Innocent, the distinctively non-corporate drinks company, has achieved international success by adopting a very different approach to business.
Here are ten tips showing the lessons that SME leaders can learn from Innocent’s unconventional way of working:
1. Create an authentic culture of trust and respect. Trust employees to behave responsibly and encourage them to be themselves at work. If people are treated well and they enjoy their work, they’ll be more engaged and more productive. These factors motivate employees to work harder.
2. Shape an informal, supportive and fun work environment. Be serious about your product but not serious about your workplace. Consider dropping the dress code and allowing people to wear what they like. Put the emphasis on making work fun. Believe in the power of personal relationships at work and strive to ensure that all employees know each other and have a good understanding of the business.
3. Know what your recruitment principles are and stick to them. Innocent look for people who are smart; who can deliver results, and live their values, and who are curious and keen to learn. Know what your own requirements of your people are and make sure they’re checked off every time you interview potential employees. Appoint driven individuals who are passionate about your brand.
4. Make new starters feel welcome. When you offer an applicant a job, send them a sample of your products or some information that will help to make them feel part of the team. Invite them to any forthcoming social events such as your Christmas party. On their first day, go further, perhaps by giving them a T-shirt, putting fresh flowers on their desk or baking them a cake – anything to make them feel extra special. Be excited that a new person has started. Encourage everyone to say hello. This creates a great first impression.
5. Motivate, engage and empower your employees to work with freedom and autonomy. Allow people to spend their first week getting to know their team, their job and how they fit into the organisation. In their second week, give them inductions with others teams in the business. Organise ‘lunch dates’ for them, with different people, so they feel at home and part of the culture.
6. Split teams up to avoid internal silos being created. Don’t sit everyone together in teams. Mix them up with others from across the business. This helps to create respect between peer groups and it gives everyone a much greater understanding of what’s going on in the organisation.
7. Provide supportive and empowering leadership. Encourage your leaders to understand and adopt their own distinct leadership style. Help them to understand the needs of different employees. Some may need to be checked on regularly, others may prefer to be left to their own devices. Some may want detailed direction, others may be happy with just a general brief. Where possible, leaders should empower employees and give them the autonomy and the encouragement to do the job in their own way.
8. Communicate openly. Use simple, down-to-earth techniques to communicate company and product information. Have regular one-to-one and team catch ups. Give people feedback so they know where they stand and what they need to work on. Even if there are tough messages, be open and honest with employees. This helps to get everyone pulling together.
9. Instigate a weekly employee update forum. Smaller businesses could get the whole company together every Monday morning for a 30-minute update meeting. Larger companies need to find a logistical equivalent. Use these forums to allow each team or department to give a one minute update on what they’ve achieved over the past week and what they’ve got coming up. Make it lively and enjoyable. This helps everyone to know what’s going on across the business.
10. Live your core values. You’ve got company values for a reason, but how many people know what they are? Be genuine and authentic in promoting and living your values. Stick to your ideals, believe in your brand.
The most compelling argument for following these tips is that these are the ingredients for success that transformed Innocent from a quirky but humble drinks business – with no financial backing and no sector experience – into a talent-rich and award-winning company with an internationally-acclaimed brand.
Innocent’s example challenges leaders and organisations to review the way they operate. How do you welcome people to your team? How do you develop and support people? What example do your leaders set? How do you make sure everyone knows what’s going on? Compare and contrast your own approaches to those adopted by Innocent.