Four ways to empower your team

Carlene Jackson, CEO of Brighton-based tech company Cloud9 Insight, is one of the UK's top 25 SME culture leaders for 2019, according to the recent report by Real Business magazine. Here, she shares her views on employee happiness and wellbeing.

I'm very passionate about our employees' happiness and wellbeing. I also believe that having a set of shared values, as well as a strong company culture, are central to people's happiness at work.

As CEO, I take personal responsibility for my employees' wellbeing and tied to that is the fact that our values are front of mind in all that we do, especially recruitment. We always try to attract candidates that will preserve and enhance our culture. We have created initiatives to celebrate the company culture and these become stories shared which are cherished as the company grows. These include fun, off-site strategy away days and lunch and learn sessions on various food themes.

I wish to empower and make the teams contribution feel valued and celebrated. We proactively seek opportunities to have fun. For example, we recently participated in a VR mindfulness meditation session. We also have off-site quarterly team strategy planning trips, which included a trip to Amsterdam on a modern house boat. 

Personal brands

During our away-day trip to Amsterdam, we took the opportunity to refresh our company values together. I took my senior team, rented a houseboat on a lake just outside Amsterdam and we worked on them as a team there. We started by defining everyone's personal brand, which was a great ice-breaker and team building exercise, and then brainstormed as a team what the company values could be. We went on to cluster and prioritise these values, which helped us vote on the top five values which we believed fully represent what success means to our business. These values are now the glue that unites us to achieve collective success. To ensure they remain front of mind, we use them all the time and have had them printed on colourful canvas boards and put them in our office.

A 10 year future CV

We encourage everyone to have 10 year future CVs, which is a great way to encourage the team to look ahead and achieve more. If you have a plan in place, you are more likely to achieve it. Having a vision in the first place is so important, rather than simply drifting through life. This 10-year CV has been highly motivational, even for those who have been less ambitious. 

We find that food unites us. We have a fully working kitchen at work and the team are encouraged to eat healthy, cooked food at lunch. I get great satisfaction seeing the team teach each other about their culture and hidden culinary talents as they prepare and cook lunch together, rather than simply buy a sandwich from the local supermarket. I am sure the cooking standard and eating habits have improved, helped also by the slightly competitive spirit of our 'good eats', where the team are encouraged to bring in food on a theme eg. Greek, or Thai to share for our 'lunch and learns'.

Celebrating success

Celebrating success is also important, especially where it relates to company values and related behaviours that have been demonstrated. As a wise friend once said to me, 'your kids are on loan to you'. I feel the same about the team; you can't take for granted that everyone in the team will stay forever – if we succeed to add as much value as we can to their future ambition and success, I will have succeeded.

We celebrate career progression of everyone in the team, which could be evidenced by passing exams relevant to their work, a promotion or great client project feedback. We have implemented a NPS (Net Promotor Score) in our business, which allows us to easily measure client satisfaction levels. This was initially designed to ensure we were gathering data to continuously improve the business performance and ways of working, but has had an unexpected positive outcome to be highly motivational to the team to recognise their achievements.

Energy levels and personal motivation in the business is very high, which makes the role of a line manager easier as the team are pushing to achieve their learning plans and aspirational career goals and other personal targets such as exam passes.

Hire for potential

Hiring for potential, not just evidenced success, and harnessing internal mentoring talent to shadow more ambitious junior team members, means overall salary costs are lower. I try to hire in anticipation of future business growth – not just at pain point of growth - as it's not realistic to expect new team members to high the ground running, they is a learning curve of typically 3-6 months for full value to be gained. This hiring strategy results in more time for people to learn, and less fires to fight.

Our time is spent on the positive aspects of what we enjoy doing. For me, the journey is as important as the end destination, so having fun along the way is something we try to schedule in as it does not always happen. In a world of mental health and stress, its important to slow down and consider employees personal lives and how they measure personal success such as buying a property or having more time to see their ageing parents, or new born kids. If we can exist to make a difference beyond pure commercial gain then the world will be a better place.