Workplace Leaders
Grant Thornton UK
People and Culture Director

Richard Waite

The value of employee retention can often be hard to measure, and that can be an obstacle for those in people roles and their ability to show the importance of engaging employees and creating an inclusive culture. However, using data acquisition in new and innovative ways can bring that insight and show the value to those at every stage of the business. 

Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Richard Waite, People and Culture Director at Grant Thornton UK, a major global professional services network. With over thirteen years of experience at Grant Thornton in various people-focused roles, Richard shares insightful perspectives on embedding inclusion and belonging within large professional services organisations, engaging time-pressed employees on these topics, and adapting culture to today’s dynamic world of work.

Richard's Journey

Luke: Could you introduce yourself and provide a brief overview of Grant Thornton for some context?

My pleasure, Luke. I'm Richard Waite, People and Culture Director here at Grant Thornton in the UK. We're a major professional services and accountancy firm with around 6,000 professionals here in the UK and over 140,000 across our global network of independent member firms. My role focuses on leading elements of our people strategy here in the UK, centred on attracting, engaging, and retaining great talent within the firm.

Luke: Looking back at your own career journey, what led you to pursue senior people-focused leadership roles? 

I actually started my career on the graduate scheme of one of Grant Thornton's largest competitors, working in their people and recruitment team for just under three years. I then moved over to Grant Thornton back in 2010 and have taken on a number of different roles focused on people and culture during my time here. A large portion of my experience was in early careers recruitment and employer brand, but I also led people projects and more recently, I lead our recruitment team while concurrently spearheading various strategic people initiatives for the firm. 

Luke: In your view, what are the most crucial elements to get right in order to genuinely embed a sustainable sense of inclusion and belonging across large, complex organisations like Grant Thornton?

We've been highly focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging as an organisation for over 7 years now. Our approach considers cultural and workplace factors, strand-specific diversity strategies led by senior sponsors, and targeted tactical actions within business lines. This coordinated, multifaceted effort drives real results over time. 

On a people level, leaders must actively help their team members excel, deeply value difference, care for one another, consciously role model inclusive behaviours, and provide options for flexibility. When leaders consistently exhibit these traits, it shapes an environment where diverse talent can truly flourish.  

Luke: Fully engaging time-pressed professionals on inclusion topics can be a common hurdle. How do you approach ensuring buy-in and focus in a busy services firm like Grant Thornton?

You're absolutely right, and I'd argue it's even more crucial for organisations like ours where our people essentially are our product. We don't manufacture or build anything – we sell knowledge, expertise and time. So, beyond just delivering great client work, we must also create an environment where professionals want to stay and where diverse talent can thrive. This is core to our business model. We ensure people grasp how inclusion fundamentally connects to wellbeing, productivity and performance. Internally, we quantify the value of retention – for every 1% drop in attrition, we achieve over £2.6 million in cost savings. Data helps us to have focused conversations and target interventions at the organisational, team, and individual levels as needed.  

Luke: Building an ongoing culture of learning and growth is key too, particularly with constant change. How do you foster this at Grant Thornton?

Our business school does a fantastic job of creating tailored content and experiences for professionals to continuously develop at all levels – whether that's our school leaver and graduate programs or cutting-edge initiatives for senior partners on leading the firm of the future. We provide a blend of cohort-based, independent, virtual and in-person learning suited to different audiences and topics. Equally important is helping people reflect on real-time learning from their day-to-day client work. It's about motivation through all career stages, not just the start. 

Luke: As a closing topic, how are you establishing that sense of connection and belonging in today's hybrid work environment amidst more remote and dispersed teams?  

Such a critical question. We're highly focused on trust, flexibility, and empowering managers to lead and engage their teams in new ways. Employees expect near complete autonomy in when, where and how they work – part of which is hybrid work but also guilt-free flexibility in hours. In-person time must provide value through connections, culture, and community. We also use digital tools strategically to drive efficiencies that free up time for wellbeing, family, and more. And we seek to minimise environmental impact. It's an evolution as expectations continue to change.

Luke: What’s the best or most meaningful piece of career advice you’ve received along the way? 

Our CEO often advises people to “back yourself and be yourself.” Have confidence in your abilities, but also ask for help when needed. Early on, I wasted energy trying to conform versus being my authentic self at work. You're most successful when you can relax into who you naturally are. Such great advice that I continue to heed.  

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