Digital Nation Viewpoints: Alex Depledge MBE on why culture should be a company’s primary driver

23 Apr 2019

Alex Depledge MBE founded domestic cleaning marketplace start-up Since selling the company for £20m she has set up online architectural design business Resi. In 2016 she was awarded an MBE for services to the sharing economy and is a Member of the LEAP Investment Committee.

How important is it to build an employer brand for attracting and retaining talent?

It’s the most essential thing that you can do. You’re in a global competition for talent and you have to give them a reason to choose you. Millennials especially are much more drawn to a mission-driven company and what they’re going to get out of their job far outweighs the monetary value. So, if you don’t have a brand, you also don’t have a voice and you won’t get the best people that you can.

How can companies most effectively build and maintain their company culture?

You need to work out what the three things that are really important to you, then whenever you’re making any decision, from financial decisions to what the working week looks like, you always decide by the mantra of your culture and values.

Your board meetings shouldn’t be about your financial numbers but about constantly revisiting your culture for your employees and your customers on a quarterly basis.

What actions can companies take to increase diversity?

The real inhibitor of women progressing is actually around equality in paternity and maternity leave. If everyone gets an equal amount of time off we change the working culture. It’s also crucial you have a proper employee pipeline.

There’s a real need in this country to develop talent and I think we’re terrible at doing that. So, that’s what I try to do in terms of gender and diversity. I’m not in favor of positive discrimination. I think everyone should earn the job on merit but you’re never going to allow people to earn it on merit if you’re not investing in them from the very minute that they set their foot on the career ladder or even before. So I make sure that we have a culture of continuous coaching and development.

What is the best approach to flexible working?

We don’t have a policy on it because I just don’t know why it’s a big deal, it’s not rocket science. There are very, very few jobs that cannot be done on a shared basis or cannot be done remotely and anyone who tells you any different is talking rubbish.

What technologies make your company work more efficiently?

There are lots of tools that are actually making the problem worse, I think we’ve just gone too far around collaboration. I hate Slack for instance, I think it’s the biggest distraction. Get up from behind your desk, go and have a conversation.

The open-plan office space is a devil, you need a rabbit warren as an office so that people can find places to do deep work. The biggest hinders to productivity are an open-plan office space and Slack. If we got rid of both of those things, we probably see a bounce in the GDP of the economy.

How can companies keep up to speed with the changing skill requirements being driven by technology?

These skills are actually best learn on the job, very few skills are best learned in an academic environment. So, if you find someone who’s hungry and gets what you’re doing, is a great cultural, fit but they don’t have the right skill set then why the hell are you not hiring that person and training them?

We always try and hire junior people and train them. We’ve got such a deficit in this country and we can’t just wait for like the education system to catch up. So, you have to take matters into your own hands.

What is your biggest fear for the digital economy?

I’m concerned that there are a lot of zombie companiesaround and the day of reckoning is coming. We’ve had an awful lot of money pouring in over the last few years into high-growth companies and a lot of those high-growth companies have not figured out a business model or a way to scale and are losing an obscene amount of money.

There are a lot of companies living on debt or equity-based money and it’s going to dry up soon. It’s going to be interesting to see how we weather the coming storm and what that means for a lot of the talent working in those sorts of companies. And how we rebound from it.

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