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How we created a culture with a “zero percent” flight risk: Times Best Places to Work 2024

Published on
May 23, 2024
Solvd Together’s Team Day with Candi FC Women’s Team. Solvd team members are included in the the line up with a few of the players and their coach.
A sweaty photo of the Solvd squad cementing the sponsorship of the Candi FC Women's Team
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On 13th May, we were recognised as one of The Times’ Best Places to Work 2024. I thought I’d use this opportunity to reflect and share some of the things we do that create ‘Solvdness’. Of course, every company culture is a work in progress, so I’ve also shared some of the challenges because I think it’s important to acknowledge that the work of trying to build a high-performing company culture is never ‘done’.

Building high-performing teams is a combination of vision and process

Several fundamental worldviews have led Solvd to where we are today.

  1. Hiring people who care about what they do and can back it up with their skills is half the battle.
    Recruitment is the one part of our company operations that I will always stay involved in because it’s so important to the experience of our team and the quality of our work. Practically, we do this with a case study that mimics the kind of projects we work on. It’s been a great leveller as we can cut through the talk and the information on people’s CVs to see them in actions.
  2. We believe that systems drive behaviour, not knowledge.
    In other words, if you want people to do something differently, design the process or structure around them rather than trying to change behaviour with content. A recent example is that we had to change the way people were recording their timesheets on client projects. Rather than try to convince people to do things differently, we changed the requirements of what we were tracking and measuring. The result has been less stress and confusion around timesheets.
  3. We hire people who enjoy autonomy and encourage a culture where anyone can offer support.
    One way we keep abreast of how people are getting on is with our 'vibe' scores. This is a rating between 1 and 5 that people share in our two weekly company meetings. If we hear people are anything less than a 3, I and other team members will reach out to see if we can offer support.
  4. We believe in hiring a diverse team – not just in terms of characteristics but also skills. The strategy has been to recruit for generalist expertise in consulting and a vertical capability (or two) that will move us all forward as professionals. For example, we have specialist researchers, behavioural scientists, and production experts who are also well organised, great with clients, and meet the quality expectations we have at Solvd.
  5. We believe in being positive and supportive of people in our industry – regardless of where they work.
    It can be easy to obsess over competition but in my experience it’s important not to burn bridges as you never know what opportunities might arise in future.
  6. We believe in transparency.
    This is a more recent approach that has positively impacted the employee experience. Being open with profit and loss has allowed us to have adult conversations around why certain decisions are being made and the implications for the business and its people.
Solvd team and guests are engaging in a sing-along group activity at the boat party event 2023
The third edition of our very cool Learning Tech boat party

Leaders are nothing special

It looks like people have started to figure out that ego is the enemy of good leadership. I’m working on this by recognising my own privilege and seeing success as luck rather than judgment. My first job in learning was with Nick Shackleton-Jones at BP. I met Nick at the Reading half-marathon because my wife happened to work with his partner at the time.

So, I got lucky. I’m also lucky to have been raised by two loving parents who are still together and who are both professionals. I had the choice to go to a private school (although I did both state and private), and I’m a white male with a ‘King’s English’ accent. And despite its flaws, I do feel privileged to be born in the UK; I moan about the weather and the political weather a lot, but it’s still an amazing place to live.

Of course, where and to whom I was born was luck, not judgement, so the idea that my career is a product of hard work and talent is nonsense. Remembering all of this keeps my ego in check I think – not to mention the other numerous character faults.

When I observe influencers or leaders online, on TV, or in real life strutting around like they’re the most important person in the room, I roll my eyes. For me, it shows a lack of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a basic worldview. There’s an art to being confident, influential, empathetic, and supportive without the strutting. I think this is a challenge for everyone in a leadership position.

Members of the Solvd team walking down Brick Lane in Shoreditch, London - Morten on of the founder is in the middle of the group
Founder Morten strutting down Brick Lane in Shoreditch

What have we got to improve on

Following the news that we’d been listed in The Times’ Best Places to Work, our People Director, Adele, ran a session to reflect on and provide feedback on the data. The things that stuck in my mind were improvements to be made around our induction and onboarding process (1), sustainability (2), and annual leave benefits (3).

  1. In the spirit of empowerment and autonomy, I think you can easily end up with a ‘sink or swim’ design that doesn’t feel good to new joiners. It's time to practice what we preach and use our award-winning induction design skills to transform our own induction and onboarding experience.
  2. Sustainability is something that I personally care a lot about, and it’s an area where we can do better at Solvd. In our quest for quality, sometimes sustainability isn’t high enough on the agenda. Practically, we will be reviewing our design processes and delivery to be more cognisant of this.
  3. Finally, our annual leave benefit needs to be discussed. I admit, it’s not generous. However, we offer great flexibility with our ‘work anywhere’ policy, and every fortnight the team can take the day off/take time back with ‘flex Friday’.

I’ve learned that running a business is a balancing act between client, team, and Solvd. I’ve also learned that transparency and openness about decision-making are almost always rewarded with engagement and trust.

An automated image created by a social dart board - shows members of Team Solvd in front of the board smiling with peace signs to celebrate their win
Flight Club has taken a lot of our money over the years

A dose of Solvdness

Our experience building Solvd’s culture might be applicable to you. We’re working with a number of clients to ‘operationalise human-centred design’, for which we address both team dynamics and ways of working. If you’re interested in a discussion about what we’ve done practically to build a ‘Best Place to Work’, please feel free to drop us a line.

Clay pots and bowls of different sizes and shapes are lined up on a table. A reservation sign says 'reserved for pottery and pints at 8pm'
The team made some pots, some were more potty than others