Culture transformations aren’t easy to achieve, but once the hard work has been put in they’re difficult to derail – unless a global pandemic occurs, of course. PerfectHome met the Covid-19 challenge quickly and responsively and is emerging from the crisis even stronger than before.
Home may be where the heart is, but for household goods retailer PerfectHome, its cultural heart was firmly in the office – until the pandemic hit. Founded in 2006, the company employs 190 people across four UK locations, and the team has worked hard in recent years to create a lively and engaging culture based on frequent social interactions between staff. While remote working may have been a challenge for many businesses, it came as a major blow to the hard-won cultural transformation at PerfectHome.
“Almost overnight, our people’s way of working and communicating changed dramatically,” explained Kevin Hollingworth, Head of People and Engagement. “How do you maintain this positive, supportive and sociable culture when everybody is working from home, and how do you make sure those who do not ordinarily work from home can keep contributing to the business and feel a sense of purpose and connection?”
It was a challenge that Kevin met through a combination of reactive and proactive measures, maintaining a laser focus on employee experience throughout.
Of course, Kevin couldn’t do it alone. He had a hardworking team ready to rise to the challenge with him. The team included:
Louise Little, People and Engagement Business Partner; Kevin Cunningham, Employee Experience Manager; Georgette Wright, Internal Communications Manager; Jack Lockhart, Learning Experience and Performance Manager; Amber Waring, People and Engagement Coordinator; Ross McIver and Karen Steinson, Learning Experience and Performance Business Partners; Kerry Mortlock, Shannon Murphy and Jack Whalen, Learning Experience Facilitator Coaches.
A turnaround tale
The recent history of the business is a tale of a great turnaround. Within the space of two years, the team had built up an engaged workforce that can move mountains.
Only three years ago, the company had a Glassdoor rating of 2.2 and a long list of negative reviews on the site. This was not without impact on customers. At its lowest point, in August 2017, the company’s Trustpilot rating stood at 2 out of 10. Fast forward to 2020, and its Glassdoor rating is at 4.83 (between 4.7 and 5 out of 5 across three key office locations) and the Trustpilot rating is ‘excellent’ (4.5 out of 5).
“There’s now a genuine buzz about the business – from the guys repairing appliances in our workshop through to delivery drivers and call centre staff,” said Kevin.
This transformation was achieved through a tightly controlled strategy of internal communications and measures designed to improve the employee experience. Naturally, the surge of the global pandemic in March created added complications for a business that had only just begun to turn the tide on its employee approval ratings.
As well as the widespread challenges faced by all businesses of negotiating the logistics of a full scale switch to remote working, a key challenge for PerfectHome was transferring the positive, supportive and sociable culture the team had worked hard to build over to a virtual setting.
“We had to act quickly and responsively. Pre-pandemic we had a strong vision and strategy of where we wanted to take the business, but lockdown forced us to rethink how we were going to get those messages across a virtual platform rather than the usual face-to-face way,” said Kevin.
One unexpected side effect of this shift, however, was the unintentional silos that sprung up once the physical working environment was stripped away.
“While individual teams were working strongly together, the whole business was not fitting together quite as it should. We made it our priority to look at how we can support the entire team consistently and develop future strategy so we can move forward as one team with one set of values, one vision and one purpose."
Kindness, care and communication
Communication, trust and flexibility became more important than ever before. The company’s already strong internal communications programme was beefed up to shine a spotlight on individual and team efforts to support colleagues with home working during lockdown.
CEO Andy Russell started a weekly podcast for employees, featuring a different member of the management team each week. As part of a campaign during Mental Health Awareness Week, a new BE KIND section was set up on the company’s intranet including stories and links relating to mental wellbeing and featuring personal stories from employees, including Andy’s own.
One area that was hard to replicate online, however, was the social aspect. “PerfectHome has always been a very social place to work. We encourage all our colleagues to be on a first name basis and provide opportunities to socialise. To maintain this high social energy online, we encouraged regular team meetings and introduced virtual games and competitions (including a successful ‘bring your pet to work’ day),” said Kevin.
A number of engagement workshops were held with the management team to help them understand their key role in leading culture, and the wider team were also engaged in activities centred on exploring and articulating the kind of culture they wanted to foster.
A shared vision
A culture review led by consultancy service Pecan Partnership over the summer months helped the business to shape its culture offering further and map out areas for improvement. This resulted in the creation of a Behaviours Playbook, which detailed PerfectHome’s vision and strategic plan, purpose and values, to ensure that all team members were on board and working towards the same goal.
The launch of the Playbook coincided with PerfectHome’s annual conference (held virtually this year) providing an excellent opportunity to present the direction gained from the culture work in the context of the broader journey of the business.
The feedback from employees so far has been positive and the work appears to have brought the team even closer together. Lisa Olds, Head of Customer Account Management, commented:
Having worked at PerfectHome from the outset, the word ‘culture’ has been quite readily used when describing our transitions through our ever evolving business model. Never has culture really resonated with me as it does now, however, which is testament to the great work we have carried out.
Looking to the future
Having spent the last two years developing the tools it needs to foster a fantastic culture, it’s now down to the team to use them and make it happen.
By March 2021 every manager will have had a conversation with their teams using the objectives laid out in the Playbook, which link directly into the company’s performance management process and business objectives.
“Going forward, the Playbook will continue to underpin conversations that enable the continuous development for all of our colleagues, empowering our people to hold each other accountable to our values and improve the way we operate,” explained Kevin.
“We hope the introduction of backstops will also support our management and colleagues to recognise much earlier if and when we are losing our focus. Identifying what isn’t right for PerfectHome colleagues is just as important to enable us to keep heading in the right direction”.
What did our Culture Pioneers ambassadors think?
Our ambassadors were all impressed by the full-scale culture turnaround PerfectHome had achieved, and how Kevin and his people team were able to maintain this during lockdown.
“This organisation has clearly worked very hard over the last two years to transform its culture and the feedback it gets from customers. This put it in a strong position when the pandemic hit. PerfectHome clearly has a greater understanding now of what matters to its people and how to keep the company culture strong even under difficult circumstances,” commented Blaire Palmer, CEO of That People Thing.
“It is nice to see an organisation that is really focusing on culture itself. Initiatives such as the CEO podcast are innovative and it’s great to see that the organisation has introduced a number of social activities and a ‘BE KIND’ platform for focusing on mental health as part of this focus,” added Professor Emma Parry, Head of the Changing World of Work Group at Cranfield School of Management.
“Activities such as the creation of the Behaviours Playbook and the transition to a virtual company conference demonstrates the emphasis PerfectHome places on communication, which helps to cultivate a highly connected, collaborative culture,” commented Becky Norman, Editor of HRZone.