Setting high standards. Believing in what you do. Feeling part of a great team. These all come down to pride. People with pride work harder.
They forge better relationships with their customers and their positivity is catching. It’s a big predictor of employee engagement. And better engagement will unlock up to 40% more effort from every member of staff. Pretty essential if you’re looking to grow your business.
Pride is one of the building blocks of a successful culture. And for me, it starts with the individual. You have to feel it on a personal level, in the work that you do, before you can feel it collectively. I get enormous satisfaction from helping others achieve. That’s what drives me. I’m proud of the impact I’ve had on the companies I’ve coached. It’s that sense of working together to achieve great things that has always been important to me throughout my career.
It’s what I strived for in the companies that I built. At Rackspace, IT Lab and Peer 1, I wanted everyone to have a feeling of teamwork, personal accountability and looking out for others. I wanted them to feel proud of our company. And the great news? It’s not hard to do. Here are some ways you can unlock pride in your business.
You can’t have pride without purpose – the two are inextricably linked. What you’re aiming for here is for your staff to feel a warm sense of satisfaction that comes from achieving something. And that something needs to be meaningful.
To lead others, you need to give them reasons to follow you. Their sense of belonging will come from feeling good about what they do and how they do it. You could almost call it pride of purpose. Employees who love what they do will show their support in words, and most especially, actions. They’ll do whatever’s necessary to get the job done and done right. That’s what you’re looking for.
Too few companies have a clear idea of why they do what they do. Spend time working this out. It should be the cornerstone of your business.
A familiar trope – it all starts at the top! As CEO, you need to get why pride matters. So does your executive team. If you can’t get your head around this, you’re missing a massive trick. Even if you do think it’s lame, suspend your disbelief. You can be deliberate about encouraging pride. Find some people on your team who can take this forward and run with it.
Maybe start by tidying up the office. Tidy office, tidy mind. I’ve been to some pretty awful workspaces over the years. One of the first things I did as the new MD of IT Lab was ask for volunteers to come in over a weekend and tidy up (I was one of them). You can make this a fun experience – get in beers or pizza. Make it an event. You can’t expect any of your staff to feel proud of your company if they’re working in a sh*thole!
I once read about a hotel chain, Marriott I think it was, who decided they weren’t going to split front and back of house roles. They used Gallup’s CliftonStrengths® tool (one of the best in my opinion) to get a clear profile of their best cleaners. People who folded swans out of towels or arranged teddies on pillows for guests. It was obvious these people felt part of the customer experience rather than just doing cleaning chores to a minimum standard. Once Marriott had this profile, they recruited more people with the same strengths. They knew these new hires would have the right sense of pride in their work. And they’d be perfect for a combined role of welcoming guests and cleaning their rooms.
In the same way, you need to look for people who are naturally proud of what they do. You can easily structure interview questions to probe into this characteristic. Ask questions like, ‘Tell me about a time when you achieved something? How did it make you feel?’ In the past, I’ve hired people who’ve worked in a bar or waitressing jobs for customer support roles. They had to have enough technical experience but more important was the knowledge that they thrived in environments where they gave a good service. They liked human beings! As Horst Shultz, founder of Ritz Carlton, said when I interviewed him recently, you need to hire people who care about the things that are important to your customers. And take pride in doing them well.
I believe pride starts at a personal level – you can’t have collective pride if people aren’t proud of themselves. This is about pride in your own, individual work. Maybe you feel a sense of satisfaction when your work is error-free or you’ve hit a personal goal. There’s an endorphin hit when a colleague says well done or thank you.
Something leaders can do to encourage individual pride is set clear expectations. This is one of my big bugbears. How can anyone have a sense of achievement if there’s nothing to aim for? The best way to do this is individual metrics or KPIs. I’ve written in the past about how to find these – they’re vital for productivity and motivation. Spend time getting this right and it will pay you back in spades. And your staff will be proud of what they’re achieving.
Personal pride extends to your own standards – the way you dress, the environment you live in, everything. You should expect all your staff to be well turned out. If they’re not, it’s telling you something. Shoes are a big give away. In my view, they should be polished and gleaming. I learned so much from my first sales roles at Glaxo. Their expectations were high, even down to the regularity of cleaning the company car. No Glaxo rep should ever turn up at a doctor’s surgery in a muddy vehicle!
There are quick and easy ways to encourage pride in teams. At Rackspace, we had SWAG. And not just any old SWAG. It was top dollar. First, there were the polo-shirts. Red, high quality and embroidered with our company purpose ‘Fanatical Support’. They were the kind of shirts that got better the more you washed them. All new hires were given them when they arrived and the office was a sea of red. Because they wore well, people really seemed to value them.
