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Creating a great place to work

Rhian Morgan

One female-run company making great strides in leadership excellence is Futureheads. Rhian Morgan talked to their MD and got some great tips on helping a company become a great place to work

As we spend almost half our lives in work, it is imperative we feel happy there.

It’s also essential if you want to retain loyal employees. All the money in the world isn’t going to make up for a miserable, boring workplace. Indeed, the renowned Great Place to Work Institute, the arbiter of global excellence in the workplace, says making your employees happy will also make your company rich in many ways.

They believe good relationships, and especially trust, are the most important criteria to foster as a leader. Their awards are based on surveys of millions of employees from thousands of companies all over the world. The organisation has undertaken extensive research into what makes a great place to work, with many of the best-performing companies today having followed these insights, improving not only their financial performance but benefiting from substantially reduced employee turnover.

The other week, their awards ceremony was held, where winners achieve top results in trust among staff and their work culture. This year, in the UK, Capital One topped the poll for best large company, with One Vision Housing achieving the number one spot for medium-size companies, and DMW (IT) took the award for the best small company.

And doing particularly well in the awards was a relatively new all-female company, digital recruitment specialists Futureheads. They topped the Excellence in Leadership category, and were also runner-up as Best Small Business Workplace.

Gill Arnold, Futureheads’ Managing Director, along with fellow directors Be Kaler and Rachel Murray, established Futureheads in 2009. Between them they have more than 50 years of recruitment experience and, having worked together in previous firms prior to breaking out on their own, the three women knew exactly what kind of organisation they wanted to build. From a start-up of four people, Futureheads now has 26 staff and an annual turnover close to £10million.

Being a female-led business is important to them. They say the way they care about and have developed their culture, by listening, nurturing and empowering their employees, is a key to their success. This is also balanced with a healthy dose of pragmatism in providing structure and clarity.  

Gill said: “We have always strived to build a company where people enjoy coming to work, and a management structure where everyone is treated as family. So I was humbled to find that our awards are due to 100% of our employees believing that, overall, Futureheads is a ‘great place to work’.”

Futureheads’ employees benefit from working closely with the directors, as both collaborators and mentors. “Our management philosophy has always been to support from below rather than rule from above,” explained Be. “We knew how we wanted to be treated when we were employees, so it was not difficult for Gill, Rachel and I to put into practice what we preached.”
Although the Futureheads’ team puts in the hours and hard graft, Gill says their thriving and dynamic work environment is down to ensuring leadership consistently delivers a positive culture; from paying particular attention to individual skills and ambitions through to ensuring everyone’s work/life balance meets their requirements. 

“While we have always aimed to provide excellent training and opportunities for people to progress within the organisation, this nomination gives us the opportunity to improve on this and hone our employee brand,” she adds. 

“Finally, it is a fundamental imperative that everyone in the company has fun.” 

Gill gave us 10 top tips for making your workplace the best place to be.
 It’s not all about the money
Recruitment is so often about chasing fees and that’s how performance in many recruitment businesses is assessed and promotions awarded. For us the numbers are, of course, important – we all need to be profitable, however they are only one of a number of performance indicators we value and measure. Promotions and praise are awarded based on behaviours, being a role model, being ethical, helping others in the business, sharing knowledge etc, as well as fee generating.

One of the USPs of the FH culture is 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 that we’re all working together towards a collective goal each month, so our teams help each other to get there. This type of bonus scheme is really unusual in recruitment businesses, which often pit individual billers against each other, creating an uncommunicative approach. Our way isn’t for everyone, and we had to be brave to implement it and see it through – but we believe in it wholeheartedly, as do our staff, who say they really feel the benefit of this collaborative approach. They can bill more (and therefore earn more) because their colleagues are willingly helping them succeed.


We’re constantly told that we share more about the business than any other leaders our staff have worked with – we’re transparent about our strategic plans (personal and professional), the financials, the hiring plans, the challenges (from hiring issues to debt collection). We have nothing to hide, everything to share, and want everyone to be excited about ‘being on the Futureheads’ bus’ with us.
Creating opportunity 

We’re motivated by creating a succession plan in the business and every hire we make has the opportunity to rise, seize opportunity, and contribute to the company’s future. We would prefer to promote from within than hire externally, so that drives a relentless training and development plan! 
People-led lateral thinking about career paths

So many career paths lead to people management yet not everyone is great at it. We are into understanding each person for their skills and strengths, and creating opportunity based on those strengths, rather than being cookie-cutter about progression opportunities. So a consultant in our business could achieve a senior role as an industry figurehead, if that’s where their strength lies, whereas another could be an operationally strong people manager. It is about people, not functions. At the same time, it’s important that we give people structure and clarity, so we are constantly communicating about options, parameters for progression, what it will be like when they get there. Balancing flexibility with structure is key.

Pastoral care

We spend as much of our time thinking about personal progression as we do professional progression, as we see the two as interlinked. We get to know our people well, so they tell us things they would never normally tell their bosses. This gives us context to their work performance and helps us counsel and coach. We have lots of examples of going above and beyond to support our staff members’ difficult personal situations – whether extended time off for family illness, counselling support for emotional health issues, or flexibility for those moments when life just gets complicated. We are creating a family feel – if your sister’s ill, you do what you can to help – so that’s what we do. We have hand-picked our people, so it’s no wonder we genuinely care about them.

Ignore anyone who says you should hire based on a 40-minute meeting

Gut feeling is, of course, important when hiring. However, so too is getting the match right and you can’t really know if someone is right after one or even two brief meetings. It is unfair, inefficient and uneconomic to all parties concerned to ‘take a punt’ on a hire. Our team fondly teases 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 have a loyal, engaged staff who trust us. They also want to have a say on 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.

Cultural induction

Deliver on everything you promise at interview. The experience the new employee has, from the moment they arrive on day one, should be consistent with what you have ‘sold’. Welcome lunches, peer-to-peer buddy systems, structured training with a range of colleagues – director, manager, peer, support staff – all are essential to the induction process.

Be brave as leaders

Keep stretching yourself, get out of your comfort zone, and share your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader. We recently went through a 360 degree feedback process where we invited all staff to assess our leadership skills. We each came out of it with clear strengths as well as clear development areas. We are open about those development areas, and ask for help and feedback from the team, which is exactly how we would like them to behave.

Give people time to ‘do good’

Our team have got a lot out of partaking in various corporate social responsibility initiatives, from fundraiser film screenings, to charity bake-offs, to encouraging our recruiters to run workshops for Broadway London (, helping the homeless get back into work.

Celebrate good news, be honest about bad news, but have fun

We have a weekly ‘Good News Friday’ session 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. We also talk openly about the not-so good stuff – what went wrong and how we can do it better next time. Our industry sector is very high pressured, which is why we regularly share progress and frustrations alike. There is nothing that diffuses tension like laughter and fun, so we put a lot of energy into ensuring we let off steam as a team. For this reason, we have a Social Committee which is charged with regularly reminding us about the lighter side of life, via unusual outings and eclectic events.

Let the team contribute to strategy

We run quarterly team meetings, which are generally about refining our service or hatching a plan for how we tackle a business problem. For example, at out last quarterly meeting, we ran workshops about our new marketing material, where all staff was given free rein to brainstorm what they wanted it to be. Innovation plays a key role here, as we encourage our team to come up with innovative ways of attracting top-calibre candidates, keeping them engaged, ensuring we communicate effectively to ensure we offer them consistently high service levels.

Visit website for more information on the company. For more on the Great Place To Work Institute and awards, visit


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