Cain Ullah: Culture – the key to creating a Best Company to Work For

Red Badger kicked off 2018 by becoming a Sunday Times Best Small Company to Work For. Cain Ullah discusses how building a company culture by listening to employees is the key to attracting and retaining the best talent in an incredibly competitive industry.

Talent in the tech industry

In the tech industry, there are thousands of companies in London alone; tier one management companies, cash-rich VC-backed product companies, household names like Facebook and Google, and finally, the thousands of competing companies to Red Badger. With all of these companies vying for the same talent, it can make finding the right people extremely difficult.

Attracting talent through culture

The way we find the best talent is to focus on building a strong ideology, philosophy, culture and environment that our employees are going to love working in. Our ideology revolves around being an incubator for enriching people’s lives. We want our employees to know that we’re invested in their future, that we’re focused on their career, and we’re creating a place where they’re going to maximise their future potential. We want to foster entrepreneurship and be a place where amazing things are born.
Our culture is about doing the right thing, and doing the thing right. It’s not money-focused, and it’s never about cutting corners. Instead, it’s always about focusing on quality. Through this, we have built a team filled with the best talent in London, that innovate alongside our clients.
While building a great culture takes a huge number of variables, the one thing we always do is show our employees we’ve listened to their feedback. As a result we’ve built and continue to evolve Red Badger based on their feedback which we believe is contributing to a happy and productive team which in turn drive our business growth.

Build a company for the employees by listening to the employees

If you want to build a culture where your employees thrive, then they need to be involved in the creation process. We have a company day each summer, where all of us go abroad to be somewhere completely disassociated with day-to-day work. There, we run a series of workshops to help make Red Badger better over the next 12 months. In 2016, we looked at our culture and how we could build out our vision, purpose and aspirational principles. All of our employees were involved in setting these values, giving them something that they could believe in and enjoy.

The outcomes of this vision and purpose workshop became the foundation for the following months, as we worked on building out our new brand and launching it in 2017 – including our new vision, purpose and guiding principles. We needed to make sure that these weren’t just put up on the website and then left ignored; they needed to be lived and breathed. Since then, we’ve built interactive workshops for existing staff and a new induction process for new staff. We empower our leaders to ensure that the new principles are communicated properly and we recognise those who embrace them, accordingly.

Autonomy and learning at the heart of culture

We’re very much a people-focused company and we put a lot of effort into ensuring that our people are happy. Our employees have a love for autonomy and learning, and so, we have built a culture that has this at its heart.

We have an environment that is conducive to learning but also enriches their lives, helping their future careers beyond Red Badger. Alongside a £2,000 annual training budget, employees run regular workshops themselves to teach one another important skills that they might be missing. A great example of this is the Red Badger Design School, which many of our software engineers, project managers and other disciplines have attended and graduated from.

This self-learning goes hand-in-hand with autonomy; both of which are integral to our culture. When we asked our employees what they loved most about their role, our Product Designer, Jun Taoka, summed it up when he said, ‘you’re given autonomy to make the best decisions’. We work hard to find people that we trust to give autonomy to and then we let them get on with it.

Providing perks that echo your culture and values

The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For data found that:

94% of staff at Red Badger agreed ‘this job is good for my personal growth’
94% of staff at Red Badger agreed ‘my team is fun to work with’
98% of staff at Red Badger agreed ‘my organisation encourages charitable donations’

Another way that we’ve achieved these results is because we align our perks and benefits with our culture. It’s no good providing a set of perks and benefits that aren’t aligned to what you’re preaching to your employees. It’s also no good providing perks that no one uses, so you’ve got to make sure you’re listening to what people actually want.

Alongside more standardised benefits such as private medical insurance, generous pensions, life insurance and critical illness cover, we offer each employee an annual training budget of £2,000, previously mentioned. This can be spent on what they like, with a caveat that it’s to be used for self-improvement. We’ve had employees use it for everything from attending SXSW and studying creative writing to learning typography and improving presentation skills.

We also make sure that our employees know that their workspace is their space and it’s frequently used outside of office hours from film screenings and Meetups, to personal projects and pro-bono social value projects, such as our app build for Pride of London.

Social budget is used for initiatives chosen by our staff – from trampolining trips and paying for a Dodgeball league to Karaoke and team away days. As long as we’re bringing our employees together, we are open to all suggestions. Our charity initiatives are also chosen by our employees. In recent years, our employees have led projects where we’ve volunteered at coding schools for refugees, and backed causes such as the Pinpoint Pathways Mentoring Scheme. Last year, we received the platinum level award (the highest available for companies that have 20%+ employees donating) for the Give As You Earn scheme (GAYE) scheme.

Conclusion

Since founding Red Badger in 2010 and growing the company from three people to 100, we’ve found that if you listen to your employees and colleagues and create a place that they’ll love to work in, you’ll be rewarded with an engaged workforce who are talented and invested in what they do. As we continue our fast growth, we hope to scale this culture and continue to be a Best Company to Work For.


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