How to sustain a world-class business.

Meet Joanna Swash the CEO of Moneypenny

It is no secret that the success of a company lies in its personnel and although we know it, unfortunately, few companies excel by having an admirable work culture, curiously the companies that invest in the wellbeing of their employees and that have leaders who are empathetic, honest, positive... are more profitable and admired than those who do not. I had the pleasure of interviewing Joanna Swash, the CEO of Moneypenny, the world’s leading outsourced communications company answering outsourced telephone calls, live chat, and digital comms for thousands of businesses across the US and the UK. She shares with us,  how to build an effective work culture and this way thrive in our business.

Joanna, you started working there as a salesperson in 2005, how did you get to be where you are now in the company?

Having had my own small business, I recognised the importance of customer service and ensuring you provided an exceptional first impression to clients, so it was an easy decision to go and work for Ed and Rachel (Ed Reeves and Rachel Clacher co-founders of Moneypenny) as their first salesperson back in 2005. I believed in the business and what we were trying to achieve right from the very start and had experienced the need for it first-hand having had my own small business. I knew that it would be difficult to work for others having worked for myself, but I had such respect for what Ed and Rachel were doing and the amazing work culture that I knew it would work with them.

One of my proudest moments was being made CEO in 2018. I was the first salesperson the founders recruited and now we employ over 1,000 people in the US and UK, supporting more than 21,000 customers and have grown 20% year on year.

More recently, I was proud to welcome VoiceNation and Ninja Number to the Moneypenny family, especially as the acquisition went through days before lockdown when coronavirus was taking hold. Listening and learning from the founders and discovering such similar approaches to business, the combination of people and technology, was fascinating. We had to finalize everything virtually, from merging our technology, integrating teams and meeting new team members!

“As a CEO it is hugely important to surround yourself with brilliant people who are full of ideas and that can enhance your skills and knowledge to lead more effectively”

You have won the Management Today CEO of the Year Award., The awards honor the most ambitious and visionary leaders in the UK who are helping to build and sustain a world-class business. What is your leadership recipe for success? How do you empower your team?

I believe in authentic, compassionate leadership in business. Showing empathy, cultivating trust, empowering people, and being open and honest are all important skills, we as human beings, can develop and should prioritize.

For example, empathy opens doors, removes confusion and it develops deeper levels of trust and loyalty. When people are open you can be more creative in solving problems in ways that drive productivity and success. As a CEO it is hugely important to surround yourself with brilliant people who are full of ideas and that can enhance your skills and knowledge to lead more effectively. So, we take a lot of care in ensuring that everyone knows why others are on a team and the value that they add. We also coach people on how to communicate with others of a different mindset in a positive way. This, in turn, promotes respect, trust and loyalty.

As we work towards a new-normal, I think that it is hugely important that we learn our lessons and come out of it stronger, whether that is personally or professionally. We have seen how important it is to have a clear vision, supported by strong values so that everyone is aligned and working for the same purpose.

We know, Moneypenny is well known for its award-winning culture and keeping its staff happy, how do you do that?

Moneypenny came about after one of our founders, Ed Reeves had a bad experience losing a huge new business contract because his fax machine (remember them?) ran out of paper whilst he was on holiday. That was the moment when he felt that there was a better way that businesses could be run. He set about selling the concept to his sister, Rachel, and Moneypenny was founded in 2000.

With successful careers behind them both, they spent time learning from that experience and the lessons learned and built Moneypenny on the principle of extraordinary people and market-leading technology, seamlessly working together to provide a valued resource to our clients. Their vision was to create a company where they themselves would want to work.

From the very start, culture has been at the heart of everything we do, and we have spent a lot of time on creating the right culture of trust, from hiring the right people to giving them the opportunity to shine. It is part of who we are, our DNA and we passionately believe in supercharging people and businesses to be the best that they can be.

“If you empower teams to make mistakes, be brave and put aside anything that would hold them back, you are creating the perfect environment for them to come up with powerful ideas that could change the way you do business better”

Some of the keyways we achieve this are through:

#1 Listening

There is a lot to be said for true listening, and learning. Not simply hearing what a client or team member is saying but taking notice and acting on what they are saying. Everyone in business has had difficult decisions to make. Being honest and open is key for a leader as is being authentic and delivering on your promises. The very culture that we have nurtured through empowering teams to make mistakes and by being brave and bold has allowed us to come up with, and deliver, effective solutions. We have identified agility as a key success factor for business in the future, only by empowering, listening, and then quickly adapting to your people and the outside world will organisations be able to achieve this.

#2 Communicating with transparency.

With less face-to-face interaction actually discerning how your team is doing can be difficult. Likewise, they may find it more difficult to gauge how you are feeling, so being open and honest in any organisation is important. Tell them how you are feeling and how things are going It is also the key to being an authentic leader and delivering on your promises.

If you have tough decisions to make, be very clear and tell people why. And constantly update and communicate, whether that is in response to revised government guidelines or a simple ‘How are you doing?’. You don’t always have to have the answers, being an effective leader doesn’t mean that, or that you can’t share how you feel. What communicating with transparency does mean is being clear about what you know, what you are planning and what it means for people, in a way that your audience will understand.

#3 Empowering your people and take a step back.

