What does successful cultural change look like?

Creating an inclusive culture is not easy says C Space joint-MD and Agent of Change Felix Koch.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 01 Jul 2019

When Felix Koch received the results of C Space’s employee feedback survey, it was clear there was a problem.

Only 40 per cent of staff said that they intended to stay with the Omnicom owned creative services company for longer than 12 months, and just under half of the company’s 128 London office employees said that they felt proud to work there.

It was reflected in the company’s performance: revenue growth was down one per cent on the previous year. 

After taking a step back to assess the cause, Koch, his joint-MD Phil Burgess and the HR director Zoe Cotter-Morton realised two things:

A results driven culture was making staff feel underappreciated and wasn't flexible enough to adapt to people's personal lives. There was also a lack of diversity; 86 per cent of the company’s leadership team were men, with a wider team of staff from similar educational backgrounds. 

"I only used to recruit LSE or Oxbridge graduates, it was part of the culture to want to recruit the best; and we assumed that that was it. But it led to problems and it became very siloed," says Koch.

They set about a programme of change to move the agency away from its "number first" culture, to one that felt more people focused, and inclusive.

A major focus has been recruitment.

Two years ago the company introduced blind CVs, that simply list a person's experience rather than educational background. It also dropped its graduate only recruitment policy. Now 9 per cent of employees didn't go to university and the firm became one of the first agencies in the Omnicom Group to employee apprentices in its HR, finance and consultancy teams. 

Parenting was another significant focus.The team consulted with new parents in the company to see how they could make work more equal for them.

The parental leave policy was changed; paid paternal leave was doubled and any new parent or carer now gets one month full paid leave if taken within the first year. 

Fifty per cent of the company’s staff now work flexibility and Koch isn’t afraid to lead by example, he took three and four months paternity leave following the birth of each of his two children, works from home at least once a week and leaves the office at 5.30 each day to ensure he is home for bedtime at 6pm.

Three years on, the changes have had a profound impact on employee engagement. In the 2018 survey 70 per cent of the company’s workforce said they intended to stay longer than a year, while 87 per cent were proud to work for C Space. The company’s twelve person leadership team now has a fifty fifty gender split.

2018 revenues grew 12 per cent on the previous year and the company was voted Best Place to Work  at the 2018 MRS Research Live Awards. 

It’s been an improvement, but Koch says that C Space’s journey is far from finished.

The next focus is about exploring how the company’s demographic split can better represent its Southwark base. According to the 2011 London census 40.2 per cent of the population come from asian, black or mixed ethnic minority backgrounds whereas 29 per cent of C Space’s current staff are from BAME backgrounds. Normalising open conversations about mental health will be a key priority, too.

He’s also keen to stress that it’s been far from plain sailing. 

"Maybe we talked about some of our initiatives too early. While we did achieve progress, sharing our plans and our intent when everything is still fresh can sometimes create cynicism."

Koch admits that the company underestimated just how much effort a cultural change requires, and the  efforts to be more inclusive has had an impact on other functions of the business. For example the pace of recruitment has slowed down. 

"I had this naive view that progress would be linear, first we’d fix this problem and then that one and so on. In the end it's a squiggly line and you have to be prepared for setbacks, and for some of the metrics to go in the wrong direction.

"The important thing is that you see the big picture and you're willing to keep going."

Koch shares 3 tips all bosses should consider when it comes to inclusion and diversity:

1) Just start, no company will never be perfect but just get the ball rolling. 

2) See progress first, then do the PR.

3) Shaming prevents progress, it's better to fame those who do well, because shame is not a good thing to learn from. 


Image credits: Kenny Williamson/ Getty images

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