Team and Culture

Firstly, I just wanna say that the response of you readers for Part I was really overwhelming, it was really unexpected. And I just want to clarify that I didn’t actually have to eat bread everyday (though economy rice was the actual one), but the statement I was putting out there was a “What If” question of a worse case scenario. Sorry if you thought I did, Pai Seh…..

** back to Part II **

Do you ever wonder why some companies can last longer than some, and some companies just die after a few years? Do you ever wonder how some companies just thrive more than the others at different times?

It was a question that I asked myself constantly after the first year of starting out and there are all sorts of reasons given from books and the media – from unable to adapt to change to not pivoting fast enough. Is there no fool proof way? Or is there a fool proof way sort of?

Then I realised that essentially a business is just like life, everything has up and downs. People come and go. Deaths and births happen. There’s never a fool proof way to last forever and this goes the same to the Central Bank. Maybe one day, central bank may not exist anymore too.

Fun Fact: 80% of businesses fail within the first year!!

From my personal journey and assumption, I can narrow down to only 3 internal factors after seeing how some companies succeed and fail. It all starts from the founders mindset, the team that is part of the business and the culture of how things are run internally.

3. Team is the real King, Product is the Queen.

One big observation I came to conclude that product is no longer king, that is really an old philosophy. Screw it. Many people talk about how good a product is and how life altering an idea can be, but that is just the surface reason.

Products and ideas are actually byproducts of people.

How Nokia fell and Apple rose is what usually people claim to be the product problem but in all honesty the real reason is the team behind these companies that dictates the future of the business. They are the ones who will decide on
1. Whether to go ahead with new innovation
2. What direction of innovation they want to take

The people in the team can make or break the business, just like how Leicester beat everyone in this season’s Premier League. It’s not just Jamie Vardy, it’s the whole team collectively.

It’s not about how much money one company raise, cause if it is then all the latest startup failure stories in the USA wouldn’t happen. The suicidal cases of founders wouldn’t have happen.

A great team will find ways to do whatever it takes to make things happen. If the goal is 5 million sales this year, then it’s to go out and make 5 million sales possible. If the founders and the team are great, they can weather any downturn in the company.

Building a team is probably the highest learning curve that I faced throughout these 4 years. We were really lucky, we got off with a really good start by having great people from the get go and to hire so many young people aged below 25 mainly, gave us a really big advantage to create the myBurgerLab experience that we want.

Seeing how many of these kids grew over the years are personally rewarding. 97% of our crew have no culinary or hospitality background and to be able to understand our philosophy in what we do and translate that into action by putting customers first is amazing. Some geeks just got the hang of it from the start, some take a while.

Many of them do not know how great they can be sometimes in the start, and after few weeks seeing them in action is when you can truly see them flourish. I have seen geeks who are so quiet in the first 2 weeks and after that they opened up really much and just have fun working. I have seen geeks who are over self confident and have lots of ego, but after a few weeks they value team work, helping out others and putting excellence as priority. They probably don’t see it as clearly as we do, but many of them do grow along the way.

I have personally seen a geek (whose mom runs a pet store) who doesn’t know much about F&B and is unsure of what he wants to do in his life after SPM. When he came in he was fairly quiet and timid, and eventually opened up to be one of our best geeks. Seeing how they are when they first came in and how they have became at the end of their journey is just great as it aligns to what we wanted to achieve which is to educate and teach the young generation the mindset of serving and putting others first. It all starts with attitude and I’m glad most of our hires have great attitude (though our rejection rate has raised to almost 50% compared to 10% in year 1).

The energy and vibrancy that these geeks bring to the team is just priceless. myBurgerLab wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for them. Having said that, it is really challenging to handle such high turnover and managing a group of raging hormones. There’s just a lot of team dynamics to deal with. I guess it comes with a price for having what we want to achieve, but it’s still manageable. 🙂 Credit goes to the store managers! Thank you Geeks for the hardwork too!!

If you ever come to the lab and enjoy your experience with the team, drop us a message. Any compliments about a particular geek will always be passed down. Give them a high 5 when you see them, they will appreciate it 🙂

That’s for the part timers. Though for the full timers is a different experience as they are the ones who will be setting the core foundation of everything we do. We made few hiring errors in the first 2 years and we also lost several full timers along the way. Much of it is due to how we founders hire people. I can’t stress on how important it is now to hire correctly especially at the start of the business. We as founders have to be clear with what we want, what kind of people we want and how to manage their expectation at the start of the hire.

To know how important is it to build a great team, it takes failures to see that over a period of time. It always take time to learn how to conduct effective interview and selection process.

I finally understood what it meant by hiring experienced people. If a staff is inexperience or having at least worked at our other places before, he/she may experience stagnation after a few years if the business has a weak system and processes (very much in our case previously). This is because as the business grow, the experience required at the stage are very much different from what was required at the starting phase. There are of course certain exceptions where inexperience hires can pick up really fast and surpass expectations as well. All in all is the attitude of the person, but having the experience of even working could give a really big edge.

You will need to look into your budget and determine what kind of people you can hire and what each hire can bring to the table. Some experienced hire may not be suitable even to work in a startup environment which lacks of systems and processes. Getting a few experienced people at the start will be able to create long term stability, while hiring fresh grads will help to create fearless creativity, so hiring both opposite profile of people in a team at the start is really crucial.

