We spoke with Laduma’s Head of HR and psychologist Colin Wilford, about how to create a positive culture in the workplace and how it benefits not only the employees, but the employer and the clients.
How would you define company culture?

Culture is very much a conscious thing to ensure that we have the right environment for our people, to ensure that our customers and clients feel confident that we can deliver or support them in what they’re doing, so it’s both unconscious and conscious the way culture is created. We have a very unique culture here which is always what people feel when they come here, it’s always quite different. People, when they spend time with us, want to work with us and want to work for us because we have such a unique and enjoyable culture.

How is a culture created within a company?

So every company has their own culture and we don’t realise just how naturally this is created by the leadership. I did an MBA study with a friend. He was looking at how the CEOs of companies’ values and personalities actually create a culture without them realising it. Most companies will work hard to create their own culture, even if the leadership might be slightly different or not aligned to that.

What are the benefits to the employer?

I think one of the biggest benefits to the employer, is loyalty. Us as a company, if we create the right culture, where people feel happy, people feel safe, they feel valued they feel appreciated, they feel like they’re part of a team – they will always loyal to a company. They’ll always be committed and give us their best. A lot of people don’t enjoy going to work. The culture might be one of ‘we just take advantage of your time and talent, we don’t actually appreciate you.’ At this company, we spend a lot of time helping people feel valued and appreciated. We’re always doing fun things, bringing in food, having fun activities. We’re always trying to do things that makes people go home and say ‘that was a good day, that was a fun day.’

How can a positive company culture, impact clients?

The clients experience a few things. They see our cohesive family, they see it as a tangible thing that we all support each other and work well together. The client would then trust us to deliver. Whether it’s working late hours, we have the loyalty of our people to work late hours. When it comes to reaching deadlines, our people will do whatever it takes to reach those deadlines because there is a healthy culture here. A lot of other companies, where there isn’t a healthy culture, you’ll find a bit of passive aggression, you’ll find people resisting work that has been given to them, they might push it aside and forget about it, whereas the client can see that we are committed to delivering because we have a happy culture.

How can a business positively achieve a positive company culture?

What any small company, or any size company needs to do, is number one, ask themselves what are our values and what do we hold to be important to us? Then everyday, like we do, we meet as a management team to discuss – what can we do to align ourselves with our values? What can we do to build our culture? Do we need to go Go-Karting? Do we need to do a quiz? Shall we go for a walk around the lake, do we need to listen to an educational talk. What do we need to do today that will strengthen our culture and enhance our values and leave people with a sense of they’re values, they’re important and they’re having fun.

Ask those questions every day to be clear about what your values really are and what your culture really is. Other companies don’t ask that question. Our Chairman, Wayne Scholes, his number one priority is let’s have fun. Because that’s so important to him, we try and do things on a regular basis, so people are happy.

Do you have any tips that don’t cost anything?

Very often we might think we know what’s good for our company, but we don’t. Or we may assume, we know what’s going to be a really good activity this week to enhance our culture, but we might be off slightly. So, the tip that doesn’t cost anything is communication. Ask your people. Speak to them. Ask them what they want, what they want more of, what doesn’t work. If you have that two-way communication going on and you’re always getting feedback and you’re understanding what their needs really are – they will, once again, feel valued and trusted. There’s a cycle of trust that has four points. The first one is communication, what are the needs, how can we help with those needs and forth one is let’s do it. That’s a tip that doesn’t cost anything.

How can you prevent clients from negatively impacting the culture?

Every high maintenance, stressful, challenging individual or client is that way because of something that’s going on. Something is not going well for them, something is not working out for them. They might have an agenda that isn’t quite aligning with what you’re trying to do to help them. Once again, it’s trying to understand what is making that client so difficult.

As a psychologist it’s important to always understand, what are you thinking, what are you expecting? Are we not living up to your expectations? Every relationship whether it’s personal or with a client, if I don’t know what your expectations are and therefore not meeting those then it’s going to fail. So for me there’s no real difficult clients, it’s just people that haven’t solved their own personal needs or challenges, or issues. Once you get around those, the client will become less difficult, the client becomes more understanding and they know what to expect and you know what you need to do to keep them happy.

