17/04/2015

By Phil Jones, MD of Brother UK


I wear an elastic band on my wrist. It’s there as a constant reminder about the need to stay relevant in a fast-moving business landscape, to not get left behind and have your elastic ‘snap’.

With factors including technology, generational change and start-up culture contributing to the shift in speed, it’s vital that you not only keep your product offerings up to date, but your employer offering too.

As businesses, we’ve all got the challenge of how to keep good people, attract new talent and, ultimately, stay competitive as we head towards a bright, challenging and high-speed future. Inevitably, workplace culture is high on the agenda of many businesses as they seek to integrate the generational shift.

While start-ups don’t have a huge problem with much of this, scale-ups face more of a challenge. These businesses have felt the growing pains of establishing a workplace culture. The last thing you want to do is start messing with it at a time when everyone is on the front foot focussing on new sales growth. Change takes time.

Yet now is a perfect time to refresh, update and re-purpose your workplace culture to take account of generational shift. While baby boomers (usually considered to be those born between 1946 and 1964) are generally thought to be motivated primarily by salary and job prestige, for younger counterparts, like generation y-ers (1980-1994) and millennials (1994 onwards), other factors come into play. These are people brought up in an age of connectivity, consumption and access. They are used to open conversations, 24-hour communication, less hierarchy, informal dress codes and flexible working hours.

This poses a real challenge, one which we’ve tackled in a number of ways at Brother UK to update our culture.

Although we recognise career experience, we separate it from impact to ensure that everyone in the businesses — regardless of role or age — can be recognised for the contribution they make. We use a specific A-E performance matrix which is non-hierarchical and designed to expose excellence at every level of the organisation. While industry experience is reflected in our pay benchmarking, bonus is linked to impact made on the business.

We’ve revamped our work environment, including creating different work spaces and a more relaxed dress code, while constantly asking ourselves whether Brother UK is somewhere people would be attracted to work.

Not all of this is easy. The change process can make things feel uncomfortable, particularly for baby boomers or those from generation X whose careers have been built on earned experience, service and hierarchy. You have to be sensitive to the issues and yet remain passionate about the need for change and stay relevant, thereby attracting people to work for your business and keeping those people with so much retained knowledge.

What of the business benefits? Evolving your workplace culture can reduce sickness absence and increase information flow, openness and resilience, as well as recognition.

Looking back three years, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved. Nearly 50 years after we were established in Manchester, we’ve shown that age is not the restraining factor in your ability to stay workplace-relevant.