Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Laura Chappell, Chief Executive Officer, Brunel_670x504
Laura Chappell
Chief Executive Officer
23rd December 2020

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Today, Peter Drucker’s phrase feels truer than ever.

With 2020 winding down – albeit not on the UK news front! – I‘ve been musing on what we learned as a firm this year and what I learned in my first year as CEO. And I’ve realised that the one thing that sustains us above all else at Brunel is our culture.

Our strategy is fairly simple: invest for the long term and keep costs as low as possible while still delivering quality returns – I’ll come back to the ‘quality returns’ point later.

So, what does culture mean to us? How is made and sustained? When you think about a business that inspires you, what springs to mind? Is it their culture or their strategy that stands out?

We have loyal clients, a loyal partnership and a loyal workforce, and I believe we have our culture is to thank for that. If your employees are passionate about your vision and values, they are more likely to strive to bring them about. And that combination – shared vision, shared values, shared striving – all go to make up our shared culture. Good culture is only possible with good leadership and good community participation.

Here is what I have learnt about bringing culture and strategy together.

1) Understand your culture

One of the first things I did as CEO in January was to take stock. Together, we considered the question: what is our culture right now? We found that the day-to-day lived culture was very different from the values written on the office wall.

So we reviewed our values to ensure they were relevant and pragmatic, not merely aspirational but something we could live and breathe.

Sometimes, the internal office climate can begin to undo a company’s culture. If you recruit smart, nice people but fail to give them the time to do their job and enjoy the sense of a job well done, that climate can deteriorate fast.

2) Encourage conversations

At mid-year, we launched a staff survey. It showed we were getting many things right, with scores of more than 90% across a range of areas. But it also showed us what to work on.

So we set up workshops and one-to-one interviews for people to speak frankly in a safe environment and to collaborate on ideas to keep on improving the culture in those areas flagged by the survey.

3) Be consistent

We also asked ourselves: does everyone actually understand our values and purpose?

As CEO, I found that staff looked to me to live the values consistently. To do that, I need to fully understand what motivates me and communicate this to staff. That was why I began these blogs. A leader cannot dictate culture, but they absolutely should try to set the tone.

So what does motivate me? I love the feeling of a job well done, especially in a team that thrives together and enjoys each other. If we can do good in the world at the same time, then I’m really enjoying myself.

4) Celebrate success 

It’s important to identify success and give specific feedback, rather than merely offer praise. This applies not just to our relationship with staff, but also to how we engage with our appointed fund managers.

The year 2021 is pregnant with expectation when it comes to managing climate change – and the asset management industry will be a particular focus. We already require our managers to prove their credentials on climate, as well as on performance. As COP 26 looms ever closer, we want to use the rising concern and focus to enable our managers to make that shift towards Net Zero. And we want deeds, not words. – culture really matters here.

I would like to end the year by saying ‘thankyou’. Thank you to the Brunel staff, who have gone above and beyond in an exceptional year. Thank you to our clients and shareholders, for buying into Brunel, as your support and encouragement empowers us to serve you and your members. Thank you to our managers, who so often exceed the brief to help support us in our responsible agenda. And thank you to our other partners, who work tirelessly with us to foster ‘a world worth living in’.

Here’s to strategy and culture working hand in hand in 2021!


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