It takes a variety of different components to create a successful business that truly values its employees and makes them feel safe and respected, in turn allowing them to flourish. The organisation has to continually communicate with its employees, and keep reviewing and improving based on their needs. The leadership also has to understand that investing and supporting their employees will result in great outcomes not only for the business but for the customers as well.
Max Webber, Co-host of The Interview, spoke to James Fernandes, Managing Director (MD) for Carrington West, an infrastructure recruitment business, about how a company can best take that understanding and successfully translate it into an ideal working environment.
Simon Gardiner and I set the business up thirteen years ago. We had both been working at quite a large corporate recruiter and felt that it wasn’t being operated in the best interests of the clients or the workers. We believed we could do things better, and that was really the foundation for why we started our own company. About eighteen months later, we took on two other shareholders—Alex Machorro Kerr and Nick Rowe—and started growing the business from that point onwards. Around five years ago, I became MD. All of us had been joint directors, but as we grew, we realised we needed more of a figurehead. Someone to take a step back from the day-to-day and keep driving the business and vision forward. Since then we’ve grown from 30 people to 105, so hopefully we’re doing something right!
There’s no silver bullet to this. You have to do the right things consistently over time, and that’s how you make a difference. You build a good culture and make sure people feel that they’re being listened to and are actually the most important thing. We have a flywheel adapted from a concept in a book by Jim Collins, which we’ve divided into sections, each one leading to the next, and then going around in a circle. If we invest in our people and look after them to make sure they’re happy, look after their wellbeing, and have the best opportunities for learning and development, we can’t help but have a happy, motivated, skilled staff. If we have that, we can’t help but have a great culture, processes, systems, and work environment. If we have all that, we can’t help but serve our clients well. If we do that, they become personal partners and keep coming back to us, and we can’t help but do more business, and the business grows. When that happens, we have the means to invest more in our people, and the cycle goes round and round, and it gets faster and faster.
The key is you have to keep working on every one of those segments every time, through feedback, policy, and review. For instance, we have a daily feedback app for our employees where we continually ask them questions about management, environment, events, wellness, EDI, etc. so we can always be adapting our approaches in real-time. We believe in being better every day and every way, and then you can’t help but have a great company.
We want people to bring their whole selves to work. We look at each person’s individual situation and we try to adapt to that. We communicate constantly. We run lots of initiatives to show that we care about inclusivity. We’ve had a speaker on mental health. We’ve had a speaker on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) come in and she shared with us her first hand experiences of challenges trans people face, and what we have to look out for with regards to our internal biases. We also have an EDI champion, Ella Razzell, who’s very passionate about these things. We have her go out to various events to learn what we should be doing more of, focusing on, and improving.
We try to create a cultural trust. Having a trusted team means you can be vulnerable around them. You have to be transparent and honest and you have to have the ability to talk openly with each other. It’s imperative for a team to work well together. Part of being open is being accepting of other people and listening, so we’ve embedded that within our culture. It becomes easier, then, to integrate and push through our EDI agenda.
We have a vision for the business, which we update slightly each year, and base all of our decision-making on this vision. So when we come to a crucial decision, like we did over Covid, we go back to that vision. We could’ve made redundancies, but instead, we didn’t let a single person go.
And I think we’ve been correct. We proved that the link between treating people well and financial gain is a direct line. Our employee retention rate is 90%. For most other recruiting companies, it’s between 40 and 60%! The reason is that we treat people well, so no one wants to leave. And it saves us a lot of money. Losing good people is expensive! Having to train new people over and over again is costly, and the customer experience is significantly improved by speaking to the same point of contact year after year. This person will know that customer inside and out, as well as the market.
Max: What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received?
It’s actually from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. In it, he says that you have to make people feel important but it has to be genuine. If you can do that not just as a leader but also in life, all of your relationships will be better. Take a genuine interest in people, make them feel important, genuinely listen, and understand where they’re coming from.