Business Insights: Creating a great place to work

The most successful corporations spend huge amounts of time and money fostering a distinctive and positive working culture. Here M&S For Business offer some insights on their way of doing things, many of which are easily transplantable into the independent retail environment.

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At M&S For Business, we understand the value of employee engagement and retention, and we help our customers every day to deliver successful reward schemes which motivate and recognise valuable employees.

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We are able to provide numerous solutions for incentives and rewards and we often get asked what makes up a successful staff retention strategy. More notably, we get asked to shed some light on what makes an incentive or reward scheme successful.

With this in mind, we asked for opinions from HR managers, directors and owners of businesses who have gained formal recognition for their work towards reward and recognition schemes. These companies include a selection recognised in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For as well as those who have received other forms of recognition. We asked for their thoughts on why they have been successful and their opinions regarding what other organisations can do to implement successful strategies.


When you have happy and motivated members of staff, the business starts to attract like-minded people. Therefore, investing in existing employees you treasure will go a long way in attracting more of the same and ultimately creating a better culture and more profitable business. After all, people like to work with talented, like-minded people.

Laura Hare, head of HR at Jagex Games Studio mentioned says: “The challenge of this is that the war for real talent, both attracting and retaining, is fierce”. By making your organisation an attractive place to be, you are benefiting both existing employees and attracting fresh new talent. This also makes the recruitment process a lot more fulfilling.

Joanna Swash, commercial director for Moneypenny, a leading UK telephone answering service says: “Recruit on attitude and values. [We] firmly believe skills can be taught but personality and attitude can’t be.” It is all about getting the right mix of people in the right job roles. Once you have achieved this, the rest will come naturally.


After recruiting the right sorts of employees, you then need to harness their potential and allow them the freedom to grow and evolve the business. After all, you have invested a lot of time in choosing the right person for the right role, now you need to let them show you what they are capable of.

“If you recruit amazing people, you should just step back and let them be amazing,” says Dan Dobson-Smith, global talent director at Essence. ”When you get people from different walks of life together in a room, this creates a wonderful creative tension from which good things grow.”

A similar approach is taken at Hawksmoor, a group of steak restaurants, where staff are encouraged to “be themselves and think for themselves”. JB Hall, training and recruitment manager, indicates companies should “trust people to do the job you hired them for and let them make mistakes and learn from them”.

Ultimately, this will encourage your employees to be motivated, believe in themselves and achieve more for the company. It will also keep them engaged, so the time invested in searching for that individual will be repaid with a long-standing, happy and committed employee.


One way to keep your staff motivated is to harness their ambition and make sure their career progression path is clear and well signposted.

At Hotwire, the company places a huge emphasis on developing talent from within rather than recruiting externally. ”As an international company, we’ve got offices all over the world and our year-on-year growth means lots of opportunity for our team – opportunities to progress and opportunities for promotion”, says Loveday Langton, global HR director.

If you already have great individuals working for the company, hold on to them and encourage their development. It will save both time and money invested in recruiting new employees but also improve the working environment.

At Kindred, a communications agency, they believe in integration, and take their staff’s career aspirations very seriously. “We have a very unique way of working that allows employees to move around to different disciplines within the business should they want to expand their knowledge, creating highly talented individuals,” says Hannah Richards, HR manager. This approach undoubtedly results in high levels of staff retention as well as a great culture.


By making every employee feel important and vital to the success of the company from day one, you are ensuring they understand their role within a business and what their contribution means. Natalie Green, communications executive at Postcode Anywhere, believes that in order for employees to be engaged. She says: “[They] need to feel they are contributing to the mission of the company.”

The mission of the company should be something that every single employee is aware of and they should know how what they do contributes to that goal. This engagement will link very closely with the culture of a company – if everyone is pulling towards the same end goal, you will be more likely to achieve it, and more quickly.

This understanding alone can drive increased motivation and incentive to perform better; inciting employees to achieve more and succeed within the organisation and industry.


Ceri Assiratti, head of people services at The Admiral group, says that the firm’s success is based on its employees and how the company goes out of their way to make working for the business as rewarding as possible. “Everyone at Admiral is treated equally”, she says. Employees are then more aware of their individual importance.

The culture of the company should be based on recognition and appreciation for hard-working team-players but also on an understanding of the company’s mission to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.

Employees will spend a lot of their week at their place of work, so allow them to add to, participate in and mould the culture of your company. It will help them to feel more engaged and inspire them to work hard for a company which values and appreciates them. It will also help them feel a part of the mission.

