New to this year’s Culture Pioneer Awards is our Brand category. We invited organisations to demonstrate authenticity between their external brand and internal culture and prove that what they promote to the world is lived and breathed in the workplace.

Our five finalists all went on unique journeys to becoming vanguards in their respective fields – be that recruitment, insurance, wellbeing or residential care. When misalignments, reputational concerns and archaic approaches transpired, these brand pioneers spoke up and sparked change. We explore their journeys below…


Your Chapter

As a specialist residential care and education provider, Your Chapter supports some of the most vulnerable children and young people. When, in 2020, a misalignment between brand and culture led to reputational damage, the company worked hard to turn over a fresh leaf and put children back at the heart of everything it does.

As part of these efforts, the company restructured its senior management and HR teams to help steer its workforce in a new direction. Their mission was to re-energise employees and champion an inclusive culture that truly puts people first.

The company focused on getting under the skin of the frontline and support teams’ experience to better understand its people. Board members spent time with the care providers and gained a more comprehensive view of the operations and procedures in place. Senior management spent time with the support functions to build reciprocal knowledge and improve cross-team cohesion. And each HR team member now acts as a business partner for each business division.

Ensuring employees come on the change journey with Your Chapter, culture champions are enlisted to promote positive change and support people facing emotional barriers. The organisation has also set up an ‘employee voice’ group to offer honest feedback on changes.

The company has introduced more employee-friendly and inclusive policies, including an additional leave policy and time off for other duties (eg charity work). To boost recognition and motivation, employees’ achievements are acknowledged through ‘on the spot’ awards.

In terms of results, the company’s turnover rate has reduced by 42% comparing 2021 to 2022 and better quality candidates are coming forward for vacancies. Perhaps most important is the positive impact made on vulnerable children, with an increase in occupancy in Your Chapter’s homes seen due to improved employee retention.

Judge's feedback

“Adversity caused Your Chapter to radically change how it saw culture and its employer/consumer brands. The organisation has embedded its culture into everything it does to improve operations and, more importantly, the experience of the young people it serves.”

Judith Germain – Culture Pioneers judge and leading authority on Maverick Leadership



Anthony Fitzpatrick, Aviva

Being there for people when needed is the core mission of multinational insurance company Aviva. So when Anthony Fitzpatrick, Head of Colleague Experience & Employment Policy,  recognised a misalignment between the company’s mission and its handling of conflict, he instigated change.

At the time, the standard complaints and concerns approach was to invoke a grievance procedure. An employee engagement survey flagged that this lengthy, bureaucratic, formal process was incongruous with Aviva’s wellbeing culture. Rising anxiety levels coupled with eroding workplace relationships were impacting motivation and productivity.

Help from the experts was needed, so Fitzpatrick brought in David Liddle, CEO of TCM, a culture change, leadership development and conflict resolution consultancy.

Liddle and Fitzpatrick worked to redefine the way disputes were handled, using TCM’s groundbreaking Resolution Framework. This model ditches discipline, performance and grievance procedures, and replaces them with a menu of compassionate and collaborative options that are grounded in restorative justice principles. Options include facilitated conversation, mediation and formal resolution. 

The culture shift had to take place across a workforce of 15,000 people, spread across eight major sites and satellite offices from Glasgow to Southampton. To achieve this, Liddle and Fitzpatrick rolled out a rigorous agenda of conflict management training, accredited mediation training, supporting content, and bespoke masterclasses for senior management.

Marketing and L&D teams were brought in early to collaborate on the implementation and employee feedback was welcomed throughout.

Just prior to the rollout, Aviva was dealing with 132 formal grievances, with 10 having gone through to appeal stage. Post rollout, there has been a significant drop in these numbers, with many disputes being resolved by just a simple conversation between two people.

The most recent year’s figures show 91 requests for resolution. Following an initial triage conversation, 66 cases were either withdrawn or resolved informally, and 24 cases were resolved through a facilitated conversation or mediation.

Judge's feedback

“Aviva showed clear ambition to shape its culture around conflict in a way that was more authentic to its external brand. The new framework demonstrates employees are more receptive to a compassionate, informal approach and disputes are resolved in a more person-centred, time-efficient way.”

Professor Emma Parry – Culture Pioneers judge and Head of the Changing World of Work Group, Cranfield School of Management



Charlie HR Culture Ops Team

The culture-focused HR software company for SMEs, Charlie HR, is on a mission to ‘Make Work Better’ – both for the organisations it serves and its own people. By acting “as a playground” for different policies and processes, the SME is continually evolving its own culture, while also providing authentic guidance to its customers.

Driving this experimental ethos is Charlie HR’s Culture Ops Team, with ‘warts and all’ learnings shared through its Culture Ops podcast and blog.

