Jenny Biggam, Co-founder of the7stars, suggests that employees are more likely to invest in a company if there are fewer rules in place.
Like any organised culture, workplaces are defined by certain values, systems, structures and even languages. Historically, companies centred on a hierarchical structure that placed the boss atop a ladder of variously-titled employees depending on their prescribed rung. But things are changing, and rightly so.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t found themselves in a rigorous corporate culture, fuelling a slow-building resentment to their job. A negative attitude towards work is shamefully commonplace. What people don’t realise is that things can be different. It’s okay to cut across the grain, particularly for SMEs. In fact, they’re the ones who can afford to take risks and lead the transformation.
In my career, I’ve found the best work policies are non-policies. What I mean is they should undo standardised workplace rules and seek to shape something better, more suitable.
In reality, it’s often easier to create and impose policies rather than take them away. Despite this, when my business partner Mark Jarvis and I set up our business, our first thought was to undo many of the things we’d experienced throughout our years working in the media industry.
What we’d seen previously is that media, like many other industries, was dominated by an outdated culture and a restrictive web of networks. We believed advertisers deserved a better service from an agency that championed great ideas, good deals and an enthusiastic, honest approach, as well as being a nice environment for employees.
This meant freeing ourselves from all sorts of corporate hang-ups. We removed job titles and hierarchies; we entrusted our staff with the right to choose how much holiday to take, thereby scrapping holiday forms and paperwork; we developed a transparent culture that means our business plan is shared with all employees.
While you may assume we have a team who take extended holidays and leak sensitive information, the reality is quite the opposite. the7stars is proof that giving employees autonomy, responsibility and trust encourages team members to really invest within the company.
Our way of working has seen us recently named one of The Sunday Times’ top three best small companies to work for, an award voted entirely by employees. Since 2005, we have grown into the UK’s largest independent media agency with more than 80 employees that have huge personal investment and pride in the work they create and the company as a whole.
By liberating ourselves from notions of how we should operate, we’ve created our own standard that encourages employees to grow as individuals, free from the constraints of a corporate culture.