Would you send ex-staff a Valentine card? Meet the firm that does...

| Nov 08, 2016

Nucleus is aiming to change financial services in many ways. One of them is in the area of people engagement – which even extends to departing members of the team. Here, Kirsty Lynagh, head of people and development, reveals what efforts have gone into making Nucleus one of the four finalists for the PwC-sponsored Scottish Business Awards People and Innovation category.

Success in work comes from good staff

Kirsty said:

Doug Conant former CEO of Campbell’s Soup said ‘You can’t be successful in the marketplace without first being successful in the workplace’ and that is a philosophy we subscribe to.

“Back in 2006 Nucleus started with an ambitious goal – to change financial services for the better. Our founder and CEO David Ferguson decided we’d have the best chance of doing this if we gathered the brightest, most energetic people we could find and empower every one of them to make a difference. 

“We are strong believers that ‘happiness is competitive advantage’. Our people certainly endorse this and have told us through stay conversations about why they join and stay with Nucleus. It was great to see this backed up by research from the Gallup organisation who found 95% of employees valued culture over compensation. It sends a strong message that there are strong commercial reasons for investing in your culture – over and above being a great place to work.

“But it’s not just about being a great place to work for the existing team. We have managed to attract 75% of our hires directly this year, saving £117k on agency fees and reducing our cost per hire from £4k to £2k. In addition a third of our new hires have come from referrals from our own people which is just so great to see – if people have pride in our company and so much so that they refer friends to work with us that is a wonderful thing.”

Looking after former colleagues too

One thing that has attracted a lot of praise and attention to Nucleus is their 'Boomerang' initiative. Kirsty explains the thinking behind it:

“We started this by sending Valentine’s cards to our talented leavers but at the essence of this is a belief that the employment relationship is changing and thinking more broadly about how you manage a talent pool can pay dividends in the long term.

“There are many reasons to be running a boomerang programme. People can leave and discover that the grass isn’t greener on the other side after all and they may miss their old job. Then when they come back, not only does our data show that they tend to stay longer once re-hired but that they can also hit the ground running quicker than a new start because they are familiar with the company, the culture and so on.

“It doesn’t apply to every person who chose to leave of course but we believe that as part of thinking longer term, it’s a scheme that pays off.”

Think big, act small, be humble

But it’s not just about old staff. Kirsty and her team are constantly looking at new ideas and processes to implement.

Kirsty said:

“Our mantra is ‘think big, act small, be humble’ and that is something we subscribe to in the people team.  The company keeps us ‘thinking big’ – we have ambitious plans for the future and won’t be able to achieve them without creating the conditions where our people can do their best work, giving them space to thrive and fulfil their potential.  Our people strategy will continue to be shaped by the needs of the business as well as in the evolution of the HR profession itself.

Improving things for the sector and how to get the best from people

Kirsty also believes that what they do can have wider ramifications – but that they like to see and hear what others are doing too.

She said:

“We believe in giving our people space to do great work, in encouraging their learning and development and cultivating ambition. We support this through the empowerment and accountability of our people leaders.

“But it’s not just about us. We also continue to be inspired by great work by other companies – particularly in high growth sectors so would love to continue to build a community of like-minded people practitioners. 

“Our priority is continuing to encourage this special culture we have created and continue to find ways to make the lives of our customers better. We are here to make a difference and that’s what gets us all out of bed in the morning.”

The (real time) challenges ahead

However, not every project has worked right away. As you would expect in a firm trying to innovate in so many ways, some things fail or some things take longer to be accpeted than others.

Kirsty said:

“As you would expect with a company working on a number of experiments, some work, some do not and others take longer than others to be accepted by all.

“Real time engagement is still something we are working out how to implement company wide.  It can be incredibly confronting for some to have real time engagement feedback – almost like a like 360 feedback survey running daily. This can be both positive and negative but what is clear is that people need to set aside time to respond to feedback on a regular basis plus we don’t want to lose that culture of individual accountability so we need to do some further work on this.

“We still love the idea of real time engagement and believe there is more that can be done in addition to an annual temperature check. However, this needs to be balanced with a culture of individual accountability, strong leadership and wanting to make a difference.

“It’s an area we’re working on because we firmly believe that if it’s making our people better, it makes the company better and that improves our offering not only to the market but also the financial sector as a whole.”

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