3 keys to become an employer of choice

Clear communication, investing in staff development and a culture of sustainable innovation are three keys that have led OMD to become recognised as an employer of choice for four years in a row, according to the communication agency’s CEO, Peter Horgan.

The initial drive to become a better employer started with a recognition that some competitors who had won large accounts quite quickly became known as sweatshops, and he said the workload and pressure of delivering for new clients damaged their culture and reputation as employers.

Horgan said the OMD business was growing at the time and all the warning signs were there that the agency could follow a similar path. “So we made a conscious decision that we wanted to build a sustainable culture and that people would be happy working here for a number of years,” he said.

3 steps to becoming a great place to work

The first important step for the business was to step back, take stock and develop a real “vision and a listening culture,” said Horgan. “We ran our first ever staff survey, which was launched off the back of our decision to build a good culture and become a better employer.

“Following the survey, we communicated with our staff and said: ‘Okay, this is what you’ve told us and this is what we’re going to action.’ So we signalled clearly to the business that we were taking a step change and we were building a ‘listening culture’ where employees were considered stakeholders in the business.”

The second most important step for OMD, which has been recognised as a top 50 BRW Best Place to Work for the past four consecutive years, was to put its “money where its mouth was”, said Horgan.

The staff survey indicated that employees wanted more development and opportunities as the OMD brand evolved.

“So we hired a people and development director and started getting really serious about training, backing our people and investing in them as individuals and as media practitioners,” he said.

The third key area for OMD was to develop a culture of sustainable innovation around employee development, according to Horgan. “This is about keeping things fresh and interesting for our people; it’s almost like what is your next trick going to be,” he said.

“So whether it’s new learning modules, better career development and opportunities or helping people feel like they’re able to access all the areas that we’re investing in, we want people to be masters of their own destiny.

“The average age of our employees is 28-years-old, so we have to stay relevant to them, give them opportunities and help them develop in order to keep them motivated and retained. You absolutely need to invest in your people.”

HR’s keys to becoming an employer of choice

For any business looking to lift standards and become a better place to work, OMD’s people and development director, Martin Cowie, said they have to be prepared to listen to the good and the bad. “The minute you find yourself justifying data, or looking to interpret it in a way that’s more favourable, you know you’re in trouble,” he said.

“So you have to first of all listen, and second, show you’re listening. Tell them what they’ve said and tell them what you’re going to do about it and invite them to hold you accountable.”

Cowie also advised against embarking on such a journey unless every level of the business believes it’s a sensible business strategy. “You need your executive team all firmly and absolutely committed,” he said.

“I’ve seen other people dabble around the edges and they come unstuck pretty quickly. It’s a full time commitment that goes on year after year; and it requires an allocation of dollars for there to be a return to the bottom line.”

However, because of the commitment from the top he said OMD had benefited in a number of ways through being recognised as an employer of choice. “We don’t manufacture anything here,” Cowie said.

“We’re a brains trust, so we need to get the best people, train them really well, develop them and look after them. We get the best work out of our people, and this has kept our present clients happy and I think we’re winning new business because of this too.”

First published by Inside HR Magazine, 19 March 2014: http://www.insidehr.com.au/omds-3-keys-to-become-an-employer-of-choice/

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