Since September 2022, BFY Group has been officially recognised as a Great Place To Work - a milestone that we're extremely proud of. It's taken a huge collective effort to reach this point, building on some valuable lessons from our past.
As a Leadership Team, we embarked on a journey a few years ago to ensure we created a growing, sustainable consulting firm that would give people meaningful work, be a great environment for development, while preserving our culture of "we're a bit different".
The impacts of COVID meant we had to think about how we move from "team to tribe", all while being distanced from each other. All whilst facing major external live pressures. As well as running an amazing consulting firm, I was now tasked with being the Deputy Headmaster of the Unicorn/Mermaid Homeschool, and in charge of running English and Maths lessons. For those of you who've met me, imagine the scenes from the film 'School of Rock' with Jack Black.
We'd done the corporate thing (badly) and had previously created Values, a Mission, and a pretend Strategy. We'd put in additional check ins and virtual team socials, and instituted 'Well-being Wednesday'. More was needed to win hearts and minds, and I had to take a step up and learn how to be a better leader.
In this blog, I'll talk about the things we added - perhaps they will come in useful for someone one day. In another future blog, if I'm feeling brave, I'll talk about some of the failures and how we addressed those.
What changes did we make?
Our corporate approach to strategy wasn't cutting it. It wasn't authentic. It was well meaning, but largely 'meh'. So we simplified it - and went back to the things I've always talked to everyone about at BFY. Why are we here? To do great work for clients. I think we may have 'jzuzhed' it up and upgraded it to exceptional work for clients, but the sentiment was the same. Off the back of that, just to be awkward (mostly me, being/feeling awkward) rather than Goal / Mission / Strategy, we articulated:
- Who do we want to be as a firm?
- Why are we here?
- What's our long term plan?
- What's the singular focus for this financial year?
Interestingly, those 4 things haven't really changed since we created them. We do tweak them with the outputs of our annual planning day. But sometimes that tweak is just changing the financial year on the slide deck - the overarching focus remains the same.
Nailing our Purpose allowed us to create real Clarity for the team. Why are they here and what should they feel proud of doing? Aligned with creating Clarity was defining a set of Grade/Skills Structures to articulate the expectations of you while working at BFY, and what was needed to progress and have more purposeful and fulfilling work.
Focussed On Coaching and Responsibility/Accountability
There's a story behind why we have no line managers at BFY. I won't tell that one today, but - we have no line managers.
Externally a number of people have assumed it must be absolute carnage, and that it's impossible to deliver the level of growth we have without a 'Command and Control' hierarchy.
So, we have no line managers - and every single persons contract names me as their line manager.
Obviously I don't do 40+ one-to-one's each week.
When recruiting, we only hire grown ups. We align people with a Performance Coach - a senior member of the team who isn't there to manage performance, but to coach the person through the challenging moments in their career. We provide clear accountability and responsibility. We focus on what's needed to support high performance.
We work within a project environment (very few people at BFY are doing 'BAU'), where we have an Engagement Lead and a Delivery Lead to support the direction of the project - and to help lead the team
This has been one of the central pillars to our rapid growth, and a team who are rapidly developing skills, resulting in accelerated promotions.
We landed on a set of company values that we were happy with, but when doing a retrospective review we realised that we were missing something.
One of the key drivers of success at BFY was from people who, in football parlance, came for both the "Manager and the Team".
We'd been using Patrick Lencioni's "Ideal Team Player" and "Five Dysfunctions of a Team" in recruitment and our 'Operating System' but we'd never really simplified it down to the fact we only wanted people who would put the Team First.
This means hiring and coaching people to have a really high level of personal maturity, combined with huge trust - that if you do the right thing by the team, the right thing will be done by you.
This created an exponential impact for us, and is core to the culture we've built.
Choosing Clarity over Control
Some of our early success was driven through control - control of capital, control of quality. In one financial quarter, I remember saying to my colleague Rachel that she and I "had dragged the P&L kicking and screaming into an acceptable result" - by focussing on every number and metric.
With scale you can't be everywhere at all times, so we had to find a different way to create leverage. We doubled down on creating Clarity, enabling the teams to do what they do best. We had to focus on outcomes, and recognise there are many ways to get a job done - and these may no longer be the way we've always done them.
Focussing On Strengths
We've always been fans of Strengths Based Leadership (a football team doesn't need 11 strikers, but it does need 11 people who can kick a ball...)
We shuffled the team around to make sure we were maximising the use of their strengths and the activities that brought them energy, as we realised that some of the strengths we had were not fully utilised.
Reinforcement Through Systems
We put in place a system to check employee satisfaction each week, which costs more than our Microsoft Windows/Office/Teams licences. At the time, I was sceptical - but gave it a go. Genuinely one of the best things we've ever done.
Each week the team submit their check-ins to their performance coach, covering:
- How are you feeling?
- What are your priorities?
- How much of an effort / fun was your week?
- What are your successes?
- What are your challenges?
- Would you like to recognise the efforts of anyone in the team?
The system allows structured asynchronous communication, with the ability for the performance coach to 'just have a chat' if they spot anyone struggling.
The weekly cadence means we're able to track engagement and sentiment, and you see 'team to tribe' in action with all the peer recognition that occurs each week. If you're ever having a bad week, go and read some peer recognition and you'll see how brilliant your team is.
Great Place To Work Certification
So we thought we'd built something special, and when the opportunity came to apply for GPTW certification we jumped at the chance.
The scores returned by the team were amazing.
Just as valuable was the honest feedback on areas we can double down on to make things even better.
We've started to enact on some of this - giving more back to the local community (from causes we support, to partners we select, to where we spend money), and reducing/offsetting our carbon emissions.
One of the stand out areas was the level of support and positive experience people had not just when joining BFY, but throughout their journey with us. Even in a rapidly growing firm we've been able to hold fast to our culture.
There's definitely more to do, and I'm really proud of the tribe we've built so far.
Interested in joining a Great Place To Work? Find out more about our current vacancies here.
Ian shapes the BFY vision and inspires our team to bring it to life, while remaining central to complex client engagements in Strategy, Commercial, and Operations.View Profile