Seven doesn’t have to be lucky

Want to turn your rabble of yawning shirkers into an elite squad of motivated over-performers? Then try these seven simple tips, each drawn from exceptional corporate environments by Charles Orton-Jones


Away days don’t have to be awful. Digital marketing agency iCrossing threw iFest, its very own music festival in the countryside outside Brighton. It had bands, DJs (mostly iCrossing staff), tipis, photo booths, Pimms, local ales and hog roasts. The 150 staff brought their families and partied through the night. The response was so positive, the firm immediately set about planning the next one.


At Nationwide, the world’s largest building society, the HR team creates annual programmes for employees at all levels of their development. These include individual assessments, writing plans for their progression, modules of formal learning, peer coaching, visits to other organisations to learn from their practices and secondments to Nationwide’s charity partners to work on their business projects. Gill Hill, Nationwide’s head of talent, says the scheme pays for itself many times over: “It increases employee engagement, retention of staff and length of service, and supports succession planning.”


Ernst Stavro Blofeld had no time for failure. Yet despite his plans for world domination, James Bond always won in the end. Brompton Bicycles takes a different approach to Blofeld and seems to be thriving because of it. Managing director Will Butler-Adams says: “At Brompton we have a strong culture of not over analysing an opportunity. We calculate the worst-case scenario, make sure we can afford that and then get on and go for it. If we muck it up, those responsible feel bad enough as it is. The silver lining is that we learn and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Calculated failures are a part of learning and growing – embrace them.”

It increases employee engagement, retention of staff and length of service, and supports succession planning


Bizarrely, some of your workers would rather be at home playing Grand Theft Auto 5. Why? Because games are fun. Work is hard and gruelling. So why not turn work into something more “gamey”. In fact, gamification is a hot trend right now. Take customer relationship management (CRM) packages. It is tedious to insert data. So CloudApps has created a plug-in which awards points and badges to the best users. The firm’s motto is “Turning adoption into addiction”. Does it work? Cisco says it achieved a 64 per cent increase in adoption by its sales team via the gaming approach.


Tiny acts of recognition can be powerful motivators. Virtual secretary firm Moneypenny answers calls for 6,000 UK firms. It creates teams of four to foster togetherness and local decision-making. Good performance gets a bonus of £10 which teams save up for an outing. A “Wall of Fame” recognises outstanding ideas, and those serving ten years get a reserved parking space and Walk of Fame star. There are free ice-cream van visits, eggs at Easter, roses on Valentine’s Day, competitions, and a company newsletter, The Khazi Times, is posted on toilet doors. In an industry where 35 per cent staff churn is normal, Moneypenny has less than 2 per cent and has never needed to advertise for staff.


And how can you be a learning culture? By giving employees both the time and money to invest in their development. At branding agency RPM, employees are encouraged to take career breaks to pursue education or to “just have an adventure outside work”. An “Experience Fund” offers up to £1,000 for time-off or volunteering. Breaks can last up to six months.


Perhaps we are doing this all wrong. Instead of gleaning your tips from Raconteur in The Times, you should be listening to your staff. At marketing agency DigitasLBi, a group of 22 employees are picked each year to form a “Culture Club”. This examines the way the firm works, looks at the best way to make life better for employees and challenges the status quo. The firm has 6,000 staff in 25 counties, so needs an effective way to monitor and improve the corporate culture.