We loved them before we came third in their UK Best Places to Work list last week and we even loved them when we didn’t get on their list last year despite us believing we would be. Why? Because transparency is a requirement these days if you want engaged People and Glassdoor builds that transparency like nothing else - with existing staff and new recruits. Let the truth set you free. Here is the story of how we ended up ordering 1,100 pizzas to celebrate being in the top three places to work in the whole of the UK.
In November 2013, the soon-to-be CEO of HomeServe UK (and soon to be my boss) Martin Bennett, asked me, and my strategy and digital directors, to join him in Sweden at a creative business school called Hyper Island to take a master-class in digital strategy. Hyper Island is not your typical exec education, but then again what we had ahead of us was not typical by any means.
When Martin was to become CEO in January 2014 he wanted to launch a new strategy to take us to 2020 and this education course – plus others we took at Harvard - was part of our preparation for that. Jonathan King, Martin’s predecessor, had steadied the HomeServe UK business during the prior two years after a massive mis-selling issue had nearly destroyed us. I had been at HomeServe about a year and had worked closely with Martin during that time. I had joined a business trying to find its soul and now that it was stabilised it was the right time to move from a strategy of survival to one that could actually take us forward.
Our strategy comes together
What does HomeServe do? We send someone to fix things in our Customers’ homes, and in doing so, we make their lives easier. So, HomeServe is obviously a service business at its core and we agreed therefore that a fundamental part of our strategy had to be the front line staff who looked after our Customers.
I learned 20 years earlier that if you look after your People, they will look after the Customer and the rest will take care of itself. I first heard that phrase at MBNA in the nineties when I started my career and still feel strongly about it. All great Customer service is enabled by putting your People in the best position to succeed at work and in their broader lives.
Then, when we were at Hyper Island, we heard things that were very similar to this, particularly about creating a sense of purpose for your People. But there was something else they talked about that really hammered home the point to me which was: amplifying that sense of purpose with transparency.
Putting all this together, in our final strategy – which has worked so well, we’ve only changed two words in three years – we stated that we would “put the front line first” and we really meant it. For example, Martin had the brilliant idea of coming to sit with us – my extended Marketing team - on the call centre floor. He put a sign on his old door in the C-Suite that said "gone to see the Customer" but it was really about flattening the structure and letting the call centre staff know they were important.
We also said in our strategy that we wanted to build our brand from the inside out and this meant our service, or more specifically our People, would be the brand. We landed on a position where our employer brand and our consumer brand would be exactly the same. In fact we decided to build the culture and employee brand first.
My team which consists of the traditional marketing and product functions as well as the service and sales call centre took the first steps towards creating the new People first culture. I'd been working hard on culture in my team since I'd joined. We had a lot of work to do but it felt different already in January 2014 when Martin officially started. It strangely felt like a bit like a secret. Here we were sitting on something special and no one knew about it.
Glassdoor adds the special sauce
I first read about Glassdoor in April or May 2014. Anonymous reviews sounded like the perfect way to build transparency and share our budding culture with new recruits. Glassdoor had some clumsy sharing tools that would have required me to do a mail merge - which is about 10 years too late for me – so using my weekly informal email update (called ‘Good, Bad & Ugly’ or ‘GBU’ which goes out to about a thousand People across the company) I simply asked People to leave reviews. I shared a link to Glassdoor and told them the truth - that we had a culture that I wanted to share and it would be nice if they could help. I also stressed that it was anonymous and we wanted all reviews, good and bad.
We had a lot of reviews in that first burst and since then I've nudged People time and time again to leave a review. Martin has asked the whole company in his weekly updates and we've done desktop takeovers asking the whole company to leave reviews. We even gave out cards at our all-company ‘cascade’ event. Telling all of your staff that you'd like them to leave an anonymous review on an external website is real transparency. I've been told that it feels good just to be asked because we trust the outcome and don't hide from the truth. You get the good and the bad which is what real transparency is all about.
Here are a few special Glassdoor moments from the past two and a half years:
- If you are transparent then you need to be really transparent. We like responding to reviews but in November 2015 we had two reviews that were nearly identical and gave us 1*. I didn't like the tone of them so I decided to respond in Glassdoor as I normally would and I also posted them word for word in my GBU with a more personal response. It wasn't that they were lowly rated (we have thousands of People so you get those) but what they said was so off what we wanted our culture to be. They talked about the ‘good old days’ selling in the call centre before the Financial Conduct Authority £35m fine, a culture where representatives were highly incentivised on sales only. They referenced the high bonuses and freebies such as alcohol and XBoxes. My response was simple and public: That the days of focusing on sales instead of the Customer were gone and not coming back and that maybe this was no longer the company for them. I received so many emails from the front line thanking me for saying what had to be said to these People who were clinging to the old days.
