The culture of Growth Lending
With culture an integral part of the fabric of Growth Lending, Organisational Psychologist Heather Bingham reveals exactly how our culture was curated and what it means for the organisation.
Most organisations have a mission or vision statement and a set of values they share. With B2C businesses, these are often linked to brand building. In B2B businesses, they offer a distinction between similar organisations. With a handful of sentences, they can pull huge organisations together under one idea. Business leaders hand down their mission and staff understand the raison d’etre of their leaders.
However, they lack something vital; they do not capture how an organisation functions. They do not capture the nuts and bolts of interaction, or tell an employee who is not right at the top of the tree how they can measure their own success. To create unity in a far smaller group, a richer tool is available; organisational culture.
The original mission
When I began working with BOOST&Co in 2017, I wasn’t asked to create a vision, a mission or a culture. Instead I was asked to enable a micro-business of eight people to grow in a way that did not create conflict with its existing team.
I’ve known Lance Mysyrowicz since our days at McKinsey, where I was in the HR and Recruitment team. I do believe, looking back, that all BOOST&Co wanted from me was a recruitment strategy. However, I chose instead to work from the top down and to find a way of representing the group that could then act as a point of reference. This would then work, not just for recruitment, but for all People processes.
Organisational culture for a small business
Embarking on this journey, I discovered the work of a giant of Organisational Psychology, Professor Edgar Schein. This genius of a man, who died earlier this year aged 94, did his work on organisational culture back in the late seventies and eighties.
Back then, organisations were starting to make money hand over fist. Many types of organisation had to hire people to take advantage of the opportunity to cash in. Well established firms hired talent from new sources and different backgrounds. This challenged their established ways of working. Suddenly, business leaders were dealing with internal frictions that they had never before faced. They needed to understand what had happened to make expansion so challenging.
In defining organisational culture, Schein could understand the reasons for conflict. 40 years later I was seeking to avoid any conflict arising. It seemed a perfect match.
Edgar Schein’s model of organisational culture
What is now known as Schein’s Iceberg Model, identified three elements of an organisation’s culture:
What Schein didn’t do is turn his representation of organisational culture into a hard and fast method of capture. This is appropriate, because his model of culture works with organisations of any size and any level of fragmentation.
In a large organisation, a team of org psychs need to find ingenious ways to capture a culture from afar. I was lucky; I only needed to find a method of capture that worked with eight people who didn’t yet have a permanent office.
Capturing BOOST&Co’s culture
Without too much detail, I spent up to two hours with each member of the team. I asked them questions like “How do you know you’ve done a good job?” and “How do you describe BOOST&Co to your family and friends?”. I also asked them to “Describe a really good day at work.”
I was also able to consider the structure of the small team, the pattern of hiring to date and I could interpret the website for myself. It was good to realise that a degree in English and History of Art came in useful!
At the end I came up with a representation of the culture that was far too detailed, but I was able to use that initial diagram as a start. I then began to build some People processes, including Recruitment, that fulfilled my original brief.
The first culture diagram of BOOST&Co (now Growth Lending):
Unsurprisingly, this mid-century Modern sunburst was far too detailed for me to work with. It wasn’t that the smaller circles were inaccurate – they were all there and in many ways still are. However, when taking Recruitment as a case in point, all that was required was to test for fit with the larger circles.
Over time I’ve revised the culture three times. We last revised in 2022 when the two halves of Growth Lending (BOOST&Co and Growth Lending) combined into one.
In a growing organisation, the culture is always on the move, but it should be evolving, not changing. Culture always rolls down from the top, regardless of the style of leader and their modus operandi. Most of an organisation’s culture will be a distillation of the person or people at the top, so if they don’t change dramatically, nor will the culture.
A specific change of organisational culture has to take place when a change is triggered by someone new stepping in at the top. This can happen when a leader retires and someone from outside has to step in. With M&A a complete change of owner can also force a change. However, if you can allow it, it is far better to nudge together two cultures, rather than to force a change.
When we merged with GapCap and KXMedia in 2019, we decided to bide our time. We could see enough similarities, so urgency was not required. We waited a full year of working together before I captured their culture. I did it as carefully as before, so I interviewed 20 people in all. It looked different, but two very important similarities existed; they were brave and they were completely authentic. As with BOOST&Co, what you saw was what you got, and this was highly encouraging.
When we unified the Growth Lending and BOOST&Co brands at the end of 2022 it was easy to combine the two cultures and it is now a combination of both. I can show that I have combined the two cultures into one, with only one omission. I decided that “Motivated” was completely unnecessary to state. If each member of staff has every one of the seven qualities we now expect, it is completely unnecessary to highlight that they need to be motivated. It simply goes without saying.
Measure of success
An organisation’s culture can be captured as a snapshot, but to work it needs constant examination. It needs to be both positively reinforced and be held up as a measure. When something goes well, we can celebrate the strength of it. When something goes wrong, the organisational culture has to be re-examined and assessed. As an organisation grows and matures, so must the culture. There is a dynamic push and pull between the culture and the organisation. It is both a high maintenance and high impact tool.
Want to know more about organisational culture? Connect with Heather on LinkedIn.