Every staff lost along the way, is always a kick in the gut for me as I felt that we have let them down to present myBurgerLab as a great opportunity for them, but I have learnt to accept that it is part and parcel of building a team. It is through this failures that we can see how else we can improve how we do things.

I always think that my life can’t be as worse as what many football club managers have to deal with for all the summer transfers and change in team dynamics. I just know that for some I had to let them go, mainly for their own benefit as we had poor learning pipeline for some of our functions and it requires an experience eye to set that function up properly. And in some cases was a poor estimation of hiring needs, hence the over hiring.

All these are part of lessons on how to overcome internal organisation challenges and it helps to keep us on our feet to develop a strong learning growth for the team. We changed roles and responsibilities of our core team quite often as we grow and always had to develop processes to patch things up. I wished there’s a textbook on this but there’s nothing better than experiencing ourselves.

3 of us are really grateful to the team, some took risk to join us from the start, some was their first job and it was because of such sacrifice from them to trust us from the start that made us to take the risk to give one last push to see how else we can bring the business back to sustainable terms.

4. Culture

I was invited to speak at Jobi’s career fair recently to speak about building team culture in a company and that topic given really got me thinking of what culture really is. Looking back over the years, we hit several great home runs in terms of the culture we manage to establish, but there were a also few cultures which I hope we established earlier.

Back in 2009-2013, the media were showing all the trendy cool working culture at the great offices around the world which had cool bean bags, pool table, flexible hours, free breakfast. Boy, was I sucked into the media thinking that those perks should be the benchmark to establish a great working culture environment at myBurgerLab.

At the back of my head, I always questioned over the years on whether we are good enough. There’s no PlayStation in the office, no Wii, would we be good enough for people to join or to even stay longer. Such pressure as a startup can be quite self destructive because sometimes we forget that we are comparing ourselves to big companies who are well funded or big multinational companies who existed for years.

But over the year, I have learnt that the truth is people will not determined whether they will stay based on what facilities are available (in fact I call those benefits as perks and not culture). The key is what kind of mindset and culture do you want to set to attract the kind of people you want and to help to push the organisation forward.

Culture is very much explained by how things are being done by the people and what kind of thought process is being cultivated across the team.

Example, by not having much resources available on hand could open up an opportunity for the team to build on a culture of “how to be resourceful when there are no resources”. This creates creativity thinking on ideation and execution. For example, pre sales business model, where sales and transaction is captured even before a good/service is being shipped out.

Not having a cool kickass office with pool table and ping pong table could open up an opportunity for the team to build on a culture of “gratefulness of having essentials and how to use those essentials to build on to bigger things”.

These are the type of cultures which are important in the long run. Putting others first and giving back to the community are 2 big parts of our culture. Humility is also the other.

Culture is very much dictated by how the founders behave and react, and that transcends to the core culture of the company. If punctuality is one non negotiable thing in the company, it will create a culture of people being on time.

One thing I’m glad it started from top down is that when us founders and shareholders do dine at our restaurants, payment is required. We don’t write off the bill as free meal, cause this would create a culture of abuse in the future among us and the staff. It’s better to communicate out what kind of culture to set at the start.

I even queue with other customers to place an order. It’s all this small things that we have to set an example to the team.

One culture that I wish I have cultivated earlier among the team is developing a sense of stronger ownership and developing a risk taking mindset to make decisions. Being in a founder position, there’s this tendency to always want to make the final decision or make the decision, which sometimes can hamper a staff’s ability to think, suggest and take risk. Sometimes the best way to teach them is to have them to go through the experience of trial and error themselves, instead of creating fear in them to try.

Another is the culture of working through people. Frequently, we as founders will always give instructions straight to the employee by bypassing their superior, and that gives the superior less accountability. By working through people, it can create a better sense of respect of a superior and subordinate relationship among my managers. Over time we could see the importance of working through them and holding them accountable to their actions. Wish we would have done it sooner.

It was this year that I started to craft out ways to have the team to start taking steps to make strategic decisions. I have seen progress from creating parameters of expectations for them and give them the creativity to develop ideas to work around so long it meets those parameters. For example, a minimum profit margin can be a parameter. Amount of time to test the idea can be a parameter. It’s just developing a system and safety net created for them to take a step to try and to buffer their failure if they fall.

Remember – flexible working hours is a benefit, hustling late night to do whatever it takes is a culture. We got to know what is the difference.

And that is why it is important to lead by action than through words, cause actions can send through a lot of messages. If we treat our customers or client right and put them first, the staff will follow suit, cause that is the culture we wanna showcase.

Try being late as a founder for a week, and you can start seeing your team members to have punctuality issues. I have learnt over the years on how to be neater (due to my ever messy table), cause it does translate down to how the team keep things in order. One very bad habit/culture I have learnt to kick is the sleep on the restaurant bench habit (which was really terrible in the first 2 years and I became famous among my geeks for that. I wished I would have take it seriously but it is through various experience that we learn the magnitude of impact one action could have on the team.

Unfortunately as a founder, your every move is that brutal, because it’s the type of energy you are sending out to the team to follow. So do catch yourself next time. I’m still learning.

So how do we know when to hire and what function to hire for? This starts from planning which we will cover next’s week column. And I will also touch on the juicy story some of you have been wondering what actually went wrong in 2014/2015.

Till then, see you.

P.S. We are always hiring, if you know anyone who wanna join our team, head on to our page by clicking here.