How to build an award-winning firm

For staff, life perks will always win over a target culture

From having a hot-desking boss to giving back, the focus always returns to employees.

My company Simply Business enjoyed the great honour of coming top in the Sunday Times Best Companies To Work For ranking earlier this year. Our pole position is testament to the work everyone in the company has done to ensure that a firm with nearly 300 employees across London and Northampton is the best place to work in the UK.
As a chief executive, winning this award is one of my proudest achievements. We’ve worked tirelessly to create a positive, empowering office culture in which people are put first – and we believe that this is the right strategy for building growth. But I am also confident that our efforts can be replicated by other SMEs.


First, we have instituted a series of schemes and programmes to ensure that our people are recognised as our biggest asset. Some of these might, at first, sound outlandish. For example, employees have the opportunity to opt in to a system in which their emails are automatically deleted while they’re on holiday. This ensures that they have a real break from work and don’t come back to an impossible inbox.
I don’t have an office, but instead I hotdesk with different teams across the business – in both London and Northampton. This makes my job more interesting, and it means that I can have a specific impact on different areas. But it also gives me the chance to get a better, more accurate insight into our customers’ needs and wants, from the people who know them best.


Second, we also take Corporate Social Responsibility very seriously, allocating employees who wish to get involved a number of days each year to participate in charity work, particularly focusing on our chosen charity, Kids Company. The uptake for this scheme has been remarkable, and our staff have really thrown themselves into the work.


Third, and just as importantly, we work with employees to build a culture that reflects and recognises the efforts that they put in – while also giving them an opportunity to refocus and relax. We are trialling mindfulness workshops in our offices, and we run free yoga classes every week. Employees can also choose from a range of cultural benefits from a “pick and mix” package, including cinema tickets, shopping vouchers, and gym subsidies.
For smaller businesses, this might sound like an unnecessarily expensive route. But when there is a constant temptation among some firms to institute more Machiavellian employment practices, working people to the bone for as little money as possible and instituting unreasonable targets, going that extra mile can make all the difference to your current and prospective employees.


For SMEs, rod over carrot can never be the answer. The real gains are to be made by working with employees – not in opposition to them. If we want to drive long-term growth, we need to be operating in tandem with our people, building an engaged and positive culture that breeds an active and entrepreneurial spirit. This is where the real, sustainable gains are to be made.
And this isn’t just about growth. Fundamentally, we are trying to change a market: any business I want to work in must have audacious goals, but these must be matched with the right values. Chief executives need to remember that there is a pastoral element to their work. We have the opportunity to work with our employees to make their lives better – both in and out of the office. That is a great honour, and one that we should seize – not only because it makes good business sense but because, on a human level, it is the right thing to do.
Jason Stockwood is chief executive of Simply Business.

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