What else has helped Laduma to achieve a positive culture?

Something that is very unique to us, is every Friday, we work half day. How wonderful is that? Already, that sends a message to your staff that- we care about your personal time. We care about your family time and we know you can get the work done before Friday at 12.30pm. Everybody can. We don’t need to sit and watch the clock until 5pm or whatever it is. Then every fourth Friday, or the last Friday of the month, we don’t come to work. Isn’t that unique?

So we encourage our people to work really hard, get it finished in the first four days of the week and have half day on a Friday to finish up what you need to finish up, but then once a month you get to spend that time away from work.

That is something which everybody would like to have in an organization. The other thing is that we have a variety of activities. We could play card game as a company as just a fun activity, or we could have a talk where we’re discussing a concept or thinking about integrity or thinking about creativity. Or we could go for a walk around the lake, stretching our legs. There’s no discussion, there’s no game, we’re just doing some exercise.

Recently we went to an escape room and we were in teams. We had to get out of this room where we were trying to solve clues and that sort of thing. They vary from just having pizza, doing something physical, doing something intellectual, having fun, playing games, playing table tennis, go karting or just having a joke around the office. Who’s got the best joke today? It really covers a whole variety of activities.

We also do something very interesting. We share holidays, so when South Africa has Mandela Day, America and England get the day off and when America has Independence Day or Thanksgiving, then the other countries get the day off. When England has St. George’s day, then America and South Africa benefit. We share amongst the offices some of those holidays, which also make us feel like one big family. We feel unified and we get a lot of extra time off as well.

How does Laduma overcome the challenge of working across multiple continents?

We have an overlap every day. The English office typically has a two or three hour overlap with the US office. We therefore try and make sure we have a lot of phone calls and communication during that time. They are seven hours ahead, so when they’re just finishing their day, we are starting our day.

The video feed is great and we can always see if Tommy is working, or relaxing at his desk! We can see if Simone is playing table tennis or if he’s working! We see who works later, who is doing what and it is a nice full-time, real-time connection with other offices.

It is always going to be a challenge, trying to communicate with offices around the world. South Africa is nine hours ahead, so by the time we start work, they’re heading home. But most of us work 24/7 when it comes to communication. I get emails from people in South Africa and England at any time of the day and try to attend to them. We don’t just have a 9 to 5 work time. That’s the other thing. We play so hard and we have such a relaxed understanding of family culture, we also then give what we need to give in terms of spare time. Whether it’s to take an email or take a call, so communication is ongoing. We don’t just cut people off because it’s the end of the day.

How has Laduma created an enjoyable working environment?

We have a fully stocked kitchen, where people can eat, have something to drink, relax and not have to go off site at lunchtime. We have games around the office, like Pac Man and X Boxes. I’ve seen Wayne, the Chairman, go to the Pac Man machine and play a few games, just taking some time out. We have a lot where people can just engage in having a break, have some fun and they don’t get in their car and drive away to do that. A lot of companies that are very progressive do similar things.

Why do you think it’s important for an employer to be flexible with its employees?

It’s showing understanding and trust. Too many companies don’t trust and they send that message very clearly. Clock in at this time and they want to see what time people arrive, then check the records and see what time people are clocking out. Where’s trust in that? Nobody likes to be policed like that. We have a culture of trust and we try to create a culture of trust. Therefore, we need then to exercise that and deliver that. We want to be able to have mature, independent, responsible people who can be trusted. That’s the kind of culture we’re trying to grow.

How do the clients respond to Laduma’s culture?

Clients always feel when you are a happy company and a committed company and a loyal company. When you can be trusted and be honest, clients will always feel that and experience that. When we’ve had meetings with clients and they see the connection around the round table. They see the banter and the relationships, they feel comforted and they feel they can trust us. They feel we’re going to deliver for them and they can talk to us about anything. We are very personable, we are interested in clients’ personal lives and the kids they have. We care about what they do at the weekend, because that’s who we are. When you have that relationship, it’s a real value in terms of getting repeat business and being trusted as a company offering a service.