What my boss has in common with David Ogilvy, Teddy Roosevelt…and Dolly Parton.

My boss, Martin Bennett the CEO of HomeServe UK, is an award-winning CEO. Fact.

Martin has been ranked by Glassdoor as a top 25 UK CEO for two straight years from 19,000 rated CEOs and I’ve had the privilege of working closely with him over the past three years. Is he perfect? No, he’s not. Like all bosses, he can be a challenge at times. And he demands the very best out of himself and all of us. He has a sign above his desk that talks about him expecting everyday to be better than the last for Customers and People at HomeServe and boy does he stick to that commitment.

But there’s much more, and in particular five things that I wanted to share from my personal insight, illustrated by an apposite quote. And I make no apologies for this being an epic post, I had too much to say. So get comfortable…

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” - Dolly Parton

Martin encourages each of us to be the best version of ourselves. This is the holy grail of leadership and is not easy to achieve because it involves letting your team chase their passions and often do things differently to yourself. As a result my role as CMO has expanded to include more than a few things that I’m passionate about. We have created momentum in our business around ever increasing standards of service which is directly linked to our philosophy and strategy that if we empower our People to do the right thing then they will take care of the Customer. This sounds like a simple idea but in Financial Services it is actually a more difficult task than you would imagine. It is a passion of mine and Martin said “get on with it”.

We all need a purpose at work and Martin recognised that mine, if allowed to run its course, would help him to achieve our overall strategic objective of providing an effortless Customer experience. I run a pretty big product, sales, and marketing machine but the reason I get to work a few hours early each day is because my boss has allowed me to apply the best version of myself to my role, to unashamedly be myself and I am not the only one. When everyone has a common purpose plus the empowerment to follow your own passions then you have a powerful mix of passion and purpose which is almost unstoppable.

We have seen our employee engagement climb annually the past four years from a starting position of 56% in 2012 to 84% in May with, this year, an 89.9% completion rate and the complication that 1,000 of those People are field-based engineers working on their own. And, as we knew would happen, our Customer service levels and measures have followed the same trajectory.

Martin sent me a note after we got to 84% quoting back to me something that he remembered me saying (“I know I can get heavy sometimes on all this People stuff”) and encouraging me to not let anyone ever change that about me. I printed that note and showed it to my wife. I folded it neatly and put it in the safe with all my most important documents. It meant the world to me. 

"It’s Never Too Late To Be What You Might Have Been.” - George Eliot

Martin also encourages us to think about what we are trying to accomplish versus what we are doing. In the craziness of the working day, it’s easy to forget why you are doing something. I use this George Eliot quote a lot with my team and it definitely applies to Martin’s leadership style.

The past three years have seen us reinvent our business. It started with something simple. Martin asked us to consider “what business are we in?”. When we first considered this simple question we were not even sure. To prove the point we surveyed the top 100 managers in HomeServe and found out that actually nobody agreed on the answer. Out of 100 managers, only 11 of them agreed with each other that we are in the “insurance business”. Beyond that, the definitions were wildly inconsistent.

So what did we decide? After much debate we are now clear on this and it has not changed for three years. We are a home assistance business. And the way we create value for our Customers is by providing effortless home assistance. This change happened 20 years after the business was founded and the clarity for our People has been transformational in the products and the way we approach service (just make it easier for the Customer). HomeServe is finally living up to its full potential.

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” - Theodore Roosevelt

Martin has a way of always moving us forward together. HomeServe UK is a small company by some standards but with nearly three thousand People and over 2m Customers in the UK it can be a challenge to get everyone on the same page. We found ourselves in a bind back in 2013 when we started our effortless strategy. We were managing ourselves back from the regulatory and Customer purgatory of the previous two years and we were absolutely committed to our strategy of putting our People first, which required a lot of focus. On top of this, we had to make some significant investments in our operating structure, specifically, in our engineer network and in our systems. Our systems investment is huge. We are starting to come to the end of a technology change programme that is similar in size to our annual profits. We started that change programme back in 2013 and are on schedule, but we’re still not able to use the great new tools it provides.

My point is that over the last two years, we have worked through all of this structural change and we have stabilised this business and even started to grow. That is quite the trick when you think of the uphill task we faced in 2013 and, for me, the real magic is our strategy. Instead of leaning on technology, cost cutting, or portfolio acquisitions as our focus Martin made the strategy about our People, and then never used our need to make the structural investments a reason for us not moving forward.

Effortless service is what we are all here to do and our strategy ensures we keep this front and centre. Take the technology change project. When you are in the service industry, and when you are managing thousands of Customer engagements every single day, you need your systems to be an extension of, and facilitator for, the service you are providing. Our systems were not brilliant, which is why we needed the investment, but we did not use that as an excuse to hold us back. Martin encouraged us as leaders and our People to get creative and make something special with what they have right in front of them. And at the same time as doing this, we have involved our People directly in shaping how the new system will work – we have thousands of People helping with a change programme instead of a small group of SMEs in technology or transformation. They became the agents of positive change.

The new tools will come but this support to do what we can with what we have allows us all to start moving forward and get some momentum.

“Some people see innovation as change, but we have never really seen it like that. It’s making things better.” – Tim Cook

Martin and a small group of us agreed a strategy three years ago that had reducing Customer effort and increasing value to the Customer as the key “How to wins”. The first important takeaway from that statement is we agreed the strategy as a group; it was not delivered to us completed by Martin and it was not developed by external consultants. Together we decided what type of business we wanted to be and we moved forward together. We then shared it with all our leaders and then eventually in person to every person in the company.

We are a service business but that service is made possible through our insurance products. We had the crazy idea that to make the insurance more valuable we would just look for all the reasons we would say no to a claim and find a way to say yes. In other words we decided to encourage claims on our policies. Cheaper was not better. Better is better. In the last three years we have enriched our products so much that the claims rate has doubled. This is adding real value, actually double the value, for Customers which, in turn, makes our Front Line more engaged because their jobs are more rewarding. And, if you provide real value then you can ask the Customer to pay a fair price for that value.

Innovation does not have to be about technology – although Martin has encouraged us to take a few ‘moon shots’ – and value is also not all about a cheaper price. True innovation is about making things better.

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.” - David Ogilvy

Martin lets us have fun. We launched a People Charter about a year ago which is essentially a list of values about how we work together. They have been incredibly well received by our People and have quickly become a part of our Culture. I don’t think they changed our culture as that had already been done but they gave us a common language and also quickly set the expectations of new starters. I really really wanted us to have a People value about having fun at work. It is a big part of the environment that I try to create as a leader and while I did not get my way, if you think back to my first quote about Martin allowing us to be ourselves then this is a good example.

We have a lot of fun at work because if you are not having fun then you really are not engaged. If you reflect on the most fun jobs you have had in your life they are often when you are working the hardest. People see all of our posts about Halloween Carnivals and music festivals but that is not what I mean by fun. We do those to send a signal that fun is okay and family fun is encouraged but when I talk about fun I mean something a bit closer to the main thing, as Steven Covey would say. That you work in a company where there is no blame culture, where you win together. The sense of teamwork and purpose that this creates is a lot of fun. Look at this picture and I dare you not to see how much we enjoy what we are doing. I make it a priority and Martin, like all good leaders, removes the barriers for me to allow our People to have fun.

I still wish that I’d gotten the word “fun” into that charter but just because it isn’t listed on the wall doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen especially when your boss makes it easy for you….which takes us right back to the start.

Congratulations Martin, we are all very proud of you.