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Royal Bank of Scotland Boost - Leadership lessons: get to know your staff

In the exciting but volatile world of start-ups, building solid relationships with the people you employ is critical for success.

Five business leaders reveal how they did it…

Max Henderson, MD and co-founder, Hotpod Yoga

“With start-ups, you offer what the big businesses can’t”

Max Henderson started Hotpod Yoga in 2013 after spotting a gap in the market for portable hot yoga studios. With six employees in its London office, 31 franchises and more than 250 instructors, Hotpod Yoga is one of the fastest-growing yoga brands in the world.

“The nature of working for a start-up is you can’t offer some of the things that a large corporation can, so you have to counter it and offer the things they can’t,” says Henderson, who previously worked as a management consultant.

“For us, that’s total transparency and intimacy. We work very closely with all our team members and help them become fully immersed in the business – and that’s a natural feature of a fast-growing small business. You’re usually working in quite a high-pressured environment so you see all parts of a person’s character – that’s very positive, you get to know each other properly that way.”

Hayden Wood, co-founder of Bulb

“We turned our values into stickers”

Founded in 2015, Bulb is a new type of energy supplier intent on making energy simpler, cheaper and greener. “We make it super easy to switch – it only takes three minutes – and we only have a single tariff, which means you’re always on our best deal,” says co-founder Hayden Wood.

After taking on four people in its first year, Bulb now employs a team of 50, and they’ve all contributed to the creation of a powerful work culture, says the entrepreneur.

“The most important thing we do is to listen to our team. Almost everything we do to build a positive culture at Bulb was suggested and often implemented by members of the team.

“We wrote down what we collectively think our culture is and turned those behaviours into fun stickers that people cover their laptops, phones and bikes with. This helps people remember the things we value so they can apply them every day.”

Saurav Chopra, co-founder, Perkbox

“The pub next door is home to many of our decisions”

Saurav Chopra is co-founder and CEO of Perkbox: a subscription service employers sign up for to motivate and reward staff.

“Employers sign up to a platform stacked with 250 benefits, ranging from free phone insurance to major gym, hotel and supermarket discounts. It helps employers keep their employees happy, loyal and committed to their companies,” he says.

Chropra, who previously worked in business development for Deloitte and Yahoo, believes corporate culture evolves and can’t be prescriptive. “Ours is defined by our people and all I do is listen to them and facilitate where I can,” he says. “We’ve invested in central London offices that are as funky as they can be and we have our own bespoke happiness lab, where employees can think deep thoughts or grab some shut-eye.”

With 167 employees, Chopra admits it’s no longer as easy as it was to get to know the people he hires, but he encourages a relaxed atmosphere to help employees bond.

“We bring dogs into the office, play ping-pong and pool, have free breakfast and lots of booze – the pub next door is home to many of our decisions.”

Interestingly, Chopra says the more he focuses on making the workspace conducive to having fun, the harder his employees seem to work.

Jenny Knighting, MD and founder of Nutcracker Agency

“We’ve created an environment where everyone feels valued”

Jenny Knighting founded her sales and marketing agency in 2014 after growing frustrated with her former work environments. Passionate about helping businesses grow, Knighting works with a mix of B2B and B2C companies, driving both organisational and cultural change.

“We have a really close team at Nutcracker, and I think the main reason for this is we’ve created an environment where everyone feels valued, important and listened to,” she says.

“One of my passions is helping people develop confidence in themselves, so I try to stretch the team and help them flourish. I’m also passionate about the role that working parents play in the workplace and understand the value of tapping into that skills resource, so I’ve worked to create career opportunities at Nutcracker that fulfil peer aspirations and fit the demands of family life.”

James Sinclair, founder of The Partyman Company and the Entrepreneurs Network

“I’ve always believed that it’s good to involve staff as much as possible”

With 350 staff spread across several businesses in the family entertainment sector, James Sinclair has worked hard to build solid relationships with his managers and believes transparency is key.

“I’ve always believed it’s good to involve staff as much as possible in the strategic look of the business. When I was building my business up and had a small team, I spent time a lot of time with them talking about Partyman and my vision for it,” says Sinclair.

“I wanted to show them what the future could look like with their help.”

Thanks to this approach, Sinclair has a high staff retention rate, with many members of his management team having been involved with the business from the start. And even though Partyman has grown, the entrepreneur encourages an open-door policy across the business.

“I obviously know my management team well, but we also run an annual Partyman Awards night where our best team members are acknowledged,” he says.

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