Workplace Leaders
Head of People

Rob Worrall

In today’s business world, there are an enormous amount of pressures and complexities that can make it difficult for people to either engage beyond the remit of their job or understand how to advance with a company. Sometimes the best thing an organisation can do is to keep things as clear and simple as possible—for example, not having so many programs and initiatives that people don’t know where to even begin engaging with them. Another key thing can be to make sure there’s regular clear, open communication with people in an organisation to make sure their needs are being met and they’re aware of the opportunities available to them. 

Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Rob Worrall, Head of People for BDO, an accountancy and business advisory firm in the UK, about the importance of this simplicity and directness in communicating with employees. 

Rob’s Journey

Luke: What led you to your current role?

When I was at university, I did a business degree and started to get an interest in Human Resources (HR) and have been doing that now since 1995. I’ve always enjoyed working with people throughout my career. I started at literally the most junior level as an HR assistant and then worked my way through various roles; I was most recently with Clyde & Co and then FTI Consulting before I joined BDO six and a half years ago. 

Luke: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned throughout your career?

In HR, it’s really important to remember that you’re working with people. That sounds like an obvious thing to say but with the number of emails, calls, etc. you receive, you can get into process mode and forget there are humans behind those messages. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is to treat people the way you want to be treated. So have that in mind when you’re talking to anyone. Be genuine and authentic. Even if you’re having to convey a difficult message, lean into it, and have a conversation. You deal with stakeholders in many different businesses, but fundamentally what they want to know is how you can make the business successful, and without people, businesses won’t be successful.

Luke: What are some of the main programs you’re most excited about at BDO when it comes to people, culture, and inclusion?

Last year we introduced our People Manager Accreditation, which is, put simply, about individual meaningful engagement with our people—sitting down and having a conversation with each person. This year we’ve added what we call ‘success conversations’ where we have senior members of the firm in dialogue with our people regarding career paths, well-being, and workload, this is in addition to our usual annual performance review process and is more focused on long--term aspirations. From an inclusivity perspective, we also have what we call ‘Be Yourself’ this encompasses our plans and actions linking to equality, diversity and inclusion. An example of something I am particularly proud of, are our networks, who work to support people throughout the firm. We have a range of networks ranging from our Be Inspired network focused on gender balance, our Blend network, for our LGBT+ colleagues or allies, or our CEDAR network, designed to celebrate ethnic diversity. We want to make sure our talented individuals throughout the firm feel supported.

Luke: How do you get people to engage with programs surrounding inclusion and well-being?

First of all, we try not to have too many programs. Less is more. Instead, we have targeted propositions that people can engage with. For example, we’re currently doing our BDOSummer Games, a six-week program where we encourage those able to collaborate, connect, and get involved in fitness goals. That can be as simple as walking one extra bus stop, doing marathons, lifting a certain weight level at the gym, or a team walk at lunchtime. The reason we do that is it encourages people not only to think about their well-being in the most holistic way but come together for a shared challenge, building that glue across the organisation.

You have to make sure you’re clear about what you’re trying to achieve, who’s going to do it, and how. If you can be clear about that, you can measure it. You can say we’re aiming for X. Then, if you do something and see that’s not working the way you want, be agile and respond to that. We may say we want to be an inclusive employer but what does that actually mean? How are we going to make a difference in that space? See how you’re progressing as you go through. If it’s successful, brilliant, celebrate success! And if it’s not, we need to tweak the approach.

Luke: How do you best develop a culture that supports learning and growth for people across an organisation?

Simplicity is important because you can overwhelm people with choice. So first off, it’s being clear about what each person’s role is. We have an organisational framework called Achieve My Potential and what we do is align everybody to that. People can use the framework to see what level and skills they should be working at based on their grade.  We try to simplify the number of learning options available to people around that. Many people are content with the job they’re in. Not everyone wants to be promoted but they can still learn how to develop their skills, so we have programs for that. And for the people who do want to advance further, we make sure that they’re clear on the career development pathways and opportunities they have with different targeted learning programs. As a large firm with a huge number of teams, we offer secondment opportunities which really helps people learn about other parts of the business and even opportunities to work abroad at other BDO firms in our global network.

Quick-fire Question

Luke: What would be your top piece of advice for someone entering the field today?

Be clear about what success looks like to you and why you’re doing what you’re doing. What is the benefit to the business? What is the benefit to the people? Make sure you’re clear about those and then you know what to aim for.

Also, listen to people. What are they looking for? What are their aspirations? What are their concerns? Listen and respond. And make sure your response isn’t one-size-fits-all. For example, we have three broad streams of business—audit, tax, and advisory—and then finance, marketing, HR, etc. Think about how to engage in each of these areas in a way that’s relevant to each of them. It’s important to be authentic. You’re not always going to be able to do everything people want. But be genuine and honest.

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Luke James
Luke works hand-in-hand with leaders and changemakers in our professional services markets. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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