A company's values shouldn’t just be a slogan; they need to be the driving force behind every decision in the business. No one understands this better than Simon Broomfield, General Counsel and Chief People Officer at Brooks Macdonald, who is working to embed an inclusive culture at the heart of his organisation.
Simon sat down with Luke James, Co-Host of the Interview, to discuss issues ranging from the importance of organisational values to aligning people strategy with business interests.
I’m General Counsel and Chief People Officer for Brooks Macdonald Group plc. We’re a leading investment management and financial planning firm which provides services to individuals, companies, and trusts. We manage £16.85 billion in assets, and we have 500 employees over 15 offices. I sit on the company’s executive committee, and I’m responsible for leading the legal and HR teams.
As you might expect, I’m a lawyer by training. I trained as a barrister and was called to the bar in 2002, and I spent some time in the courts before cross-qualifying as a solicitor. I’ve mostly held roles as general counsel, but I found that as I progressed in my career, I was spending more time managing people. I’ve always found it rewarding to help junior lawyers develop their skills and careers. Once I became a senior executive, I felt that I needed some formal business education, so I took an executive MBA at Imperial College. I initially wanted to learn more about accounting and finance, but as I progressed, I found myself drawn towards learning more about organisational behaviour. It resonated with me, and helped me understand that leadership should be focused on people. So when the opportunity came up to become Chief People Officer, I couldn’t turn it down.
Culture is absolutely key. We’re very fortunate at Brooks Macdonald to have a positive culture that everyone is proud of, that celebrates differences and individuality and welcomes input from all. At the heart of any culture, there needs to be a set of core values that are unwavering. That needs to be baked into the whole organisational framework. At every level, people need to hear the same messages and adhere to the same values. You won’t always get it right, so you need to listen to feedback and make sure you respond in the right way. We’re very lucky to have a group of passionate people on our DE&I committee who are totally committed to driving change forward.
It’s certainly a challenge, and it applies across the board. Since becoming Chief People Officer, my goal has been to ensure that our people strategy is completely aligned with our business strategy. It can’t just be an afterthought: it needs to be integral to the make-up of the firm. So, when we design new initiatives, we make sure they align with our business objectives. But that goes both ways, and when we develop business plans, we also need to think about our people, diversity and inclusion. The tone is set from the top, and leaders need to make a positive effort to ensure everything is aligned with our core values. People are our most important asset: you need to look after them if you want to be a successful organisation.
It’s about the relationships you build and the environment you create for your team. Leaders need to be confident but also have humilty, vulnerability, and honesty. It’s okay to admit when things aren’t working and to ask for help when you’re struggling. Equally, it’s not just about being nice all the time, sometimes you need to deliver strong messages, but you need to establish trust with your team in order for those messages to be delivered and received in the right way. It’s also important to create a sense of psychological safety to allow people to speak up — and the best leaders should lead by example and exhibit radical candour.
That’s an interesting question. It really depends on the make-up of the team. Most of my team is located in London, but we also have some based in Manchester and others who work remotely. As a leader, you need to make the effort. You need to reach out, make yourself available, and go out there to meet with people in person. Always treat people as professionals and trust that they’ll do the right thing. If you respect people’s ways of working, then they will return that respect and it will help create an environment where people can thrive and everyone has a voice.
You need to have a professional environment: that involves giving people freedom and flexibility, but also letting them know when there are areas that they need to improve in. When you’re building a team, you need to set out a vision. That should permeate through the organisation, from top to bottom. People need to know how their day-to-day work will bring us closer to those long-term objectives. If you get the people side right, then commercial success will surely follow.
As a lawyer, you learn to read people and pick up on things that they might not say out loud. When people are struggling or facing adversity, they sometimes find it difficult to articulate their needs. You have to read them and help them. I’m also highly data-driven and like to back up anything I’m doing with evidence. That extends to my team, and it helps to increase the quality of our output.
You have to be highly aware of yourself and how you come across to others. As you move up in your career, it’s important to be reflective about your own capabilities and weaknesses. If you find any shortfalls, don’t view them as failures, but instead as opportunities to learn and improve.