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“Be flexible to create a fantastic work culture”, With Claire Harper of Harper Innovations

Be flexible. Once you have a handle on people not numbers, you realize that a flexible work environment is common sense and can improve company culture massively. For example, if someone has children, they shouldn’t feel they have to lie, take holiday time or feel guilty about taking their child to an appointment, picking them […]


Be flexible. Once you have a handle on people not numbers, you realize that a flexible work environment is common sense and can improve company culture massively. For example, if someone has children, they shouldn’t feel they have to lie, take holiday time or feel guilty about taking their child to an appointment, picking them up from school or staying home with them if they are ill. Family comes first and a flexible work culture that recognizes that and allows work to be done around family commitments will result in a happier, more productive workforce. If someone gets the work done, it doesn’t matter if they are working from home or if they flexed hours to fit around appointments. You hired people because you thought they would benefit your business, not because you thought they would only add value between the hours of 9am — 5pm sat at a desk in front of you.


I had the pleasure to interview Claire Harper. Claire is the founder and MD of Greater Manchester (UK) based Harper Innovations, parent company of Muscle Moose and distributor of SmartShake in the UK. Following a period of rapid growth over the past 18 months, Muscle Moose products are now available in several countries across the globe. Believing that everyone should have easy access to healthier alternative snacks, Claire continues to work with her team at Harper Innovations to produce innovative protein fortified products. Claire is a keen health and fitness enthusiast. She has represented GB in bodybuilding and Taekwondo and is a keen drifter who can often be found driving at drift days around the UK.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working at a fitness expo and discovered SmartShake, an innovative shaker that not only came with compartments (something unheard of at the time), they were also BPA free and DEHP free, whilst other shakers weren’t. At the time I was looking to start my own business; working as a self-employed physio meant I was limited by the number of hours in the day that dictated how and where I worked. Creating my own company meant my future was literally in my hands and I could work in a way that suited me. When I discovered SmartShake, I took the plunge of starting my own company to be able to bring it to the UK market.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I was unfortunate enough to have a bad fall from a horse that led to being hospitalized during the early days of Harper Innovations. When you are building a new company that is in its infancy, this strikes absolute fear through you as you worry ‘who will do this’, ‘how will they manage that’, ‘what if the IT system goes down’, ‘will the place burn down’ and everything else in between. It was the best learning curve I could have had. The place didn’t burn down, everyone got on with their roles and more. I learned I had chosen the right team around me and that I was absolutely fine to delegate more than maybe what I had before. It was an interesting learning curve for running the business that came out of nowhere…and don’t fall from a horse…that’s not clever!

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

All the projects we work on are exciting! All the Muscle Moose range is formulated to assist people to make healthier choices, from zero sugar to gluten free and vegan friendly products and we’re always working on something new. Since conception, we have brought innovative protein fortified food to customers and there is no denying that they are helping people make positive changes in their life. Protein used to be an unknown quantity for many people and a lot of people thought it was just bodybuilders that used protein products. Now there is a much higher level of understanding of the benefits and requirements of protein as part of a healthy diet and that is a good thing for everyone.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I think all workforces are struggling with the same challenges at the moment and it’s a struggle that will be ongoing until we have a fundamental shift in our attitude towards how we approach work. In my experience, one of the things that keeps the cycle of unhappiness at work going is not having a true work-life balance. As technology has progressed to allow us to be an “always on” culture in general, the benefits that technology offers also become drawbacks in many respects when it comes to work.

People aren’t switching off from work at the end of the day or over the weekend. It can’t be stressed enough that holiday time and time away from work benefit not only the individual but also the business. Taking time away should be mandatory and celebrated, not taboo or discouraged.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

I don’t know of any business owner that wants an unhappy workforce; we’re all human and no one wants to see someone else unhappy in any situation, including work. From a business perspective, it’s well documented that people who are unhappy at work can be less productive and the quality of work they produce can be of a lower standard.

To me, it is common sense that if your workforce is unhappy, you can expect a poorer rate and quality of productivity, which will in turn affect profitability.

One unhappy individual can have a negative impact on the whole workforce’s attitude, wellbeing and mental health, and this naturally circles back to poor productivity and potential poor profitability.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Remember that your staff are people, not just numbers. This is something that we’re all used to hearing, however not all companies are fully embracing or acknowledging. Pool tables and free-flowing coffee are nice but aren’t for everyone and it is important to have a company work culture that is inclusive of all people working there. No business is built on one person doing everything alone, so remembering people and not numbers is key. If you care, your team will care.

Once a week, we stop work and have an hour to enjoy coffee and cake together as a team — no excuses. We can talk about anything at all except work. That hour gives us so many benefits, including getting to know the people we work with better, sharing interests and taking some time out. Since we started our weekly coffee and cake tradition, productivity overall has improved, and our team has grown stronger.