Moneypenny shares the opinion that people matter. Ed and Rachel, co-founders of, set about creating a company that people would want to work for and a workplace people would want to work in. They invest a lot in this process and, despite extensive growth in their business, you will still find them participating in everything as they did in the beginning.

At Havas Worldwide, the culture is very flat, which employees consistently cite as a preferred arrangement. There is a limited hierarchy, employees are not split by endless job titles and senior management do not work at a stratospheric and removed level. They are accessible, personable and involved.

Admiral follows a similar approach with an honest and open culture, treating everyone as an equal, recognising and rewarding hard work and achievement. They believe a great working environment will go a long way to keeping staff happy. The culture of a company is completely unique to that organisation and the more you encourage and inspire your staff to contribute to it, the more success will follow.


A company should always, without question, recognise achievements in everything its staff do. This may be very small achievements such as finishing a project to much larger achievements such as securing a new piece of business or project.

RPM, a marketing communications company, make sure that success is always recognised and that outstanding performance is continually rewarded. This doesn’t always have to be about remuneration, says Beccy Gibson, HR director. ”At RPM we have an established culture of publicly recognising achievements, whether it is via an all-office email from a Board member or a thank you message written by a peer in the weekly newsletter.”

I love my job


When we talk about reward schemes, many people’s first thoughts are a gift of monetary value. Of course employees will always appreciate a financial reward for their hard work and dedication but there are other ways to reward staff.

Hannah Richards, HR manager of Kindred, says that in the current economic climate, it is not always possible to reward staff members financially, so they “have to be creative” about how they reward employees for their efforts. Some of their recognitions include ‘Hero of the Month’, the winner of this getting company-wide recognition for their contribution and a bottle of Moet champagne.

RPM have their own reward which recognises outstanding creative thinking and execution of design known as their ‘Treacle Tin Award’. This award takes nominations from all of their projects throughout the year and is held with high prestige within the company. The actual prize is simply a £50 bar tab at the local pub but receiving the recognition of a ‘Treacle Tin’ has a far higher value to the individual within the company.


Company benefits come in many shapes and forms, from the more typical private healthcare, subsidised gym membership and staff team-building days, to the highly unusual and elaborate. The key to providing the best benefits is to provide ones that are relevant to your employees. That doesn’t mean the benefits have to be crazy and unsustainable for the business, but will be something that sets you apart from other organisations.

Beccy Gibson, HR director at RPM says staff benefit from perks which are relevant to their workforce. This will stretch from family friendly benefits such as flexible working hours for parents, to ‘softer benefits’ which currently include a shuttle bus from the office to the local underground in the cold weather.

Postcode Anywhere staff benefit from the use of a company narrow-boat and four kayaks to use at their leisure. This was to coincide with a move of premises to state-of-the-art offices overlooking the River Severn.

A benefit also isn’t exclusively an addition to their job role, it could also be a part of their job role. Your company’s benefits could include a great training programme which allows your employees to progress or flexible working hours to allow your employees to work around their family life.

Waterstons, an IT and business consultancy, has a truly unique way of working with benefits that include no set hours or holidays. Staff are measured on the outcome of the work rather than the number of hours they work. This setup would not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly attracts the right members of staff at Waterstons, who last year saw a 96% staff retention rate, Amy Crimmens, PR and events manager.


Communication in business is paramount, but in practice is rarely well executed. The key to success is to remember that communication is a two-way stream and rather than simply telling your employees, ensure you listen and converse with those people. Almost all of the companies we spoke to recognised the importance of not only communicating with staff, but also listening to them, allow them to provide feedback and acting upon that feedback.

The ways in which you communicate will differ depending on the industry but the actual mechanics behind it will not. A noticeboard or newsletter is a good way of letting everyone know about upcoming changes but does little to evoke a conversation. A forum such as company or team meetings where employees are able to discuss their views openly will ensure everyone’s views are heard and could ultimately result in an even better solution to any issues raised.

There are many things a company can do to reward, recognise and retain employees and more often companies are trying to engage their employees in new and exciting ways. It is important not to lose sight of who your employees are and what would actually benefit them in their day-to-day lives – is a ping pong table in the office really justified?

Consider what you are trying to achieve and what is realistic within the company’s budget and time constraints. Bring culture to the forefront of the business and get employees involved to assist with building and progressing this – after all, your employees are the lifeblood of the business. Trust and communicate with your staff and you will see clear results.

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