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Creating a Culture That Lasts: What Works and What Doesn’t


big group's people director Stephanie Burridge on workplace culture, effects of the pandemic and measuring success

Creating a Culture That Lasts: What Works and What Doesn’t

Stephanie is a seasoned HR professional, currently working as people director for big group, with over 13 years of experience across a diverse range of industries, including electrical engineering, health and fitness, private equity, and marketing agencies. Her unwavering commitment to creating people-centric workplaces has helped her progress from HR manager to people director, and now, people director at big group. In recognition of her exceptional contribution, she was invited to join the agency board in September 21.

Stephanie's passion for elevating employee experience and fostering a positive workplace culture is second to none. She is a firm believer in the power of effective communication, continuous learning and development, and prioritising employee well-being. In addition to her professional achievements, Stephanie is currently pursuing a Masters in HR, demonstrating her commitment to staying up-to-date with the latest industry developments.

What can help to shape the culture within a workplace? Does this differ when it comes to marketing agencies, and if so, how?

Stephanie> Starting with an easy question then! 

Everything contributes to workplace culture; the office aesthetic, company communication style and tone, working practices, management style, recruitment processes, social media representation, social emphasis, benefits, and I could go on and on. However, I believe culture is particularly shaped by the leadership team and the company’s history or ethos. Culture takes time to build and is ultimately the legacy that can be left by our founders. Protecting a positive workplace culture and constantly enhancing this as the world changes, ensuring it is dynamic to today’s society leads to a success story. 

I don’t think this differs between industries, but marketing agencies have the advantage of career-driven and creative employees who truly appreciate the value a positive culture can bring. 

Since the pandemic, what are the changes in working habits, motivations, and behaviours? Has this left your team to adapt your strategy in any way? 

Stephanie> Absolutely, I think the pandemic's effects have led to one of the fastest workplace evolutions and has significantly impacted culture. People now expect greater flexibility, some would be happy never setting foot in an office again, and some like a hybrid approach but everyone wants choice. Balancing these expectations against business needs and maintaining a company culture which thrives on social interactions is complicated! big group has had to shift strategy to reflect this, and I personally believe we have a healthy balance. 

Marketing agencies can be known for their high turnover…what strategies do you use to recruit and retain top talent? Is retention ever unhelpful? 

Stephanie> Thankfully we do not experience a problem with high turnover at big group. I think this is due to our strong culture and the opportunities available for career progression. big group is also a fairly unique place to work because we have so many experts within different fields of marketing that people have the opportunity to work with. This helps make it an inspiring place to work. Another contributing factor for big group is our side-by-side value and the approachability of everyone; we genuinely support each other and are happy to help. So in answer to your question, maintaining a positive supportive culture, ensuring there are growth opportunities and recruiting people who live by the same values all factors in our strategy to combat high turnover. I wouldn’t describe retention as unhelpful, it is a privilege for a business to have employees that want to stay and help keep the momentum for new challenges, opportunities and growth. 

How have you managed to foster a culture of collaboration and open communication among team members?

Stephanie> It is always a work in progress, but this relies on everyone at big group to set an example with new starters, to show how we work alongside one another and encourage everyone to have a voice. The leadership team also plays a key part in ensuring this happens and evaluating how we can improve in these areas. big group is very supportive of our social clubs, and I think this support and encouragement highlights how valuable connecting with each other is. Building positive relationships with colleagues naturally nurtures collaboration, feedback, and support.

Do you think culture can be a ‘bad’ word? Does it get the blame for too much?

Stephanie> A bad word, no. I do think it was a ‘buzz’ word for a few years and was overused but now I think it is cemented as a key part of organisational life and the value culture brings to businesses is fully appreciated. If an organisation has a problem with high turnover, it is often due to a negative workplace culture and the blame then needs to be put at the feet of the leadership team as they ultimately are responsible for allowing a troublesome culture to develop. 

With a role like yours, how do you and your team measure success?

Stephanie> Success for us can be hard to quantify, it isn’t black and white but there are many ways I would measure success. We have objectives that we work towards: measures of success, the implementation of a new tool, the successful recruitment of a role and the results from our annual engagement survey. But for me, it is often the smaller, more discrete moments that come with the job. A thank you from an employee who you have helped or supported, seeing the smile on a new starter’s face and knowing they are pleased with their decision to join or listening to employee suggestions and knowing they feel their opinions matter and that they have a voice at big group. 

HR tends to attract people-people - what ingredients (skills, qualities) make up your ideal HR team/person? 

Stephanie> HR has many specialist areas and can be a rewarding career for most people, but I would say that anyone working in HR needs to want to interact with others! In a smaller-sized company, like big group, where there isn’t a need for specialist HR roles, being a people person is very important. However, within this definition, there can be excellent listeners, confident communicators, and people with empathy as a strength. Having a team who can tick all of these boxes is ideal. Asides from being a people person, and the three ingredients mentioned above, I would say the following seven make up the top 10 for an ideal team:

  • Passion
  • Confidentiality 
  • Proactivity 
  • Organisational skills 
  • Adaptability 
  • Objectivity 
  • Ability to see the bigger picture

What do you think sets the people team at big group apart from other agencies?

Stephanie> I am not sure I can give an objective opinion here! I am lucky to work with a team who cares and will go above and beyond. Every day is different in a HR role, and it can be mentally exhausting but knowing we are there to support one another is important. 

Perhaps more important is the fact that big group’s founders and group directors recognise the value that HR brings to an organisation and the contribution we can make to business performance. 

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your role and how do you overcome it? 

Stephanie> The emotional load the role can bring. I remember it is a privilege to have this job and how important it is to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I can compartmentalise (most of the time) and make sure I keep an active lifestyle to keep endorphins flowing.

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big group, Fri, 28 Apr 2023 15:11:00 GMT