Ben Whitter is known as Mr Employee Experience in business circles, and his role as a global Employee Experience (EX) leader brings him into contact with many companies keen to improve how they accommodate their most important resource – their staff.
He is also the CEO and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, which partnered the 2018 Employee Experience Awards. As part of his blog series for Customer Experience Magazine, Ben is touring the headquarters of awards finalists to uncover and highlight what makes them EX pioneers…
The quality of the Employee Experience is fundamental to the client experience.
It is a distinct competitive advantage that provides a massive opportunity in business, and no-one knows this more than the Group CEO of DRP Group, Dale Parmenter.
DRP, a creative agency with 250 employees and a turnover of £27.5 million, is light years ahead of where the company found itself a few years ago. Imagine having 60 percent of your business wiped out almost overnight. Well, that’s exactly what happened to DRP Group following 9/11.
That moment changed everything and the company was on the brink. This was a crisis on a scale that the management team had never faced before. The response was not too dissimilar to any other company in this position – they had to cut costs and find ways to remain in business.
One cost was an employee base that had grown significantly. The proposal that was taken to staff was to scale back employee numbers by nearly half and let people go.
However, at the get together, one employee presented a different idea. They were determined to move ahead and grow the business together. There was clearly a real and deep connection to the company.
This alternative idea was a collective pay cut across the business that would save jobs and ensure the firm weathered this storm. It was a profound moment for the CEO and proved to be a major catalyst that provided the foundation for the multi-award-winning company we see today.
During this crisis, the CEO directly experienced the full power of leading in a human-centred way, and the huge benefits that this unlocks for everyone. Employees became the solution and the business took this to heart. The business made transparency and trust the central pillars of a now award-winning approach that ensures people feel a part of something special every day.
The group, bonded by a renewed sense of togetherness, drew on their collective experiences to create new revenue streams which would bring them back stronger than ever before. Inevitably, with employees now at the centre of the business, morale and business results went through the roof.
It was a very special time at DRP and the CEO determined that they could never go back to the way it was. They absolutely needed to build an employee-centric company to lead, not just for the turnaround, but the future growth of the company.
Fast forward a few years, and I find myself standing in DRP’s reception surrounded by a gazillion industry awards.
The firm recently won Silver in the Learning and Development category of the UK Employee Experience Awards, and it’s easy to see why they have been successful.
What stands out from my visit and several hours talking with Dale is the journey the company went through and how that experience created a successful people-centric organisation.
Experience is woven into everything at DRP, and connecting this is the company’s mantra ‘Anything’s Possible’. This is the way people experience the business every day and through this lens experiences are crafted, created, and delivered for clients.
So much so that just a taste of the Employee Experience and the way this business operates is enough to convert 85 percent of the prospective clients that are invited to tour the company and ask questions directly to employees.
The company is now doing the same within the candidate experience and people who are interested in working for DRP can spend time at the HQ in the Midlands. This type of approach requires a significant level of trust and at DRP it is incredibly high – this may partially explain why there is a 92 percent staff retention rate.
The team is involved in every aspect of the business and this is a genuine example of growth by design. It is conscious, intentional, and aligned to drive business performance.
The sense that the founder sincerely cares about the people within the business is palpable. My high-energy conversation with Dale spilled out of the meeting room and we explored the company in-depth, from values to systems to people. As we walked around the offices and the storage and creation facilities, what became evident was that the CEO was in amongst the detail of the employee and client experience, and I mean details: the history, the background, the changes, the people, the stories, the anecdotes, the developments, and the achievements.
What also became clear was how little HR was involved in this. It may come as a surprise to learn, given the level of employee-centricity, that HR was resisted at every turn. Resisted by the CEO and for a very long-time.
He resisted the need to even form a function around human resources; it just did not sync well with the way they progress the company and community. What’s the point? Aside from compliance, administration, and regulation, why did he need the function? What value did it add?
These are big questions coming from the CEO of a successful company and should serve as a wake-up call to professionals busying themselves with low-value work. But if that is the case, how do they lead EX projects and deliver the work?
Well, that’s simple- as a team and based on an internal client brief. For example, for a senior project, if the CEO is the client then everything within the business is mobilised to deliver it. It is treated like a client engagement, which also serves to sharpen skills, process, and the overall experience, but the high standards delivered on the outside must also be evident on the inside of the business. This, I believe, sets EX organisations apart from the rest.
While others are squabbling over internal agendas and resources, organisations like DRP are delivering based on a strong and accountable mandate from the top. I have talked about the CEO as the ‘Chief Experience Officer’ many times before.
In these scenarios, colleagues from the Board are matched with key talent from marketing, internal communications, and other functions to develop, prototype, and bring into operation experiences that add significant value to client and Employee Experience.
Examples of this include the ‘build your own’ performance review experience, HERO awards, and internally designed and produced apps to connect colleagues.
It also includes the drip-feed on TV displays around the firm highlighting key news, progress, and other key experiences; one such experience is the annual Christmas party for employees and families. Harry Potter took over DRP last year in a themed winter wonderland. This £100,000 experience will live long in the memory and affects not just employees, but also families and clients.
This is a team that is together and they are often found working on charity projects and experiences that impact society at large, which is another theme within EX organisations, as companies seek to become more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
Investment is strong in career development and in the all-staff meetings to maintain and deepen to connection within the company. All staff can attend a two-day event and experience to take a pause in the year.
One evening is a meeting for the leadership community and deals with themes specific for that audience. The main elements of the overall experience include speed-dating with the board, client panels – where staff can ask candid questions to existing clients – four development workshops, and sessions where every board member can be asked any questions about the business…and then it’s party time!
It’s not all work – EX organisations are never afraid to treat people as adults and have fun, so a key element of the event is a staff party.
There is a lot more I could say about my visit to this company, about the specifics within the Employee Experience, and I may follow-up in the future on this, but I think the point of this story has been well and truly made already.
The role of the CEO and top team in creating progressive and employee/client-centric workplaces is critical because the quality of your Employee Experience is a direct reflection of your CEO and, quite frankly, I believe that ‘Anything’s Possible’ with a people-centric CEO.