Your brilliant business is only brilliant because, as a leader, you surround yourself with brilliant people. That’s my mantra and it is one of the earliest leadership lessons I learned.   If you empower teams to make mistakes, be brave and put aside anything that would hold them back, you are creating the perfect environment for them to come up with powerful ideas that could change the way you do business better. People naturally want to feel empowered so all you must do is give them the platform. It is about responsibility, trust, listening, purpose, and self-improvement. And it can create a more connected culture.

#4 Looking after mental wellness.

Being a good leader isn’t just about creating a safe work environment for your teams, it is about creating a safe environment. Full stop. People naturally respond anxiously to uncertainty however well prepared they may feel that they are. Furthermore, with remote working looking like it will be a strategic business opportunity in the future, recreating the office environment and those watercooler moments will be essential. If you work at Ferrari pace, then you should also have Ferrari brakes. By that I mean, know when to stop and when to have some fun. Without your good mental health, you cannot lead and without your team’s wellbeing they cannot support you.

#5 Being optimistic.

Effective leaders have a certain and unfaltering optimism. Thinking outside of the box for a unique solution or seeing a new business opportunity in the midst of a crisis, for example, is what makes you an effective leader. But don’t be blinded by the optimism. Yes, your team and your co-leaders need to buy into your path for the business, your belief but it needs to remain realistic, agile and open, acknowledging bumps along the way and learning every step of the way.

“Without your good mental health, you cannot lead and without your team’s wellbeing they cannot support you”

Why is so important to pay attention to employees´ wellbeing?

People are at the heart of everything we do. They are any organisations most powerful asset. Remember that. Whatever the world throws at you and it will stand you in good stead. A compassionate leader, who demonstrates the softer skills I have outlined above should be able to inspire, motivate and engage their teams however uncertain the future may be because it is innate in all that they are doing.

In creating a physical place people want to work, you are optimising performance it also links intrinsically with optimising human well-being. And human wellbeing means that your responsibility extends to creating a safe environment for your people to work and live in. At least it is accepting that your employees have a life outside of the office and personal responsibilities attached to that. At most, and its most effective, it is holistic in all that you do. Part of your culture.

Show that you value your people in their completeness, encourage them to take advantage of the wellness and social activities on offer, make sure they switch off in this constantly connected world, celebrate important occasions, foster flexibility, cultivate compassion, and recreate those all-important watercooler moments wherever your teams may be based.

Everybody talks about the importance of engagement for a higher quality of work produced, do you have any good practices at Moneypenny that you want to share about it?

Engagement is all about how connected your employees feel to the business. Do they understand their role and their importance in the wider health and success of the organization? Do they understand how they make the difference? Are they engaged?

If your employees are engaged, they understand their role, their purpose and their value, and their contribution to the overall results. And they have some ownership of the matter. In order to achieve this, communication is the key, and it has to be open, clear, and honest and it has to be two-way. Celebrating, nurturing and empowering employees not only leads to an agile decision-making culture, but it also leads to a happier workforce and increased retention.

For example, we ditched annual reviews in favor of more meaningful eight-week conversations over coffee and people are happier and more engaged. We also spend a lot of time on the little things when it comes to our people, the everyday things that don’t cost a lot. And it’s not always the serious stuff; handwritten notes from me acknowledging a great job, free breakfasts, flexible working, great outside space. It all comes down to culture – if you make people the heart of your business values and purpose from the very beginning it simply becomes a part of everyday life, the way things are done round here.

“To succeed in business, the key is in knowing yourself, your purpose, your strengths, and your weaknesses, accepting them and then building a team around you which fills in the gaps and enhances the strengths”

In your opinion what will be the offices of the future?

We are in a unique position as business leaders to seize the opportunity to build back better, looking ahead and reinventing how we do business for the future. In recognizing the vulnerabilities that the pandemic has highlighted, government and business needs to work together as master problem solvers and innovators on the road to recovery. It is time for businesses to take the reins, realign themselves with their purpose and build resilience and agility into every aspect in order to achieve sustainable growth.

Whilst technology has liberated us from our desks, we still need the office. We are social creatures, we need those moments of connection, even the simple nod from a passerby on the morning commute. Technology plays a role, and it has provided us with the tools to remain connected when all around us was in lockdown, but it cannot replace the sense of community, of belonging from spending, at least some time in an office. They may look a little different, re-configured, more flexible but they are the hub where employees are able to connect, debate, collaborate and develop. A space which makes them feel part of something and maybe, after all of this we will appreciate the office just that little bit more.

Future working and employee motivation stems from creating a safe culture, practically, physically, and mentally. The result is a physical place where people want to work, optimizing productivity and performance as well as enhancing human well-being. Valuing every employee in their completeness fosters flexibility, cultivates compassion and connects people, whatever age, race, or gender. And these are the skills required to build a sustainable agile business prepared for the future.

Something else you want to add.

To succeed in business, the key is in knowing yourself, your purpose, your strengths, and your weaknesses, accepting them and then building a team around you which fills in the gaps and enhances the strengths. Speak to other CEO’s and businesses too to share problems and solutions. Empower your staff and you’ll reap the reward - think back to your previous jobs – who did you work harder for, the boss who made each day miserable or the boss who treated you fairly and made work fun? Inspiring a workforce will always yield better results than those who rule with fear.

Also, don’t be afraid to dream big. History has shown us what can be achieved when we dream, when we embrace and pursue our dreams – it’s how we define who we are and what we want to stand for. Don’t be afraid of them. Just make sure they don’t turn into daydreams. Whether they are large or small, keep them measurable and harness their power.

For more information about Moneypenny click here