Written by Holtby Turner & Gleeds
Richard Steer, Chairman of Gleeds is a man on a mission to win the hearts and minds of every employee within the business. “We want people to enjoy working at Gleeds,” he explains. “Because isn’t that the point?” So Lizzie Gourd, Associate of Research & Insight at Holtby Turner Executive Search asked why personality, parties and professionalism were part of his strategy to win employee loyalty.
Relaxed and impressive with his shirt collar undone, Richard Steer is exactly the kind of Chairman you might expect from a company that prides itself on personality and professionalism in equal measure. His exuberance is brimming and our discussion around loyalty is sincere, punctuated with unexpected anecdotes of singing mermaids and Serpentine raves.
Lizzie Gourd: You’ve been recognised as one of the best companies in the industry in terms of people management, awarded Investors in People Gold seven years running. Tell us about your culture and how you achieved this.
Richard Steer: For the accreditation we needed to show our internal communications processes, training processes and staff care. I do a roadshow every two or three years visiting all of the offices, and that scored quite highly – that the Chairman was actually taking the time to go and visit employees.
The gold achievement was something we specifically worked towards, but I’m not sure that it in itself generates loyalty – that’s not the emotional bit – which is where loyalty really comes from.
Three or four years ago we saw people retiring who’d been with Gleeds for fifty years and spent their entire careers with us, but that was a different generation. I don’t think nowadays you’ll ever get perfect staff retention for such a length of time, but we try quite hard to keep our people through a combination of personality and professionalism.
For example, we’ve got the Gleeds Property Network, where we encourage our people to go out and have functions with people in the industry, from client organisations and from general practice agents, perhaps a bowling evening or a wine tasting. A few weeks ago we had Global Challenge Week, where all our offices participate in a global challenge; we’ve also introduced a travel scholarship scheme, through which anyone can go and work in a Gleeds office somewhere else in the world for a week or two.
Lizzie Gourd: One of the taglines from your recruitment team is that working for Gleeds is more than just a job. How would you define the work culture at Gleeds?
Richard Steer: Professionalism with personality. It’s a good bunch of people, and that culture is important to us. We don’t want people coming into the office and being miserable, so we make a real effort to make the business personable. Plus, we’re really good at parties: when we opened in Sydney, we had stilt walkers and fire eaters and all sorts of entertainment going on, and then everyone boarded a boat out to the island where there were mermaids singing and fireworks. It was pretty spectacular.
Lizzie Gourd: You’ve grown significantly as a business in recent years, expanding across 6 continents and 18 countries. Has this been a challenge in terms of staff retention? How do you grow while retaining people?
Richard Steer: Part of the challenge has been carrying the Gleeds culture into our offices abroad. If we get someone who’s been working in the UK at Gleeds and we send them out to open a new office, they take the culture with them, so that’s very easy.
The harder part is when we recruit somebody locally to run that office, and all of a sudden they’re on their own. But that’s why I do the overseas trips, and we have international conferences every couple of years to bring everyone together. It’s something we’re increasingly mindful of as we grow. We’ve got fairly ambitious targets for 2020 but we don’t want to become a faceless machine, we have to preserve what we think is different about us.
Lizzie Gourd: In your own words, why is loyalty still important to you as business? Is it something you value in the traditional sense and do you want to grow your own people?
Richard Steer: Yes absolutely, we want people to stay with us because it’s a lot easier and cheaper to retain somebody than hire new talent. This is the case for all businesses – hiring can be risky. Whereas you know the abilities of the people you’ve got within your own team, if you bring somebody in from outside it takes 12 months to discover where they fit and what their abilities are. Employee loyalty is very important and I would say that we still have, at the core, a good retention rate.
Lizzie Gourd: Looking to the future, how do you intend to continue to attract and retain the best talent and technical expertise within the industry?
Richard Steer: Our mission statement is to run a business that attracts the best people, projects and clients in the industry. We give our people a lot of autonomy which I think helps to build loyalty. I think that is quite important, actually – giving people the space to grow and develop and learn and make their mistakes. And hopefully we make it an exciting place for people to want to come and work.