Valuing our greatest resource results in ‘Best Companies’ milestone

In her latest blog, Thrive Homes Chief Executive Elspeth Mackenzie reflects on how a self-conscious focus on people management has helped Thrive on its journey to becoming a great place to work.

Here at Thrive we recently celebrated being recognised as one of the country’s best places to work.

We were ranked among The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Companies To Work For and named ‘Best Improver’. This was great news for us and represents a milestone in the journey our organisation is on.

For us, these rankings are the measure we use to determine how effectively we are engaging our people and we are passionate about the role our managers play, because the way employees feel about a business isn’t something that just happens – they look to their managers for truth and leadership.

The reason we have improved so much is that we have worked to ensure we have a real focus on our people, reflecting the value we place on them. This is rooted in our strategic framework, of which a key aspiration is being a good place to work.

In so doing, we will not only attract the right talent, but customers will get a good service as our people will have the right capability for us to run the business well. During a period of significant change at Thrive and in an environment where we are trying to operate as efficiently as possible, this is imperative because, more than ever, every person counts.

One particularly pleasing aspect of the Best Companies ranking is the fact that we were rated 25th overall for the regard people have for our learning and development programme, which is something we are continuing to develop. It helps our business, improves our offer and enables us to identify and nurture talent, equipping people to be the best they can be and to evolve during the course of their careers.

Changing our approach

In terms of people management, part of our approach has been to focus on areas where we don’t think traditional ways of operating serve us well – for instance, the annual round of staff appraisals which can become just a paper chase and box ticking exercise.

So, instead, we have replaced the process with Chin Wag – a system based on the premise that you know what your job is and generally get on with doing it. An organisation’s over-riding objectives and focus for the year might influence the emphasis on different aspects of your job description but, fundamentally, you are just getting on with your job.

On that basis, your conversations with your manager should be around how well the job is going, with new objectives only being set if it’s not going well or you are looking for career development.

The other aspect of these conversations is around how your behaviour is impacting on your achievements and the achievements of others. For instance, here at Thrive, we have specific values which we need to behave in accordance with in order to work well as a team.

The underlying principle of Chin Wag is the relationship between you and your manager, so the final element is the need to give your manager feedback. We recognised that this part of the conversation often wasn’t happening as people were unsure how to tackle it. As a result, we decided we had to equip them to do so.

In response, we developed our Managers’ Compact. We began by asking our staff to list what was important to them in their manager and what things they most appreciated in the best manager they’d ever had, such as showing a personal interest in them as individuals. We then conducted a workshop with our managers, listing and discussing their best experiences in their role.

When we married these two lists up, we found a lot of common ground – and our findings form the basis of our new Managers’ Compact, which sets out what we should be expecting of them.

This compact acknowledges the different motivations that drive us and promotes recognition of people performing well. It is also permissive, enabling people to hold their manager to account and giving them a basis to flag up issues they want to address.

It is already working well by giving everyone a reference point for how they manage or are managed – and it makes clear that being a good manager is not about being a subject expert, but about getting the best out of people.

Looking ahead, we are developing individual Employee Compacts so that people coming into the business have a clear view of what the Thrive culture is. With that clarity, we want our people to take responsibility for themselves and have an open relationship with their manager.

Evolving culture

Over the last year we have also focused on our emphasis on being ‘Positive Resilient People’, clarifying our commitment to providing an open, supportive and creative environment which enables employees to deliver our vision and values but also to make grown-up decisions affecting their work.

This is the culture we are trying to evolve and, as part of this, our Positive Resilient People Steering Group helps us identify how employees are feeling and responding to things going on within the business.

The powerful message behind this is that the issue is so important to us – and the success of our business – that we have invested people’s time in it by creating a dedicated group looking at what is or isn’t going well, to ensure our teams are suitably supported. This allows us to gain an overview of where difficulties are and the opportunity to address them.

At the heart of all this work we have carried out, self-consciously conducting this exercise, is the recognition that people are any organisation’s greatest resource and must be valued accordingly.