Shaping company culture through servant leadership

‘Servant leadership’ is a theory which suggests a leader of an organization operates in a synergistic way with their employees, and sees it as their job to serve them, rather than the other way around. Be | Shaping the Future UK CEO Chris Cardwell explains how the concept could help consulting firms to build a customer-centered culture that wins over new clients.

Several years ago, I was introduced to the concept of servant leadership, a theory devised by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970’s. I’m a true believer of this theory; it’s something I’m passionate about and I strive to reinforce the servant leadership principles in everything I do.

The principles of servant leadership (listed below) cover all aspects of how a leader should behave towards their employees, they are interwoven into a way of thinking and behaving – which when done passionately and consistently – can be extremely powerful. Key behaviours include: listening; empathy; healing; awareness; persuasion; conceptualisation; foresight; stewardship; commitment to the growth of people; and building community.

Why is servant leadership important?

In a people-based business such as management consulting, I believe servant leadership is critical to building, fostering and maintaining an excellent company culture, especially when that company grows. Everyone is given a wide range of learning and development opportunities, encouraged to share their ideas and get involved in innovation and internal initiatives, looked after (from a wellbeing perspective) and made to feel part of a business rather than just another cog in the wheel only delivering to their client.

Beyond a philosophical affinity to this way of working, I think it makes commercial sense too. If a firm can create a strong bond with its employees, then their commitment and dedication in supporting the growth of the business is enhanced. Furthermore, this way of operating allows us to differentiate ourselves from the market and helps us to attract and retain talent.

Our clients also feel the benefit of this culture, as our employees are responsive and truly care about the outcomes, they are delivering to their client due to their desire to grow the firm being reciprocated in the personal and professional development they receive. This well motivated workforce delivers fantastic work for clients, and happy clients help us develop more business opportunities.

The servant leadership way of working is demanding of leaders; they must put the needs of the firm and its employees ahead of themselves. However, in a growing business, it creates solid foundations which can be built upon to accelerate opportunities for all employees in a larger and more successful business.

How do we embody servant leadership at Be UK?

I joined Be UK in October 2019 with a vision to position it for growth and I believe that servant leadership has been instrumental in helping us (as a team) achieve our goals.

I meet each and every single one of our new joiners as part of our recruitment process. I do this because I want to ensure every person, we hire is a good cultural fit for our business, but also to ensure I’m a friendly face who they feel comfortable approaching and talking to from day one.

I’ve formed a leadership team who genuinely care about our people and who truly enjoy seeing their people grow and develop.

We have a flat hierarchy, where we actively encourage our employees to come and talk to myself and the rest of the leadership team – we encourage them to share ideas and we host a weekly “chat with a partner” session where employees have the opportunity to get to know a partner, ask them anything and raise any issues they may have.

We have a rich learning and development curriculum, with weekly sessions where employees share their knowledge, experience and useful tools and tips. We also provide all of our employees with annual learning credits, so they have the autonomy to drive their learning in areas they’re interested in.

We brief managers at all levels within the business on their responsibility to actively focus on the development of their team, thus creating the next generation of servant leaders.

We hold a weekly “huddle” where we share updates on our progress and celebrate employees who have gone over and above or who have received great feedback from a client – these are all ways in which we empower, recognize and reward our employees.

Lastly, I try to be empathetic to each person as an individual, celebrating their uniqueness and understanding of the challenges they face whether that be in their personal life and / or related to their career.

Summary

Servant leadership is a great way to foster a high-performing company culture, but it needs to be consistently delivered by all leaders at all levels of the business.

This culture must also be monitored and policed ​​so any counter cultural behavior is managed quickly, this is something which is critical to maintaining the culture as the company grows.

I’m delighted and proud that our employees describe our company culture as: collaborative, friendly, welcoming, inclusive, entrepreneurial and diverse and that our 2021 employee net promotor score was 43, which is classed as “excellent”. This score is testament to the excellent culture we have developed at Be UK and one we wish to maintain in future years.

About Be | Shaping the Future
Be | Shaping the Future is an established pan-European management and technology consultancy, with a focus on the financial services industry. BE UK’s diverse team of experienced professionals work with clients to create lasting, positive change.

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