There may be excitement and engagement early on in a venture’s life, but how’s does a company vision and its values become engrained and future-proofed? Be the Business found out.
Gush Mundae, co-founder of international brand design agency Bulletproof, is firm in his belief that it’s easy to stick to – and live by – your company vision and values if they have been stitched into the fabric of the business since day one.
Bulletproof, a brand and packaging design agency, was set up 20 years ago by the Indian-born entrepreneur and his college friend Jonny Stewart. Today the business has grown across three continents and has offices in London, New York and Singapore.
Built into its DNA is a “restless frustration with ubiquitous, samey design”, as well as a desire to ensure that the Bulletproof workforce – now numbering more than 150 people – is made up of a melting pot of cultures, backgrounds and personalities.
Mundae said this adds to the “tribal mentality” at Bulletproof – and goes hand-in-hand with the company’s somewhat maverick vision and values. Mundae’s manifesto, painted as a mural in the boardroom, begins: “We are a fiercely independent force of nature…”
“I still maintain that the mongrel’s perspective is stronger than the pedigree’s,” he explained. “There’s a natural vitality and fight that energises and gives you that motivation and sense of purpose.”
By bringing in new team members from different backgrounds who match the company ethos, the original Bulletproof vison and values continue in a never-ending circle.
In fact, like many business owners, Mundae is convinced that hiring the right people can help to ensure that a company’s vision and values never die.
Good hires maintain momentum
Jo Sellick, founder of national recruitment business the Sellick Partnership, which launched back in 2002, agrees. “It can be really challenging for businesses to maintain their momentum and to keep people living and breathing what the core values are,” he said. “But I think if you recruit around those values, it makes it much easier to continue with the drive you created at the beginning.”
Sellick’s firm is very much guided by its values – “passionate, respected and engaging” – said its founder, who recalled how he brought in an external firm two years into his business journey to help him and his colleagues identify which three words best defined where they were coming from.
“They were here for two days and it was money well spent,” he added. “That’s because, when your business is growing, you want the people you hire to embrace your values – so you need to be clear on what they are. We started with a list of 500 words or more and we distilled and distilled them to finally come up with three. It was a really interesting process and I’d recommend it to anyone. If you’re looking to expand a business, knowing your values is absolutely fundamental.”
Sellick has been keen to ensure that the company’s three key words have become woven into everything they do. They are printed onto boards that are dotted around the Sellick Partnership offices, are used as screensavers, can be found in company literature and are discussed during the interview process.
“You don’t want to brainwash people,” emphasised Sellick, “but when you live and breathe it and hire on those values it becomes embedded. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course, you’ve really got to work at it. But successful companies take time to do that.”
Get naturally aligned
The Camden Watch Company might only have formed four years ago, but the idea behind the brand had been bubbling away in the minds of its creators somewhat longer. Founders Anneke Short and Jerome Robert – a couple – formed their own design studio back in 2010 and consulted for many well-known brands before taking the plunge to start their own watch company in 2014. The vision and values of their new business were quietly understood by the two partners from day one.
“What we wanted to do from the get-go,” explained Short, “was really buck the trend of what was happening in the watch industry. With our background as watch designers, we set out to create great, well-designed watches that had a story to tell but were also affordable.”
Because the company vision and the values of its two founders were so naturally aligned – working together and being a couple being something of a double-whammy – it was some time before they sat down and wrote them down. Once they were hiring staff, however, Short told Be the Business that the “three pillars” on which the business was built were communicated to everyone.
“We have a little handbook now that we hand out out to people when they first join the company,” commented Short. “Our three pillars are about great design, great customer service and great value for money – that’s what we’ve kept from the very start. There are some things in business that you can be flexible about, but some you just have to stay true to, and these pillars are non-negotiable.”
Communicate company value widely
Like Mundae and Sellick, Short feels it is vital for a brand to know its vision and values intimately – and to make sure these are widely communicated. “A lot of businesses neglect to do that,” she said. “You have to make sure that everyone knows your core values – in our company you can go from the co-founders to someone who’s working in one of our stores and also our PR company and they will all tell you the same story, because we made sure that everyone knows exactly what we’re about.”
A final point: according to Short, constantly reminding yourself what your business stands for and what you want to achieve will help owners from making fewer mistakes. “Having clear values has allowed us to keep very true to ourselves and not get to a stage where we’ve done something and thought, ‘We shouldn’t have done that,'” she said.
“It makes the day-to-day running of the business a lot easier, because it means every choice you make is informed by something very specific,” she added. “You’re not constantly having to question yourself or your employees because you know that they know where you’re going – and that means you can give them a lot more freedom, too.”
Find out what vision and values building really teaches you.