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Joanna Carlin

Simply Business

Head of Talent and Resourcing

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How to build an award-winning company culture


How do you create a fantastic working environment and a happy workforce? It’s the million dollar question that we believe we’ve found some answers to.

Simply Business has been named the Best Company to Work For two years in a row, topping the Sunday Times list in both 2015 and 2016. The rankings are based on employee feedback, so coming first is something we’re particularly proud of.

Building an award-winning culture takes some work, not just from the HR team but from everyone in the business, and buy-in from the senior management team is crucial.

And getting their buy-in shouldn’t be so difficult, as having a happy workforce and an awesome company culture brings wide-reaching rewards. As our CEO Jason Stockwood says: “It’s a fact of modern business that by investing in a happy, engaged workforce you’re also investing in your customers. Getting it right internally is good for everybody, including the SMEs buying our products.”

Here’s how you can create your own award-winning company culture.

Making values meaningful

Many companies come up with a list of great-sounding values, but for your values to mean anything, they need to actually underpin what you do.

Our values are simplicity, honesty, authenticity, learning and empowerment. We bring these values to life with these five core principles:

  1. Smart working
  2. Equal opportunities
  3. Opportunities to grow
  4. Work is life
  5. Giving back

This might still sound quite lofty, but let’s dig a bit deeper to discover some of the concrete things you can do to support your principles and bring your values to life.

1.  Enable smart working

Instead of focusing on presenteeism and a nine-to-five office culture, can you give your staff flexibility, and (within reason) trust them to work when and where they want?

If possible, encourage remote working and allow employees to work from home. You’ll need to put some measures in place to make this work, for example by making meetings remotely accessible via Google Hangouts, and providing contact centre staff with WiFi telephony and mobile headsets for when they’re not at their desks.

You may also need to put some guidelines in place for homeworking, or ask teams to put together their own. For example, staff may need to give a certain amount of notice if they want to work remotely, and they may be required to come into the office for certain meetings.

It’s also a good idea to create flexible working spaces for when your staff are in the office. At our brand new London office and our newly-refurbished Northampton office there are workshop rooms, hot-desk seating, and spaces for collaboration.

2. Go further to promote equal opportunities

You have a legal obligation to provide equal opportunities, but think of how you can go further to make your workforce as diverse as possible.

Consider joining groups and signing up to pledges so that you can work alongside other organisations to increase diversity in your workforce, and speak to your staff about ideas for promoting diversity and making your organisation open and welcoming to everyone.

If your organisation is quite male-dominated, for example, you may decide that you’ll interview equal numbers of men and women for new roles, and you’ll put succession plans in place to ensure you have both men and women ready to fill future management roles.

We’ve recently signed up to the Women in Finance charter, which is a promise that financial services companies are making to improve gender diversity at senior levels. Currently, 36 per cent of our management team members are women, and we’re promising to maintain or improve this by 2020, and to be open about our plans to create a more diverse company.

3. Give your staff opportunities to grow

However big or small your company is, think about how you can provide opportunities for career development, for example by offering training, skills sharing, secondments and leadership programmes.  

To retain and motivate your staff, provide clear avenues for career progression. Consider running coaching programmes, leadership development programmes and secondments, and provide training and promotion opportunities for staff who are keen to progress.

Many members of our product and marketing team started off as consultants in our contact centre before a secondment in another team led to a permanent move.

Another top tip is to start running interactive skills sessions led by internal or external experts. We run these on subjects ranging from grammar to SEO to blockchain technology, and some of our developers also offer coding lessons to non-technical members of the business.

4. Encourage a good work-life balance

Think of ways to make your workplace a site for fun and relaxation, as well as a place to work. Provide opportunities for staff to discover new hobbies, share interests, and socialise with each other outside of a work context.

How could you make your workplace a more pleasant place to be? Perhaps you could offer morning yoga classes and mindfulness sessions, or follow in our footsteps and run a ‘wellbeing week’ with things like free health checks and talks on topics like household budgeting and healthy eating (remote workers can join via Hangout, of course!).

Your office could host cinema nights, poker nights, cheese and wine tasting, and even a game of Robot Wars. Ask your staff what they’d enjoy most.

If you’ve got the budget, you can even take your team on holiday: we had an amazing weekend in Barcelona last year and we’ve got a trip to Berlin scheduled for the summer.

5. Give something back

Make sure your business is engaging with the local community, and provide opportunities for your staff to raise money for charity or to volunteer their time. Also, make sure you’re ‘giving something back’ to your staff for all their hard work!

Forging partnerships with local charities and raising money for them is a brilliant way of giving back to your community. It’s also something that your staff can really engage with, and it provides great opportunities for team-building outside of the office.  

Be creative with your fundraising efforts. As well as payroll giving schemes and bake sales, consider running ambitious company challenges that your staff can seek sponsorship for, and holding promise auctions in which employees can bid for skills, services or products offered by their teammates.

Our current charity partner is Whizz-Kidz, and we’re aiming to raise over £150k for them over the next three years. In September, eight of our employees will embark on a 65 km trek across the Mont Blanc region of the Alps, aiming to raise £20k in sponsorship.

Finding out how you’re doing

It’s great that you’re aiming to build a brilliant culture, but you need to make sure that you’re living up to your values and that your staff are happy. Key to this is a non-hierarchical structure and an environment that encourages people to speak up. This makes it easier for people to talk openly, and to be honest about how they’re feeling about their job and their company.

We also have some more formal channels for feedback. Each quarter, we ask everyone to feed back on the company culture confidentially, and we then create action plans to drive the right activity. We come up with ways of maintaining what we’re doing well and tackling areas that need improvement.

Your business as a force for good

When you’re thinking about your own company culture, start with your values, making sure that the ones you have actually strike a chord with your staff. Involving people from across the business in defining your values is a good way to do this.

Next, think about how you can use your values to underpin what you do as an organisation, from flexible working to community engagement.

Finally, make sure you’re getting feedback from your staff – both formally and informally – on how they feel about the company culture, and that you’re creating an open environment where people can offer honest opinions.

We didn’t enter the Best Companies awards this year, because instead we’re working towards B Corp accreditation. The B Corp vision is that businesses should be a force for good, recognising that they have a responsibility to their community and the planet, as well as their shareholders. Whether you have B Corp aspirations or not, it seems like a great vision to share.  

One Response

  1. I would agree that all of the
    I would agree that all of the above are important for elevating a company’s culture, but there are two fundamental factors without which, none of it can happen. Firstly, as you alluded to, you need a strong leadership that genuinely values people management and secondly, a rigorous recruitment process whereby time is spent getting to know the candidates and ensuring that they fit with the company’s values and spirit. Time and again, I’ve seen people quit jobs due to personality clashes/poor cultural fit (not in my current role, I hasten to add!) – and this kind of disruption never makes for a great working environment.

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Joanna Carlin

Head of Talent and Resourcing

Read more from Joanna Carlin

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