4 top tips for building a great culture

29 January 2019

Jayson Forrest

Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.

Jonathan Hoyle shares his top four tips for building a great business culture.

When it comes to building a great business culture, the team at Stanford Brown reckon they know a thing or two. In 2018, the North Sydney-based practice was voted the 13th best place to work in Australia (in the category of under 100 employees) by the Great Place to Work Institute (Australia).

Speaking at the 2018 FPA Professionals Congress on the topic of ‘Cultivating your business culture and connecting with your people’, Stanford Brown CEO, Jonathan Hoyle said culture was not a “trendy fad” and really did matter if a business wanted to enjoy long-term success.

“But what is a great culture?,” Hoyle asked. “I believe the foundations of a great business culture rest on three pillars. They are: an organisation that is judged by the value of its leaders; an organisation that is inspired by the day ahead; and an organisation where staff are encouraged to ask whatever they want.

“At Stanford Brown, our staff see the business as a family. And like any family, we have our good days and bad days, but that doesn’t inhibit our relentless commitment to excellence. Great people just make things happen.”

Hoyle shared the following four tips used by Stanford Brown for building a great business culture.

1. Open and honest communication

“It’s always better to disappoint people with the truth than to appease them with a lie,” Hoyle said. “Open and honest communication starts with ownership of what’s being conveyed. It also involves active listening, which means turning off distractions in the office, like your phone.”

Other essentials elements of open and honest communication involve openly acknowledging the “heroic service” of staff.

“One of the best and most satisfying ways of rewarding staff is by praising them and recognising their efforts, particularly in front of their colleagues. People thrive on public recognition of their work but the praise has got to be warranted. Be careful about being overly generous with your praise, which can diminish the value of it.”

Importantly, Hoyle said it was essential that management be open and receptive to staff feedback.

“This helps to create an environment of trust, where everybody’s opinion matters. As a business, we’re all working towards the same outcome, which is delivering clients a valued experience. So, opinions do matter,” Hoyle said. “And don’t forget to let staff enjoy themselves at work. An energised office is full of laughter and enjoyment.”

2. Purpose

According to Hoyle, in terms of building a great culture, it’s important that managers and management reinforce the purpose of the business to staff.

“Great managers do four things well,” Hoyle said. “They set expectations, they motivate and nurture, they develop their people, and they hire the right people.

“In the day-to-day routine of doing business, we can sometimes lose sight of what it is we’re doing. So, creating a great culture also includes managers regularly reinforcing the purpose of the business. People need to know the reason of what they are doing and what they are working towards.”

3. Journey

Every business needs to have its own journey towards a vision that is clearly documented. This vision is what the business stands for.

“It’s even better if staff can see this vision, like having it prominently positioned on the wall in reception, every time they walk in the office,” Hoyle said.

“Success is all about the journey. What’s inspiring for a business is trying to get there, even if it doesn’t quite get there. It’s all about the journey and taking your staff along that journey with you.”

4. Safety

Hoyle believes it is essential for staff to feel safe by being themselves at work. They shouldn’t need to hide their idiosyncrasies and foibles at work.

“At Stanford Brown, we do this in three ways,” Hoyle said. “Firstly, we treat adults like adults. If they prefer to have the occasional late morning start, or prefer to start early and leave early, we let them.

“Secondly, we act as if our staff own the company. We employ talented and motivated people. They know what to do, and that’s where trust comes in.

“And thirdly, treat your staff with respect, dignity and kindness, in the same way you would expect them to treat you. We have a zero tolerance to bullying in the workplace. So, staff feel safe to be themselves at work, which has created a great culture to be part of.”

Avoiding failure

According to Hoyle, building a great business culture starts and ends with leadership. However, he warned that when a culture fails, it can typically be attributed to at least one of five reasons:

  1. Inattention to results;
  2. An absence of trust;
  3. Fear of conflict;
  4. Lack of commitment; and
  5. Avoidance of accountability.


“The cultural and ethical alignment of a business impacts every part of the advice process. By getting the ingredients right, you can build a business culture that is not only inspiring to be part of but a culture that is truly valued by clients,” Hoyle said.