Aimee O'Leary
Written by
Aimee O'Leary

Becoming a great place to work starts with strong roots. 

On Thursday 13th June we hosted our very own Graham Norton show to hear 3 very different organisations stories on how they built themselves from the ground up… people-first.

The event was run by our fantastic partners at Masgroves so of course it was a little quirky, a little different and a lot of fun with their very own Tony Cosgrove  as the host of the show. 

Putting your people first really works in EVERY kind of organisation, of ANY SIZE and ANY INDUSTRY 

Guests on the sofa were: 

A small award-winning law firm… Hall Brown
An award-winning boutique family law firm who like to do things differently. With 35 staff, and a lengthy list of awards under their belts, they have built this law firm focused on their people and some of the challenges they’ve faced as small employer. 

The country’s leading telephone answering service… Moneypenny
Born in 2000, most people in the UK have spoken to Moneypenny. Few realise it. With over 500 employees Moneypenny is the country’s leading telephone answering service. Their Wrexham office has been dubbed “the coolest” in the UK boasting as it does a pub and a treehouse as part of their people strategy: “What we believe is simple: the happier our staff, the happier our clients.”

One of the most globally known online clothing stores… Missguided
The huge fashion brand founded in Manchester ten years ago.. We heard their story of how they approach internal communications and engagement and the challenges that being a large and rapid growing organisation brings. 

The UK’s fastest growing accountancy firm… Cooper Parry
Lastly,  Accountancy Firm Cooper Parry joined us to share their culture story, history and how they’ve turned themselves around from the financial downturn to be the fastest (and funkiest) firm of accountants across the land! 

The results: Why people first really matter

A people first culture is really important. Not only does it create happier people but for the people who are only interested in business results it massively drives them too. 

Happy people makes for productive people. Not just because loving your workplace makes your people want to do their best but also because neuroscience shows that dopamine puts your brain into a heightened learning state. This ultimately leads to higher turnover and huge business growth. In fact:

  • Cooper Parry have become the fastest growing firm of accountants in the UK. With a whopping 3 x Employee Engagement Awards and being listed in the top 20 in the Sunday Times best 100 companies. 
  • The Missguided turnover for the year increased 4.9 per cent to £215.91 million. 
  • Moneypenny are experiencing a whopping 20% year on year growth and are also listed as one of the top 20 in the best 100 companies. 
  • Hall Brown are generating £3.5 million annual turnover – huge especially for a 35 person law firm and have been named as one of the Times top 200 law firms to work for. 

Secondly, recruitment costs are slashed and attrition goes down. Last year the Worldcom confidence index revealed that only 23% of global CEOs and CMOs are confident in their businesses ability to attract and retain talent. Creating a culture that people want to be a part of will slash your costs of attracting and retaining talent. In fact, Moneypenny revealed that they almost never pay any recruitment costs as they are getting around 3000 CVs a year! Bear in mind this is for a company 750 people… Not only that but their annual staff turnover is 4% – less than a third of the industry average

The day was filled with loads of top tips and mistakes to learn from. Here are my top 2 of each.

2 Top tips for building a people first culture

  1. Make sure you build a culture that’s unique to your people
    Whether that’s through an engagement platform or simply by asking line managers to talk to their teams, you need to make sure the culture you are building is bespoke to your people and not just a copy of what another fabulous company is doing. Moneypenny actually found that it was important for their people to have their own desk whereas a lot of other companies are moving to hot desking. Cooper Parry saw a competitor copy their decor and branding which ultimately fell flat on it’s face when inside their own culture. And Missguided have a very specific demographic of employees that wouldn’t replicate in other fashion or retail industries.You need to be asking your people what they really want from their workplace, you may be surprised by their answers.
  2. Openness and communication
    Neursocience shows that autonomy is one of the 5 things our brains need to reduce stress and increase happiness. Your people need to know how their actions are directly impacting your business in order to feel like they have autonomy. This means they need to know everything that’s going on – even the ugly stuff! Simple changes like an open plan office can make all your people feel included in all parts of the business. 

2 Biggest Mistakes

  1. Rushing the recruitment process
    When you’ve created a fabulous culture, things are going well and your business is growing you need to make sure not to rush crucial recruitment processes. In fact, all four companies stressed how important recruiting the right people was in creating their culture in the first place. But it’s just as easy to undo all the hard work by pulling people in just to put bums on seats.

    Recruiting by attitude is key, don’t be distracted by a sparkly CV if you don’t feel their attitude fits with the culture you are trying to build or maintain. It doesn’t matter how brilliant they are at their job if they don’t have the right attitude. Both Moneypenny and Hall Brown shared that they had made the mistake of recruiting too quickly when they experienced periods of rapid growth, which created a more complicated process and extra unnecessary costs and stress on their people.
  2. Policies that stop you doing the right thing
    It’s important to remember that your people are humans first and colleagues/ employees second. Sometimes policies get in the way of doing the right things. Claire from Moneypenny shared a story when their payroll system didn’t differentiate between unauthorised absences for compassionate leave and other unauthorised absences. This cost them a great employee because her pay was deducted from her absence even though she was going through a difficult time. She then left the organisation because they weren’t there when she needed them the most and they lost a brilliant talent. Since then Moneypenny have made sure all policies can be overruled if it’s the right thing to do. Make sure your policies are fit for purpose and can be overruled if necessary.

This was just a small snippet of the learnings shared at this brilliant event. If you want to learn more about the do’s and don’ts of building a people first culture then join our community and become a member, make sure you sign up to our newsletter, come along to one of our events or pop us an email at [email protected]

A massive thank you to B works for hosting us in their fantastic space. I wish I lived close enough to work remotely from their wonderful space and am considering changing to bank with them, be sure to check it out if you’re in the area – it’s free!


And finally, the biggest thank you to our host and speakers: Tony Cosgrove, Masgroves;  James Brown, Hall Brown; Claire Smith, Moneypenny; Glenn Grayson, Missguided and Steve Whittle, Cooper Parry.