I am a business leader who has traversed...
I recently invited global culture expert and author of Walking the Talk, Carolyn Taylor, to speak with some of our most senior leaders. Together they explored what makes Arup tick and how our culture underpins and drives the business. The conversations revealed that our leaders work hard to nurture the sense of ‘greater good’ at the heart of our culture. And it’s this I want to explore here.
What place can such an altruistic aim — to shape a better world — have, when Arup is competing against global engineering giants with far more financial muscle? But as David Macdonald pointed out, the lofty ideals Sir Ove Arup expressed in his 1970 Key Speech are alive and well in the firm today.
Working as ‘one Arup’ is an expectation placed upon everyone here, from board members to administrators. People work for the good of the team, the client’s project and the firm. This enables clients to access the very best specialist expertise, no matter where it may reside within Arup.
In fact, I think Arup has a set of rules for doing good business that I haven’t seen brought together in one company before. Distilling the insights from Carolyn’s interviews together with my own experience working for publicly listed companies, I came up with five rules.
1. Good works must be great
Near enough is not good enough. Encourage your people to go above and beyond the brief, even if this might be at the firm’s expense, when this is necessary to deliver a great result. This dedication typically wins enduring respect from clients, and helps command premium prices.
2. A little good can go a long way
Invest in community partnering programmes that offer your staff the opportunity to get involved in good works first hand. This helps break down hierarchical attitudes, fosters more diverse thinking and creates potentially life-changing moments.
3. Give people a good (values) map and let them navigate
Promote your organisation as a platform for people to discover the best use of their skills, rather than asking them to follow a detailed business strategy. After all, you never know where good ideas may come from.
4. Change can do us all good
Don’t stick with the way you’ve always done things. Create a safe, open environment with shared goals that encourages teams to experiment and find better ways to solve client problems and work together in teams.
5. Create a structure focused on the common good
Give everyone in the firm a stake in its success. Create one profit sharing arrangement based solely on the global performance of the firm, rather than individual or team-based results. It will frustrate some people and deter others from ever joining, but it will encourage those who belong to throw their heart and soul into delivering value for clients and each other.
I admit it’s a strange list, and one that I haven’t been able to find in any best-selling business books or consulting bibles. At Arup, our cultural values are supported by an unusual, employee-owned corporate structure. But it’s the continual debate about how to put the values into action that I believe sustains the cultural strength of the firm.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the link between culture and business success, and whether my rules of good business make sense.