, admit it didn’t work and try something else.