In today’s business world, we are increasingly aware of the need to provide the best possible atmosphere to foster excellence. We call this getting the culture right.

These are simple words, yet very complex and challenging to achieve. Most of us become leaders because we get results. In learning to pass knowledge down, we climb through the ranks over time.

Suddenly one day you look around, and the place you helped grow has reached the sort of size where you can’t work with every individual as closely as you’d like. Yet still, you need to find ways to sum up the DNA that makes your company move forward positively – the culture, the purpose and your values.

People not numbers

Maybe I can share a few observations from my own experience, which have served to help us explain what it is that makes our culture tick – and how in time we’ve approached the task of growing a business. Over the past 18 years with PageGroup in Asia, I have seen our business grow from 40 to 1,400 people.

I have often shared with anyone who will listen that I don’t think we always do the best job of explaining to people what it is that’s special about working at PageGroup. In many ways, it’s intangible and hard to articulate.

We talk a lot about numbers. We rightfully have a good amount to be proud of in this department. In just over 40 years, we’ve grown to almost 8,000 employees all around the world. In doing so, we’ve helped to build an exponential number of businesses and careers along the way.

But our industry isn’t about numbers, it’s about people. That’s why our Board of Directors has clearly outlined our shared purpose within the company – which is essentially to change lives for people, through helping them reach their potential.

We’re happy to say that this is indeed the end-product of what collectively, our Board members have spent most of their careers doing. We’re rightfully proud of that.

Team talk

Our purpose still only speaks of an outcome. As leaders, how have we achieved this outcome, and created an environment within which it can happen? And in an industry where your team has unrivalled visibility of the job market, how do you encourage enough high-quality people to commit their careers to growing your business? Like any service-driven company, we succeed or fail with our people.

As a die-hard AFL fan from South Australia and proud President of the Singapore Sharks AFL Club, I often talk about the challenge of growing a business as being similar to growing a sports team.

You can bring all the skills you like into a team, but if there’s no spirit, no rules, and no clear sense of ethics or shared mission, all you’ll end up with is high-potential people playing for themselves.

It’s slightly unfortunate for a patriotic Aussie to admit, but one of the better expressions I’ve found recently of team culture comes from a New Zealander. While rugby union is not my first sport, I have to respect the All Blacks and their former captain Richie McCaw, who knows a thing or two when it came to leadership.

Asked about team culture, which he says is hugely important to your eventual success, McCaw nails a key aspect. “It’s all very well for people to do the right thing for the team when everyone’s watching – it’s whether every single one of you will do the right thing when no one is watching. And by the right thing, I mean not taking short-cuts, and putting the team first,” he notes. “No individual was higher than that. It was about the team.”

Hair for Hope

For us at Page, I feel we’ve grown our culture by growing our people. This of course starts with having patience: placing a new-entrant within a close-knit team, and with a mentor who watches their progress, coaches them through the steps – and takes them aside for a chat when they need it. Then once they hit their straps and get a win, we make a lot of positive noise about it, to help get them excited about what that win feels like. This becomes a win for Page, and for our clients and candidates.

There are other important parts to growing the person. One of them that is close to my heart is our support of childhood cancer causes through Hair For Hope and St Baldricks. Over the last 11 years, we have raised around US$300,000 across Hong Kong, China and Singapore - and I am so proud of that. As a father of three children, I can’t imagine a more important cause.

The point of this for me is two-fold. We want to raise money for an incredibly meaningful cause. And then in assembling a team of people, including myself, for a very public and widely filmed hair-shaving ceremony, we do something more. Our people grow. Those taking part and those in the room, get a more direct understanding of the impact of cancer on people. For a while, we’re literally marked by the experience – and for a few weeks, each encounter brings a discussion of why we’re doing it.

Commit and you will gain

Funnily enough, many who take part in Hair For Hope, or in community events in rest homes, house-painting squads, or book-reading events, will come back to it again. When I looked around the room in June as the razor made its first ominous sound, I saw again that many of those stepping in are those who’ve been moved by this before.

As we gathered like in-mates for the portrait, the sense of team spirit was quite defining. To me, growing your people and yourself starts with seeking a commitment to something bigger than just work. Then it’s about us honouring that commitment. I often look around the company at the end of each year and observe people not only improving the bottom line, but growing as individuals in doing so.

These are people who over time will walk into a meeting with a client, not only excited about placing the right people within the company – but eager to see the type of company that this injection of talent can create.

This passion for helping grow careers and companies is what keeps our leaders here, and our clients coming back. And the chance to invite commitment, and grow the individuals into drivers of business growth, brings a sense of pride and shared purpose that we all feel, but don’t always express as well as we could.

We are not perfect, but like any determined team, it’s this sense of building something bigger and committing to it, which I feel is the engine driving our positive team culture forward.

Anthony Thompson (pictured above) has taken part in PageGroup’s annual head-shaving CSR event for 11 years. To donate to this amazing cause, please visit this site.

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