Workplace Leaders
Brook Street
Operational Strategy Director - People

Sarah Middleton

In people-focused industries like recruitment, it is essential that organisations focus on wellbeing, belonging and inclusion — because if people are happy and feel supported, then they produce better results. 

Sarah Middleton, Operational Strategy Director of People at Brook Street, sat down with Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss how she fosters a sense of belonging and inclusion in her organisation, her career so far, and the key pieces of advice she has for those seeking to work in people leadership. 

Sarah's Journey

Luke: Can we start with an introduction to yourself and your organisation?

My name is Sarah Middleton, and I lead the operational strategy team for Brook Street. We are a high street recruitment agency that supplies permanent and temporary work in our local markets across the UK. Often, people will say to me they got their first job through Brook Street. We have been in business for over 75 years. Out of work, I’m a mother with two sons and a little dog. You can find me on the sidelines of a football pitch or spending time with friends and family. 

Luke: What did your career journey look like?

I’m what we call in Brook Street a ‘boomeranger.’ I joined as a branch manager to open a new location for the brand. I did a number of roles over twelve years, typically including anything new or untried. We were initially a standalone brand, and I was approached by someone I had previously worked to join a large retailer. I then spent seven years there and learned a lot — my two key takeaways were that change can be positive and is vital and that when people work towards a common goal, what they can achieve is amazing. I was then asked to return to Brook Street to deliver change initiatives, which are key plans that align with our mission. At Brook Street, that is to be the leading local expert providing exceptional quality and prioritising people. Our business comprises people — so I couldn’t say no! 

Luke: What are some key things to get right when embedding a sense of belonging and inclusion across the organisation?

Listen to employees at every level. An inclusive workplace means that all employees feel welcomed and appreciated by all teammates. They also have the best ideas! We ran a competition to ask our people to name a change initiative to create a sense of belonging, which they called Accelerate You. Brook Street has such a unique branch culture and truly feels like a family. 

Luke: What main initiatives do you have around equity, diversity, and inclusion? 

Accelerate You is a programme that is launching later this year. It enables our high-potential associates to access different jobs and in-demand careers. I’m referring to our temporary workers. We do this by providing upskilling opportunities, personalised guidance, and we support them so they can achieve their career goals. We will also provide clients with a sustainable solution to accessing in-demand talent. Most organisations struggle to find in-demand skills, but that’s part of our core business. 

We also have the Margery Club, originally launched to celebrate our 75th year in honour of our founder Margery Hurst, who pioneered mental health initiatives in her time. So in 2021, we upskilled a team of mental health first aiders to support our workers. We now have a trained mental health first aider in every branch. 

Luke: It can often be difficult to engage busy staff on these topics. How do you overcome this challenge?

Brook Street is a sales organisation, which means that creating and maintaining a performing workplace is absolutely crucial. We need to recognise both individual and team contribution. We introduced a scheme called Brook Street Heroes which gives people the ability to nominate and thank each other, if someone is making a difference or going over and above. We share these so others feel inspired to be the best they can be. 

Luke: How do you draw the link between work on these topics and higher-level commercial goals?

It’s a balance. Commercial success is enabled by happy, motivated and inspired teams but there is a fine line to ensure that both priorities are important. It is hard to have one without the other. You need to foster an inclusive work culture to create an environment where people feel motivated and engaged. I think, in turn, this translates into improved performance and candidate satisfaction. 

Luke: What are the most important things to get right when building and sustaining a high-performing workplace?

A big one for me is trust and integrity. I think that earning trust and creating a safe environment where people can share ideas means they collaborate and innovate. Strong communication allows you to share goals and expectations, which links back to the sales culture. Active listening and having a two-way channel of feedback are important too. Finally, recognition and appreciation are really important for motivation. 

Luke: What traits do you think the best people leaders possess?

Authenticity is really important. Being relatable and transparent in your work to the people you lead. Accountability — do what you say you will. Communicate and set a compelling vision. All of these are crucial. 

Luke: What is some of the best advice you have received in your career? 

Say yes to things that scare you. Imagine what could happen if we all believed we were capable of a little bit more. I have learned that friends, family, and colleagues are the best sources of support and encouragement. 

Additional advice I would give to someone entering the industry today is to ask questions. Find the person doing the job you want to do and spend time with them, ask them what has made them successful and seek to understand. 

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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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