One recent playground activity was its ‘nine-day fortnight’ – an adapted version of the four-day work week trend. After a nine-month trial, the business has seen improvements in productivity and deep work, and 70% of team leads were happy to continue with it. They acknowledge it’s not a perfect solution, but learnings are shared widely, both internally and externally, to help improve. 

Other experiments have included unlimited holiday days (which didn’t work for them), sabbaticals for long-standing team members (which did), and the creation of an open-source transparent career progression framework, which has been downloaded over 4,000 times! The business has also introduced an enhanced equal parental leave policy, a £30 monthly wellbeing budget and a £550 annual L&D budget – all as part of its quest to Make Work Better.

The team has also set up daily, company-wide, remote ‘huddles’. The chair rotates weekly, giving every employee a voice on topics related to Charlie HR’s High Performance Behaviours such as ‘giving energy’ and ‘getting uncomfortable’.

Charlie HR is seeing solid organisational results that suggest its culture-brand connection is strong. The company has achieved a 95% probation pass rate, an 87% retention rate, a steady 8/10 engagement score (compared with the market average of 6.4/10) and a 98% customer satisfaction rating.

Judge's feedback

“Charlie HR’s culture naturally flows between and across their business and people, aligning with their objectives. I love how they are challenging norms to trial new things that could Make Work Better, while being transparent when their experimentation fails.”

Debra Corey – Culture Pioneers judge, Chief Pay it Forward Officer, speaker, author and consultant of DebCo HR LTD



Frog Systems

In 2019, the scale-up Frog Systems pivoted its offering to deliver wellbeing and inclusion platforms with a human touch.

This pivot presented an opportunity to better connect its people strategy with its vision to create a compassionate, ‘speak up’ society.

Determined to ‘walk the walk’, Frog Systems brought in external diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultants to craft new reward, recognition and DEI policies that would improve the physical, social and psychological wellbeing of its people.

Where Frog Systems cannot compete with larger tech companies on salary, its goal was to provide a level of wellbeing support above and beyond that of corporates.

The start-up created a Wellbeing Steering Group with a diverse membership that reports monthly to the board. It acts as the voice of its colleagues and to date has secured Birthday leave, set up a recognition channel and created a policy on out-of-hours emails, with more in the pipeline.

The cost-of-living crisis has put financial wellbeing firmly on Frog Sytem’s agenda, with every employee receiving a £50 monthly Working From Home allowance to help with mounting bills. In addition, an HMRC-approved share option scheme and profit share scheme are available to all colleagues.

Each employee receives support from a health and lifestyle agency in developing personal wellbeing plans. And for those exposed to harrowing stories as part of their research and filming work for the business, mental health training is also available.

As a result of all the above, Frog Systems has become the sixth company in the UK, and the first wellbeing company, to be awarded the Investors In People, Invest in Wellbeing Gold accreditation in May 2022. As part of the accreditation process, 89% of all employees strongly agreed that wellbeing was important to Frog Systems. 

Judge's feedback

“Frog Systems displays a strong people-centric approach that links to its socially responsible client work and vision. It shows a credible connection between brand and culture through both tangible acts and strong symbols of care, trust, support and wellbeing.”

Perry Timms, Culture Pioneers judge, Founder and Chief Energy Officer of People and Transformational HR



Pivot Search

Pivot Search is an outlier in the recruitment industry. The SME is boldly paving the way to a more progressive and human-centred way of supporting the hiring process, moving past outdated  ‘command and control’ modes of working and negative stereotypes commonly found in the profession.

There is no “one size fits all” policy across any part of the business; everything is tailored to what works for the individual. Employees can work when, where and how they wish – and parents have the flexibility to enjoy both working and parenting commitments.

To further support employee wellbeing, the organisation pays for a professional workplace counsellor to help employees whenever needed. This offering is promoted by management to ensure employee uptake. 

This is a recruitment company like no other. Micromanagement, leader boards and blanket KPIs are a thing of the past. Employees are treated as humans, not revenue-generating cogs in a machine. Instead of top billers reaping all the rewards, the business celebrates collective success, with an earning structure that is transparent, fair and equal.

The company is also passionate about innovative use of technology through building up partnerships with external suppliers. This is a great value-add for clients and frees up consultants’ time to position themselves as credible specialists. 

Judge's feedback

“In an industry where outdated approaches to work still dominate, Pivot Search is a true Culture Pioneer. The SME brings its company culture and values to life in innovative ways and, hopefully, we’ll see others in recruitment follow suit.”

Debra Corey – Culture Pioneers judge, Chief Pay it Forward Officer, speaker, author and consultant at DebCo HR LTD


Explore the inspirational stories of Culture Pioneer finalists from the Wellbeing, Inclusion and Learning categories.