Then came the backpacks that were given to all British staff. Again, they weren’t cheap. In fact, they became pretty sought after. Whenever someone returned to the American office after a tour of duty in Britain, they took one of these back. I heard they sparked envy from their American peers! Big events were always linked to SWAG. At Peer 1, we had an office wall full of framed citations that told the story of monumental efforts to achieve something big. The names of staff involved were listed and we created badges of honour that were given to them to sew on their backpacks.
Another great little trick was awarding gold stars for every year of service. Staff put them on their handsets so you could tell at a glance who’d been with us the longest. And wherever I’ve worked, we’ve called ourselves something. At Rackspace, we were ‘Rackers’. IT Lab – ‘Labbers’. Peer 1 – ‘Peers’. These names were deliberate, giving everyone a tribal sense of identity and collective team pride.
Praise and encouragement are two important ways of instilling pride. So, it follows that the best teams are managed by people who do this well. How do you work this out? Why not try an awards scheme as we did at Peer 1? All employees were given an equal quota of points that could be exchanged for SWAG. They were told to give these as a thank you to people outside their teams. So illuminating! Some teams ended up with most of the points whilst others had none. It gave me valuable data on the managers who’d successfully built a positive, engaged culture.
Always remember that your staff’s experience of work will be viewed through the lens of their team and manager. Successful managers know the importance of keeping their people positive and engaged, going to great lengths to ensure morale and happiness levels are high.
Way back, I listened to a talk given by the Head of Service at TNT. So much of what he said resonated. A survey had revealed that their teams rated their own performance as 9 out of 10. But they rated the performance of other teams as 7 out of 10. This was the gap that was killing the customer experience. It’s this ‘silo’ mentality that you want to avoid at all costs as it’s a barrier to a collective sense of pride.
My solution? Multi-disciplinary pods. Always. This is a fundamental step that will allow you to scale your company whilst maintaining the agility and feel of a small business. Instead of pride in an individual function, the multi-disciplinary team will have pride in serving their customer cohort.
At Rackspace, each team had a Level 3 Windows or Linux engineer depending on the customers’ operating systems, meaning customers had expert support whenever they needed it. Also in the team was a dedicated Account Manager alongside ops and salespeople. So everyone knew everything that was going on with their customer. They took each other’s phone calls and the whole thing hummed like a well-drilled crew on a racing yacht.
People have long gained satisfaction from shared customs and a sense of tradition. This sense of belonging to something bigger – a common identity – is really important to personal happiness. It’s something that can be harnessed in business as well as in every-day life.
One of my clients, Macquarie Telecom, are masters of ritual. Their relentless focus on Net Promoter Score® has led to their ‘League of Legends’ – a seriously big deal in their company. If an employee gets 10 scores of 10 in a row from their NPS customer surveys, they appear on a massive leaderboard screen. The winner of the board also gets a $200 gift card. And if they appear 10 times on this screen during the year, they’re inducted into the ‘League of Legends’ by the CEO as part of a glitzy ceremony. The whole thing is imbued with pride and aspiration. And it results in Macquarie having world-class NPS scores and massively low customer churn. This stuff works!
Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at some of the things I’m suggesting? That’s not unusual. I’m ashamed to say I used to be the biggest cynic. At Glaxo, my team was called ‘Ken’s Kamikazes’ after our ebullient and infuriatingly positive manager. I remember at my first meeting, there was a swear box. I looked Ken in the eye and asked if he did direct debit – what an arse! I’m surprised he didn’t kick me out on the spot.
At first, I hated the terrible shellsuits Ken made us wear and his insistence on starting every meeting with a piece of good news. But you know what? After a while, it started to dawn on me. This stuff mattered because it built trust, understanding and pride. I wish he knew how much I learned from being in his team.
Now, when I see that cynical attitude in people it makes me want to punch them! If you are dealing with negativity like this, you have to confront it because it’s toxic. And it spreads.
Dominic has spent 14 years working in sales, marketing and business management within the IT sector. He has held executive positions at Peer 1 Hosting, IT Lab and Rackspace. At Peer 1 he built the UK business to £30m run rate in 5 years. He won many awards for creating a great place to work. At Rackspace Dominic built the UK company from four to 150 staff, and increased annual revenues from £595,000 to £25 million in just four years. Under his management, Rackspace was recognised as one of the most outstanding workplaces in Europe, and won several service awards for its Fanatical Support TM. Dominic has a BSc in Agricultural and Food Marketing from Newcastle and a MBA from Sheffield Business School. Dominic is also a regular public speaker on creating great places to work and achieving continuous client satisfaction and an assessor on the Sunday Times Customer Experience Awards.