Best practice: Flexible culture

Today’s monthly series reveals how managers deal with business problems to
enhance performance. In this issue, Mike Eadie, co-managing director of
top-banana global, explains the benefits of flexi-culture in managing a
disparate workforce

Top-banana global is a leading organisation of human performance
consultants. It delivers innovative solutions to a wide range of blue-chip
clients throughout the UK.

While its site-based team is small, comprising only nine people, the organisation
functions using a team of management, training and HR consultants based in
different locations throughout the UK and Europe. With such a substantial
distribution of resource, top-banana faces many of the same complex cultural
issues that challenge much larger companies.

The company is young, only two years old, but it has grown from three people
to 300 in that time. The management decided from the outset that it wanted the
business to grow fast and getting the right culture was key.

It was a rare opportunity to conceptualise and develop a distinctive modern
culture, without first having to modify an existing one.

Top-banana wanted a culture that was not only flexible internally, but that
could be flexible with its clients as well.

This strategy came from experience of other consultancies that impose
particular models of practice on to their staff and clients.

So the company knew what it didn’t want to be, the question was how to
create the culture that it did want?

How we implemented the solution

In practical terms, a flexi-culture means top-banana can both work with its
clients in a non-prescriptive way, and also draw on the resource of its
consultants to find the best ways of working. As a company, top-banana is not
driven by methods and processes, but by the need to deliver the best solutions
for individual cases.

For the consultants, this means regular meetings with top-banana to form the
right strategy for each client. Consultants are encouraged to put forward their
ideas. When top-banana is discussing a new client, it makes a concerted effort
to ensure that it does not impose a strategy on the consultants who will be
doing the work.

The most important function of meetings is to ask the opinion of the
consultants, finding out how they think a problem should be tackled and work
together to find the solution.

Crucial to the company’s philosophy is that there is no failure – only
feedback. Everyone will make a mistake at some point in his or her career, but
top-banana does not see this as a cause for negativity. All employees, be they
full time staff or consultants, know that they can work confidently. If
something doesn’t go as they first planned, they will receive the constructive
feedback they need to help them and improve the situation.

This means that employees also have the confidence to ask for help, because
they know it is not seen as a reflection of their ability to do the job.

Most of the consultants meet at top-banana two or three times a week. For a
new project, the consultants are involved from a very early stage.

First, they are invited in to discuss the project. Following this, the
consultants are then able to review the material that is being proposed for the
client. This process ensures that they really understand the client’s needs and
that they are working as a seamless team when they go out to meet the client.

Even though most of the staff are not full-time employees, there are regular
performance reviews. These are very open, flexible occasions with a powerful
coaching element to close any knowledge gaps. The performance reviews are also
a time to anchor the things that are going really well.

Communication has, for obvious reasons, developed as a key part of the
cultural strategy. Associate days are a great opportunity for sharing ideas,
and part of the day is set aside for networking.

After every meeting, the attendants’ details are shared with each other so
they can communicate outside the meetings and help each other with professional

Positive outcomes for the business

Top-banana has grown 264 per cent in the last year. The established culture,
although always being reviewed and updated, has gained the company a reputation
as a "chameleon" within the industry, because of its ability to merge
seamlessly with the culture of each company it visits.

The flexible approach has definitely worked in establishing good working
relationships with consultants.

Each consultant is recognised as an individual with individual needs and

For example, if there are a number of people working on a team, one might
prefer to be left alone to work self sufficiently, whereas somebody else might
work better with contact from top-banana every few days.

The company tries to meet these needs, giving a free hand to those who want
it, but establishing regular contact with those who work best with more

As a human performance consultancy, top-banana is naturally concerned with
the human behavioural aspect of how its consultants perform.

In business terms, that has been what has created the success of the
company, but it is also the backbone of ensuring top-banana employees are
fulfilling their potential and feel completely supported in their work.

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Benefits of flexi-culture in managing a workforce

– The
culture is created by the people in the company, specifically those at
management level

– Coach people at the top, as what people see as behaviour
from  key people on a daily basis
affects the whole company culture

– Everybody in the company needs to be committed to developing
a flexible approach

– Don’t blame the working environment. Cultures don’t just
happen; people make the culture, rarely the environment they work in

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