There are few customers in the world more loyal, or demanding, than Apple fans. If you’re going to sell the Cupertino-based giant’s products, you have to understand that. Moreover, your employees have to understand that. In fact, we’d argue that if you’re going to do it successfully, it has to be the basis of your company culture.
For evidence of this, you only have to look at Digicape, South Africa’s biggest Apple reseller.
Formed in 2001 as a result of a merger of two smaller companies, Digicape started out as a consultancy before getting into the retail game.
This put the company on a serious growth trajectory and saw it acquire another established Apple reseller in 2010.
Of course, rapid growth presents serious challenges when it comes to employee culture, as do acquisitions and mergers.
We spoke to Digicape CEO Robin Olivier about how the company’s navigated those challenges, how Apple fandom informs its culture, and how technology will change employee engagement in the future.
Engage Me: What kind of culture have you tried to build at Digicape?
Robin Olivier: While we were enjoying our rapid growth trajectory, the one challenge that was highlighted was that there was a big shortage of skilled Apple technical and sales resources in South Africa. This became a key factor in our decision to develop a people-centric culture because each and every person became a valuable investment that we needed to retain for as long as possible so we therefore set out to develop a company that our people (Digicapers) loved to work for.
There is a business cliché that states that people are your biggest asset but we set out with genuine purpose to drive this throughout Digicape across all locations and roles. We wanted to build a company that people love to work for because happy staff will give you happy customers. It may sound simple but in reality is tough to achieve.
EM: What are some of the things you do to entrench that culture?
RO: It starts with our organisational DNA – the values, mission, vision and core purpose. Ours will show the Digicapers that they are valued because of how their work contributes to a greater goal. Feeling valued and cared for is key to a high performance team and this can only come from a top down approach where the leadership of Digicape buys into this culture. We don’t like to talk about managers and bosses but rather about leaders, coaches and mentors.
There is also a strong ethos at Digicape in skills and growth development. There are many benefits to efficiency and productivity in the work role but we have also found that personal growth is a great catalyst to improved performance and commitment.
The last thing I’d like to highlight is that we understand the importance of life balance so we offer work initiatives such as flexibile starting and ending times and work-from-home opportunities if the role allows for this.
EM: There’s a lot of consumer love for Apple. Does that influence the kind of culture you’re trying to build at Digicape?
RO: Absolutely. We set out to develop a culture that is aligned to what we believe the Apple brand stands for. We want all Digicapers to be passionate, knowledgeable, friendly and dynamic and we hope this translates to a frictionless experience for our customers. Apple represents delightful digital experiences and we therefore want to create delightful Digicape experiences for our passionate customers. This requires engaged and motivated teams from our side.
EM: In the recent past, you’ve acquired other businesses. What have been some of the challenges and rewards of integrating them into Digicape?
RO: This was probably our biggest challenge we’ve faced in building our culture, but we also recognised the threat of not addressing this. We felt it would be really important to take a critical look at both cultures and incorporating the best of both into a new improved culture. We wanted both teams to see that the great aspects of what they enjoyed previously was still part of the new organization, but that there would also be some new or improved elements too.
What was challenging was the amount of time it takes to overcome the fears and insecurities that are a natural byproduct of a merger or acquisition. We needed to communicate clearly defined promises and then our staff needed to see our promises being delivered on in order to build the trust.
EM: From what you’ve seen as a business, what kind of impact do you think technology can have on company culture?
RO: I feel that technology is a massive aspect of the modern business. Mobility is becoming far more viable and there are two reasons. Firstly, the performance convergence of laptops and tablets compared to desktops means that people are no longer tethered to desks in order to perform their tasks and with little to no compromise on performance.
The second reason is the tools that are available to measure activities and performance to ensure that managers have the confidence that key performance indicators are being achieved without the visual or physical need of oversight. This leads directly to improved efficiencies and productivity that businesses are searching for in ever increasing competitive world.
Another development of changing the workplace with technology is the use of digital tools to improve communications (Slack/Twist), project management (Teamwork/Trello) or to execute strategies (Perdoo). Even the measurement of organisational culture has gone digital using tools such as OfficeVibe or TinyPulse. All of this results in elevated levels of efficiencies and productivity. Communication is at the heart of culture and it is fast expected that all of this be done digitally, especially amongst millennials.
EM: How do you see technology’s role in the workplace changing in the near future?
RO: Partly my answer is covered in the question above regarding the advent of tablets in the workplace but there are also some very interesting developments happening in machine learning and artificial intelligence that I believe could revolutionise the way we operate in the workplace.
The big question is whether this will be for the better or whether this is putting us on a dangerous trajectory. I think there will be a demand for business owners to look at cost-saving but I am a firm believer that people deal with people, and I simply don’t see this changing.