How to become a great workplace

What makes the women-led recruitment specialists Futureheads an award-winning 'great place to work'?

We launched our London-based digital recruitment specialist company, Futureheads, in 2009. The three of us had a long history of working together. We understand each other's skills and allow each other to play to our strengths. We set out to balance a nurturing and empowering culture with a healthy dose of pragmatism that provides structure and clarity.

In May 2014 we won the Excellence in Leadership award and silver in Best Workplaces at the Great Place to Work™ awards.  Here are some of the ways we achieved this.

A collaborative bonus scheme

Most recruitment businesses run bonus schemes that pit individual recruiters/billers against each other.  We believe this can create a siloed and uncommunicative environment.  Instead we created a unique bonus scheme which is based on company performance. Everyone takes a slice of the company’s success, rather than being rewarded based purely on individual fees. This means everyone works together to achieve a collective goal each month. As a consequence our teams help each other to get there.

This approach is not for everyone but we believe in it wholeheartedly, as do our staff, who really feel the benefit of this collaborative approach.

Total transparency and learning together

We are often told that we share more about the business than any other leaders our staff have worked with. We are transparent about our strategic plans (personal and professional), the financials, the hiring plans, the challenges (from hiring issues to debt collection). We want everyone to be excited about 'being part of the FH family'.

We run weekly 'Good News Friday' sessions which take place over a glass of wine/beer/cup of tea. Each team shares good news from their week which offers a great opportunity for public recognition. They also talk openly about the not-so good stuff – what went wrong and how to do it better next time.

We also run quarterly team meetings which are generally about refining our service or hatching a plan for how to tackle a business problem. Innovation plays a key role. We encourage our team to come up with innovative ways of attracting top calibre candidates to keep them engaged, ensuring our team offer our candidates consistently high levels of service.

Having fun

The recruitment industry is very high pressured which is why we regularly share progress and frustrations alike. There is nothing that diffuses tension like laughter and fun.  We put a lot of energy into ensuring we have fun and let off steam as a team. We have a Social Committee which is charged with regularly reminding us about the lighter side of life, via unusual outings and eclectic events.

Career progression

Of course career opportunity is vitally important too which is why every hire we make has the opportunity to rise, seize opportunity and contribute to the company’s future. We much prefer to promote from within than hire externally - which drives a relentless training and development plan!

Having said that, leading is not for everyone. We aim to understand each person for their skills and strengths, and create opportunities based on those strengths, rather than being cookie-cutter about progression opportunities.

For example a Consultant at Futureheads could achieve a senior role as an industry figurehead if that's where they are strong, whereas another could be an operationally strong people manager. It's about people, not functions. At the same time it's important to give people structure and clarity, which is why we are constantly communicating about options, parameters for progression. Balancing flexibility with structure is key.

The right people

Finally it is all about hiring the right sort of people who will fit in with this type of culture. Whilst gut feel is of course important when hiring, so too is getting the match right.  You can’t really know if someone is right after one or even two brief meetings. It’s unfair, inefficient and uneconomic to all parties concerned to 'take a punt' on a hire.

Our team members tease us about the depth and rigour of our hiring process (invariably three stages and with a range of staff from peer to Director level), but it’s a formula that has worked. We now have a loyal, engaged staff who trust us. They too want to have a say in who else we hire because they want great peers. The bar is set at a high level and as our business grows it should only get harder to get a job with us!

A firm believer in a flat management structure combined with a management philosophy of supporting at all levels of the company rather than ruling from above, Gill works closely with the specialist teams she leads. To her, Futureheads is a family of like-minded professionals who will go to the extreme to make their organisation a great place to work.

Having completed a BA in English Lit, Gill set out to become a publisher, specialising in the exciting area of electronic publishing. She was soon snapped up by Recruit Media, a boutique recruitment business, who were one of the first to focus on the emerging market of what was then 'multimedia', and it was there that she later met fellow Futureheads Directors Be Kaler and Rachel Murray.