- Last year at this time I personally got a hard reminder in why we wanted to be transparent in the first place. When the2016 Glassdoor Best Places list came out last year we were no where to be found. Martin had made their top 25 CEOs list and I'd asked the whole company to leave reviews. We had hundreds and hundreds of reviews to go with a very high rating. People began to ask me why we hadn’t made the list. They assumed it was a bias towards tech or London companies. Glassdoor told us the results came through an algorithm that they had in place to keep things fair; our score, it seemed, had got on the wrong side of the algorithm, because it was very poor in the bad old days and then looked a lot healthier as our culture took hold. Initially I felt our credibility had been challenged so we bought some media in the papers to make our own statement. I was then reminded by our Brand Director, John Greaves, that we were not collecting reviews to get on a list and that 80% of our new people told us that they had read the reviews and they were a big reason why they joined us. He told me to grab the moral high ground and move on. We did thanks to his advice.
- In October of this year I saw first hand how culture and transparency can impact your bottom line when an analyst following our stock not only mentioned our Glassdoor score in her write up of the company but posted a graph of the average score climbing the past few years in one of her notes. She mentioned that she had thought all our talk about Customers and a new service culture was just management speak from a company who had a reputation to repair. Then she visited in the call centre and immediately knew it was real. You can feel it in the building. She read through the Glassdoor reviews and they confirmed both her conversations and that feeling. We only have six analysts following us full time and she was from a very big bank so her report had a big impact. The stock went up 5% or about £75m on the day it was issued proving how a focus on culture can lead to clear financial return.
- We had a 1* review last spring that really made me sad. The reviewer said they loved the company but that their boss was handed a promotion when no-one fully qualified applied. It turns out this boss was terrible and more disturbingly that no one would listen. The reviewer felt they had to leave the company after eight years as their boss was just too erratic. I responded that a bad boss is an understandable reason to leave but also a terrible result for HomeServe. I respected their view but mentioned that I just wish they had talked to me or someone else in their management line first. I got a LinkedIn message soon after that from the reviewer asking if I was still willing to listen. It turns out that I knew this person. They worked in another department at a different site but we had come into contact. We eventually had a phone call and this person had told me they were going to go back to school. I offered to write a recommendation. I also had the opportunity to tell them that their old boss had been terminated, that the rotten apples always get found out but this time it was just too late. The person didn't want to come back but definitely left on better terms. I went to go read the review again for this post but it was gone.
- The day I got to tell my boss that he was thefourth highest rated CEO in the UK according to Glassdoor was special. He wasn't expecting it and he isn't one to look for praise. I was just really proud and happy for him. Martin has put into place a brave strategy that took a bit of time to kick into gear. I don't know if you've ever tried to change an entrenched sales culture into one with a Customer focus but it isn't easy. Focusing on People first takes commitment and time. Martin winning his award was a sign for me and the rest of the exec team that we were making progress. He was then placed in the list again the next year proving we are committed for the long term to this strategy. He currently has a 96% approval rating which is really cool.
- When we started to change our focus we needed to find a way to allow our front line to own the Customer experience. We came up with something calledCustomerFirst which is a daily meeting attended and managed by front line volunteers at all four of our sites. They are given a fund to solve those Customer situations when computer says no but if the front-line had it their way they would do it. We've been at it every single day since February 2014 spending close to £500k and helping thousands of Customers who had issues but not the right cover. I could feel CustomerFirst was important just talking to People but I knew that it was part of our culture when it was specifically mentioned in hundreds of Glassdoor reviews. People would rattle it off like a benefit when giving reasons they liked working for the company: Free parking, child care vouchers, and CustomerFirst. That type of feedback keeps you going when the going gets tough.
I think what I've enjoyed the most from Glassdoor is reading the reviews each time they are posted and having a real understanding of what we are doing well and what we need to work on to get better. Who has time to wait for a six monthly engagement survey. It is 2016 and I want to know now. You know what? So do our recruits and our People. Glassdoor gives them what they want.