An interview with:

Grahame Carter

Written By:

Fi Marshall

 

 

So Grahame, what springs to mind when you think about employee engagement? 

Well, we’re in a business with a high staff turnover, but with that comes a high level of recruitment, so we make sure engagement is at the forefront of that recruitment process, because we want those people to be with us for many years to come. So employee engagement is paramount from the very first touch-points in our line of work. 

We’re very up front about what’s going to be expected of a new team member and how difficult it will be; one of the worst things you can do engagement-wise is to sugar-coat what their role will be like. 

Ultimately, I think employee engagement all comes down to: adjusting, listening, changing with the times, being as flexible as you possibly can to meet the demands of your team, and when you can’t meet them, be transparent and open. 

 

Speaking of that onboarding process, how do you continue to engage new team members over their first few weeks? 

We always send our new employees a welcome packet with things like a pen, and some Jammie Dodgers to keep it a bit lighthearted, but the most important thing (and this is a challenge of the new world we live in) is embedding them into their team. And that’s not just the sector they work in, but the whole company. The sooner we can make them feel welcome, warm, safe and secure in their team environment, the better. 

It’s difficult to make that happen when you’re not allowed in the offices, though; we found that working from home was really good for our senior staff members, from an engagement standpoint, but it’s not been very good at all for our new starters and joiners. It’s been difficult. 

 

It must be hard for new people to form relationships and get a sense of what the company’s like when things are more remote. Where do you stand on remote working going forward? 

So, when the pandemic is over, we’re going to expect people to be in the office 3 days a week, which we really feel is a huge shift in culture for us and a huge benefit to those individuals that need the flexibility to work from home. Our new starters can stay in the office 5 days a week when they join, but they’ll benefit from having senior and experienced people around them for at least 3 of those days. 

 

Being around people in person has got to help everybody to feel like a part of the team. You’ve personally got some great relationships with everybody at Gattaca, how do you go about encouraging others to form these relationships, be it between other team members, or between managers and employees? 

The longer I’ve been in this industry, the less I think you can teach a natural leadership style. You can be taught things, but you’ll always revert back to type when the pressure’s on. 

I think the relationships I’ve got have been built on working as hard as you possibly can and being very transparent with the amount of work and effort you put in. I do a 2-weekly newsletter of the customers I’ve spoken to, the meetings I’ve been in, and some of the challenges I’ve got, and that newsletter goes out to the leadership team and to anybody else who wants to read it. You can’t be fully transparent if you’re not working hard, so that openness helps to keep the momentum. 

I also give up a huge amount of my time to spend with people socially, as well as within work, whether that be running, swimming, golfing, drinking, eating, dinners. It does impact everything else, you know – your home life, your family life – and you’ve got to make choices and find a balance. But these are the biggest things – openness, honesty, transparency, and your time. 

 

You talk about a natural leadership style; what comes naturally to you as a leader? And what inspires your leadership style? 

There are two things that come naturally to me – I’m very optimistic, and I’m a finisher. I’ve always been optimistic, I have a lot of energy, I sleep 9 hours a night and I need that sleep, it really re-energises you. As for being a finisher, I’m not so much the ideas man, but I’m always the one to see something through to completion, to make sure it’s done in a timely and correct manner.

A lot of my inspiration comes from listening to people who’ve achieved a lot from a sporting perspective who are now learning to translate that into a business environment. The studies and books that relate sporting successes into business principles are what I’m drawn to, and they really work for me.  

 

Could you give an example of these sporting successes and how they translate to business leadership? 

So the first example I have is about the All Blacks – the greatest rugby team that probably will ever be. Everywhere they go, they clean their own changing room, and they’re not allowed to leave the stadium until the room is exactly as they found it – and these are the highest-paid, best professional players in the world. That’s where a lot of their humility and engagement comes from – it starts on day 1 of training and continues from there. It’s this discipline that they take to every game. 

When you relate that into a business environment – if people are taking care of the toilets, the kitchen, their desk area – all of those things add up to a good culture/working environment, and a place you want to spend time. 

The second example is about a team in Denmark called Mönchengladbach, owned by an Oxford graduate gambling expert. He works with the brightest brains from Oxbridge to spot trends within sporting arenas that’ll consistently last forever, not just the peaks and troughs. It’s about performance data to trend growth, and I really buy into that as well. 

 

So that tracking of performance data, how would you use that to boost engagement in the workplace? 

So if you were coming to work with us, from an engagement perspective, we’d ask you:  ‘What do you want out of this job?’ Now, if you were going to say,‘I want a deposit for my new house/I want a new car/I want to be able to go to Mauritius’, whatever your personal goal is, there could be a monetary value to that task/goal/adventure. 

And we’d use that data to tell you how quickly you can get to your goal based on your input and output of work. We make sure people know that everything is in their control, and we tell them by Week 5 or 6 what data points they need to get there. 

 

Have you noticed any trends in what the upcoming generations are wanting out of work and what engages them specifically? 

The biggest, and I think the most important difference is that people aren’t as interested in money as they used to be. 

The new members of staff that are coming through are more interested in having flexibility to go to the gym, or having more leisure time. When I joined, it was all pounds and pence – quite a financially driven organisation. I’ve really seen a shift in people wanting to swap financial gain for their own well-being. 

You’re talking to an old school, now nearly retired recruiter, and one of my questions used to be ‘Where do you want to be financially?’, and now, I couldn’t even imagine asking someone that question, because it’s just so antiquated. But yet it is a generational shift. 

 

And with that generational shift, you have to adapt your management style; do you see many people clinging on to more traditional management styles? 

So I think in the natural life cycle of the world we live in, there’ll always be old-school managers, because when the generation that’s coming through now is leading, the generation after them will want something different. 

That evolution of leadership is an interesting question to ask, but I’m confident that we don’t have any of your old-school leaders who use bullying – or what they call ‘banter’ – as a tool. 

 

How would you tackle it if a manager in your company were adopting these kinds of behaviours? 

I think there’s two answers I have for that. 

We’ve worked very very hard to help our leadership team to avoid those kinds of habits, but if a manager were to fall into them and be taken for a disciplinary process, there’s a worry that their team would fall apart, so we’re very careful to have succession planning in place. I’ve got two possible successors at any time, so that if my behaviour did change, we’d have an instant replacement. I’d definitely advise people to always have solid and progressive succession planning – it’s not easy to do, but it is manageable. 

In terms of not allowing it in your workplace – that’s just a cultural element of your business. It doesn’t mean you can’t be strict, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have confrontation or conflict at times, but you do it in a certain way. 

 

And how do you manage that conflict while still keeping people engaged – how do you strike that balance? 

This is strictly as-we-do not as-we-say: conflict is positive, and constructive criticism is also positive. We do two things. 

We do a 6-monthly 360-degree review on each other, and I would always encourage other leadership teams to do that. And we do that 360 anonymously too, so that you are truthful if you feel someone is doing something that isn’t adding value to the leadership team, or if something needs to change. We do that regularly. 

Also, when we hold our meetings, face-to-face or over teams, we appoint a different antagonistic individual for each meeting. Their job is to ruffle the feathers and ask the difficult questions. When you train people right and set the right boundaries, having a disruptor in a meeting works really well. Make sure you have a disruptor, and always give each other very direct feedback – if you want to improve and continue to evolve, you can only do that with feedback.