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How to Study and Apply Ideas from Successful Organisations

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Studying successful organisations can inspire you and provide ideas to improve your own organisation. Helena Moore, director of people experience at Bromford, spoke about her experiences in adopting ideas and practices from successful organisations at Spark the Change London 2016. Reading about case studies of high performance leadership and culture from organisations like Netflix, Zappos, and Virgin, and visiting organisations like Timpson, has helped her to understand what makes these organisations successful and to find ways to apply them in her own organisation.

It’s not what you do, but the way you do things that can make the difference, says Helena Moore. In preparing yourself for the future, the trick is to pick through material and find out if and what will work in your own organisation. She gives examples in her talk regarding recruiting, onboarding new people, involving customers, leadership, using social media, establishing values, and developing people.

InfoQ interviewed Helena Moore to get more details on how she adopted ideas and practices:

InfoQ: What are the "tricks" that you use to apply ideas from companies like Zappos, Netflix, and Virgin in your company?

Helena Moore: Maybe "tricks" isn’t quite the right word. Although I’d have to agree sometimes you feel you need a wand to make things happen! It’s a good question as, yes, ideas and inspirations are great brain food but leveraging the value from the ideas to make a difference is the magic. So my list of "tricks" would be:

  • Be curious - I know it’s an overdone word right now but curiosity is essential. Don’t just look for great ideas in the sector you work in or related sectors. Our open approach to engaging with customers over social media came from looking at examples like Innocent Drinks rather than anyone in the housing sector
  • Suspend your judgement - nothing makes me more frustrated than an immediate "that’s great but it would never work here". Even if something seems ridiculous, with some suspended judgement and time and space to incubate, an idea can evolve into something that is different from the original version but that can really add value. Our new onboarding online module New.Be was inspired by an eclectic range of influences including Sainsbury’s and Arsenal Football Club but it doesn’t mirror any of them - they just wouldn’t suit if lifted straight. The idea of our pre social media rant line came from Virgin Mobile.
  • Be prepared to contribute - don’t just take, take, take - add value to others. Whether it’s joining networks, forums or hosting someone who wants to come and have a mooch, this investment of time is worth it. Payback may not be immediate and may not come directly from the person who takes from you but it will happen. I joined an organisation called Culturevist a few years ago; a bunch of people interested in improving culture and engagement in organisations. Culturevist at the time was a free to join network - I chatted and shared with people from Starbucks, Paperchase, Innocent Drinks, Yammer etc. It was there that I first heard about Holacracy (now well-known and adopted by the guru of culture organisation Zappos) and whilst we don’t apply Holacracy in a pure form it has inspired us to flatten structures for instance.

InfoQ: Can you give some examples of the ideas that you applied at Bromford?

Helena Moore: I’ve mentioned a few above, and when I reflect on these they seem individually small but it’s the sum total that has impact, so to add to the list…

Ahead of some of the widely heralded approaches adopted by the likes of Virgin and Gore around taking leave without rules, back in 2002 we decided to introduce trust-based flexible working. We decided that hour-counting, spreadsheets and rigidity wasn’t for us – and we still have this today. People work out flexible working with their manager.

Another blast from the past that has had longevity was taken from men’s body product Lynx. They referred to a scene from the film The Matrix where Neo the main character was offered a red or blue pill. The red pill being the one that allowed Neo to experience reality. We use "taking the red pill" as a standard language when facing up to reality when we haven’t always done things as well as we should. Who’d have thought that we would have had this in common with men’s cosmetics brand that "over 8 million blokes across the UK & Ireland use Lynx every day".

InfoQ: What was it that made Bromford decide to become an employer of choice?

Helena Moore: Who wants to work somewhere miserable! That’s a key reason in itself. but we have always believed in the impact on the bottom line of a really highly engaged organisation and there are some specific inspirations behind this. At the start of the millennium we began to look at what made great organisations tick. We were inspired by Timpson’s, known to many as the shoe repair people. Timpson’s colleague engagement was (and still is) exceptional. When we visited them we started to see that they empowered their frontline people to do the right thing for customers and have genuine control of local service delivery. We have also loved the approach of First Direct Bank. Originally a telephone banking service they clearly understood that they offered the same services as any bank but the difference and secret to their growing success was in the interactions their colleagues had with customers. Clearly not scripted, their people were empowered to have great conversations appropriate to the client. Adding humour, empathy and general chat made the bank human - and very successful.

InfoQ: How do you make new people feel welcome? How do newcomers feel about that?

Helena Moore: It all feels a bit in reverse that we make a fuss of people when they leave - there are collections, cards, flowers, gifts and maybe a drink or two. We loved the way that Rackspace Hosting celebrated new starters so we decided to adopt our own approach. We just ask teams to do something to celebrate new starters, it might be a team breakfast, a helium balloon or a bunting line of welcome messages - but starting a new opportunity is definitely cause for celebration. As well as this less formal approach we have our great online onboarding platform - New.Be - which holds a plethora of information, my favourite being "Mr Benny Fitz's sweet shop" the place where people can select their favourite benefits and pop them in their basket to check out! Our CEO Philippa also meets every new starter as she runs a session at all our induction days which we call the Bigger Picture.

InfoQ: You've tried several ideas for recruiting people. What has worked and what hasn't?

Helena Moore: We started using assessment centres to test for attitude in the early noughties. We liked what ASDA had done at the time with their recruitment process so we created something similar. We called it "recruitment in a box" as it was styled around a boxed board game. It worked brilliantly especially for frontline and administrative roles and we started to pull in people with great attitudes - we could teach them the rest. Over time this stopped being as successful for some roles and we recognised that one size did not fit all and we had negative feedback from some of our internal colleague customers. We evolved the concept by flexing and designing the process to combine testing technical capability alongside attitude and added in a realistic situational element too. For example, for a gas engineer we use a real home with a real boiler repair and we simultaneously assess how the candidate treats the customer with how they complete the task. For a landscape team assessment we even run assessment in a field!

InfoQ: What are the kind of things that Bromford does to connect with their customers?

Helena Moore: Some examples from pre social media days have been a "rant line". The inspiration came from Virgin Mobile and the sentiment was to make it easy and quick for customers to let us know when they weren’t happy with something 24/7 with no paper work. We got some amazing feedback and some "interesting" messages too! Social media has of course overtaken this now and we have taken inspiration from the likes of Innocent, O2 and John Lewis and try hard to add a real human element to our communications. We have asked customers to investigate our services especially when they had made complaints. These Customer Service Investigators -our own CIA - had some amazing results. More recently we have made a shift in our relationship with our customers – we are developing coaching capability in our neighbourhood coaches to work closely with our customers to unlock their potential and achieve their aspirations.

InfoQ: Can you give some suggestions to organizations as to what they can do to revitalize their purpose, vision and mission?

Helena Moore: We don’t have a vision mission and value set anymore. We have a single set of Bromford DNA - Be Good, Be Brave, Be Different and Be Commercial. We recognised that lots of colleagues either couldn’t recall the vision, mission, or values, or got them mixed up, recalled them but trotted them out without really thinking about what they were saying and even a touch of cynicism and a sarcastic voice! Having the single DNA alongside our really strong social purpose of inspiring people to be their best works well for us. We use Yammer as the vehicle for our big all organisation conversations. We get lots of colleagues posting stories about what they have been up to on a daily basis with an attached hashtag.

Spark the Change London 2016 brings together leaders from across the business to explore how they can work together to create lasting and total change. It aims to inspire people and offer practical help in overcoming obstacles and developing skills to make a change. InfoQ films sessions at Spark the Change London and is covering the conference with Q&As, summaries, and articles.

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