Meaning – a great case study

The most recent edition of People Management (March 2014) contains an article on an SME, Fittleworth, which highlights the importance of authenticity when creating a culture with meaning, purpose and compassion.

Frittleworth’s business is not glamorous – it is a mail order delivery service of ostomy, continent and wound care products, which has managed to grow significantly over the past few years, despite being unable to compete on price. But it is a delivery service provided with compassion and care. It is about ‘calling in on a lot of my friends on the way (home)’ or setting off on Christmas Day morning to be certain supplies get to a customer in a hospice or trekking up 22 flights of stairs to ensure a parcel reaches its destination.

Fittleworth does a number of things very well: they prioritise cultural fit of employees over everything else; they emphasise the customers and personalise training through The Frittleworth Way – a street populated by fictional characters each with their own back story and life changing condition; and perhaps most importantly they don’t try to impose values on others through ‘pillars on a wheel’ or through traditional corporate processes such as employee surveys and good service awards.

In short, Frittleworth has rejected much of what many large corporates have chosen as their route to employee engagement and opted for an authentic and personal approach.  HR Director Peter Waller has said that “it is more important to recognise the wonderful things that happen in our business on an everyday basis… the very nature of trying to define and make something tangible means you can inadvertently undermine it.”

For me this raises a key question as to the value of tightly worded mission and value statements which pescribe what individuals should believe in and how they must behave. This leaves little room for authenticity. Frittleworth do have values – dedication, integrity, caring and quality – but it seems they are leaving it up to their employees to interpret what that means for them, sharing everyday stories of heroism and going that extra mile without great fanfare. Perhaps this is the way forward and something we could earn all learn from.