Be flexible. Once you have a handle on people not numbers, you realize that a flexible work environment is common sense and can improve company culture massively. For example, if someone has children, they shouldn’t feel they have to lie, take holiday time or feel guilty about taking their child to an appointment, picking them up from school or staying home with them if they are ill. Family comes first and a flexible work culture that recognizes that and allows work to be done around family commitments will result in a happier, more productive workforce. If someone gets the work done, it doesn’t matter if they are working from home or if they flexed hours to fit around appointments.

You hired people because you thought they would benefit your business, not because you thought they would only add value between the hours of 9am — 5pm sat at a desk in front of you.

Be a team. It sounds easy but it isn’t. Being part of a team means really considering the other people you work with, what their strengths and weaknesses are and acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses. As a team, you work together to achieve business objectives, and everyone adds value. A strong leader will know how to bring a team together and motivate them individually as well as a group.

Encourage personal growth and development of your team. Work isn’t everyone’s life and people have other interests and skills in addition to the ones they use for work. Acknowledging someone’s goal to improve themselves in ways that might not relate to work and supporting them to do that is something that is often overlooked. If someone wants to retrain into another career path that will ultimately result in them leaving the business, it’s better to know and support them doing that. You will have a more honest, happy and productive worker for the time they are with you and that can only be of benefit to the business and other team members.

Recognize the value of your own personal development for yourself and your business. No one is perfect and we all have opportunity to improve ourselves on a daily basis. If you learn one new thing a day, that can add up to a whole new knowledge base or skill set over time. As a leader, you need to practice what you preach and show that you are open to learning new things for your own benefit and that of your business.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

The approach to work culture everywhere needs a fundamental shift in attitude that acknowledges people and not numbers. People need time away from work. People need holidays. People are more productive when they are well rested and do not have large amounts of stress to deal with. When you look at it that way, it seems ridiculous to think that businesses aren’t insisting their workforce take their annual leave and switch off from work on a regular basis; these are actions that benefit business, so why wouldn’t a business want that?

The culture about work culture should adopt a human approach; working excessive hours should not be seen as a badge of honour; there is nothing positive about burning yourself out. A culture of achieving a true work-life balance would benefit business productivity, profitability and most importantly, the people in the workforce.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I prefer to think in terms of leadership when I work with my team. The people who have had the most influence in my life and who have contributed the most positively have been exceptional leaders and have led the way as a result of their own actions, not managed me through things by dictating. I appreciate management is sometimes necessary, however the ideal for me is leading by example.

My leadership style is to try to be the very best version of myself every single day and I hope my team do the same. I treat people with the respect I hope to receive in return. I work from a people, not processes perspective. Being the best version of yourself doesn’t mean being perfect, it means being a real person who has goals they are working towards and obstacles to overcome, good days and not so good days

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people who help you on your journey when you’re building a business; it simply isn’t possible to single out just one person. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are, and I surround myself with people who help me to capitalize on the things I am good at and support me in the areas I am yet to master. I’m grateful to everyone I have worked with so far in any capacity because they have helped build my business, in whatever way that might be.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The products we make at Muscle Moose bring goodness to the world. At a time when health considerations are in the news all the time, to be able to offer people healthier alternatives for snacks and drinks is a benefit to others as well as our business.

Outside of work, I’m fortunate enough to be involved in several mentoring projects that provide support for people who are at the start of their business journey. I hope sharing my experiences allow other people to learn from what did and didn’t work for me and make their journey to success as smooth as possible.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s not impossible, it just takes longer than you think.” It’s a friend’s motto that they live by and have up on their gym wall. Whenever anyone feels they aren’t “getting there”, it’s there, 4 foot tall to remind you what you’re aiming for isn’t impossible and it’s so true. We see things as an overnight success or question why aren’t we “there” yet (both in our personal and business lives) but we often forget an “overnight success” is usually 10 years of hard graft. From when I was competing in bodybuilding, to starting out with the business, through to today; they are great words to remember.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I inspire one person to go after what they want, I will be very happy; an entire movement would be incredible! I feel more people are starting to do this. People are giving up big corporate roles and not following the ‘norm’. Many of us are questioning what really makes us happy. Where does our passion lie? Is it that you take up a new hobby that you always felt nervous to do, choosing not to get married, be a stay at home parent and don’t worry about those around you who might say you should ‘have it all’ by working and being a parent. Do what works for you — in work and your personal life.

It’s easy for me to say, I appreciate that, however in a time when mental health is becoming an increasing concern and consideration for workers and employers; now is the perfect time to make a change and do what makes you happy. It’s a cliché but life really is too short to spend time being unhappy in work! Imagine if everyone was working doing something that made them truly happy; I think the world would be a much better place.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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