The importance of a strong organisational culture should never be underestimated; with benefits such as enhanced trust and co-operation and better decision making, having the right set of cultural values running through the organisation will be the glue that brings employees together and will ensure that they, and the business, will grow and develop over time.
As one of Yorkshire’s largest independent firms of chartered accountants, auditors and advisors with a heritage that goes back 125 years, Garbutt + Elliott’s success and continued growth is attributable to the quality of the people that make up its team of over 200 staff based in the firm’s Leeds and York offices.
Having placed several key senior appointments with Garbutt + Elliott in recent years, Executive Director Lee Sweeney caught up with Managing Partner Russell Turner to discuss how the importance of ensuring the right cultural fit for the organisation is a significant factor in the decision-making process when it comes to recruitment.
Lee Sweeney: The word ‘culture’ is something which we hear and discuss a lot, but what does it mean to you as an organisation?
Russell Turner: It’s everything to us. We’ve worked extremely hard on identifying and developing our culture and values whilst ensuring they are not just words but very much brought to life. They are integral to everything we believe in and it was important to define our values so they are real and meaningful to us - we want them to represent everything we stand for. For those reasons, our values are straightforward – treat people how you would like to be treated.
Essentially, our culture is about genuinely caring, empowering and encouraging people to be the best they can be – whether this is through our relationships with our clients, our colleagues, business development or our stakeholders. Our values enable us to build consistency and have been hugely influential in the way that we approach our recruitment strategy. It’s so important that we get the right people on board who want to grow, develop, reach their full potential and help our business to prosper.
LS: The interview is such a critical part of the process and almost entirely about weighing up if the candidate is right for you and vice versa?
RT: Absolutely, and in many ways the interview process is primarily about finding the candidate that is the right fit for our business. By the time you have shortlisted a handful of suitable applicants to interview, you’ve invariably ticked most of the boxes relating to their technical expertise and knowledge necessary for the role. Information such as what qualifications do they have, where have they gained experience, what type of clients have they worked with can all be gleaned from the CV and application process – so when you sit down in front of someone, it should be a given that they have the ability and experience to deliver the requirements of the role. What the interview gives you is the opportunity to gain an insight into the type of person they are, if we share the same values and behaviours and do they show they genuinely care?
LS: What are you essentially looking for?
RT: It’s important that not only do we identify those people that share our values, but we create an environment where decisions are made both from the top-down and bottom-up; we want our employees to be confident to express independent thoughts and feel empowered to make decisions with a freedom and flexibility in the way they approach their work. We encourage people to bring our values to life and actively participate in shaping them for the future - our values should continually evolve as our business moves forward. To do this our people must be engaged and believe they can make a difference.
LS: When it comes to recruitment, have you seen a shift in what the role requirements are for working in accountancy and finance?
RT: In a highly competitive market it is essential that our people enjoy where they work and the work they do. Our clients expect the services we offer to be of the highest quality, and rightly so – we pride ourselves on the quality of our work, from a technical perspective, but equally it’s the quality of our people, their attitude and behaviours, that really differentiates us in a crowded market. It has to be about our people; we want our clients to see that we are vibrant, energetic, forward-thinking - passionate professionals who are engaging and can clearly demonstrate that they care about what they do.
LS: You mentioned that others in the organisation need to feel empowered, why this is so important?
RT: As a business grows, it’s so important that there’s a real understanding of the values and that people champion those values, it has to be joined up. At senior level, it is essential that we bring on board key individuals who share our core values and can very quickly get a strong grasp of their role; but we also want people to bring new ideas and alternative approaches as these will enhance our values and benefit our business in the long run. As I mentioned earlier, our values are embedded in the very fabric of everything we do and we continue to work hard to strike the right balance between consistency and empowering our leadership team to implement their own style.
LS: What would you do if faced with a candidate who is a strong match for the requirements of the role but you are not certain that they would be a good fit for the organisation?
RT: There’s a certain amount of bravery involved; a lot of people talk about the importance of finding the right fit in terms of culture and values but this often takes second place if a candidate can demonstrate right technical skill set. Fundamentally, if we have a feeling, that someone doesn’t share our values, we know that they will not be right for us, and vice versa, regardless of their technical skillset.
Staying true to our values has enabled us to celebrate and focus on people’s strengths and what they enjoy doing – in reality, very few people are exceptional at everything and that’s acknowledged at Garbutt + Elliott. For example, someone that performs strongly at business development may not necessarily be the best at process and similarly someone whose strengths can be clearly seen in their understanding of process might not be suited to line management. This provides us with the opportunity to develop and recognise individuals for what they bring our business, tailor their development and progression route accordingly and ensure their contribution is recognised and they achieve their own career goals.
LS: How important is it for candidates to consider the culture of an organisation when looking for a new role?
RT: Employers must work hard to stand out from the crowd if they want to recruit the top talent, and even harder to retain their staff. And much of that comes down to how you make your employees feel every day. The salary, benefits package and career progression must be attractive and competitive, but how you treat people on a day-to-day basis, how you make them feel valued, how you make them part of the decision-making process and how you create an environment in which they feel that they can grow is just as important.
The last 18 months has shown us how working practices can be successfully adapted; the benefits of remote working have been embraced by both employers and employees. With employers being more flexible this opens up a wealth of opportunities for the top talent to seek new career opportunities much further afield, putting greater competitive pressure on employers.
LS: What would be the one piece of advice you would give to a company when they are looking at how they approach shaping and developing their organisational culture?
RT: It never stops! Developing the right culture for a business is more about how you plan the journey rather than focusing on the destination. A strong organisational culture flexes and develops as your business grows, it needs to be energised, supported and continually invested in. In reality, an organisations culture is the culmination of everyone’s individual behaviours – hence why it is so important to get the right people onboard.
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