Staff retention is a constant challenge across many industries, but one small Sydney business knows how to keep their staff happy. Real Estate Business’ Stacey Moseley stepped behind the big red door to find out what makes RedBalloon one of the best places to work in Australia
AS I step through the big red door and enter the RedBalloon office I am greeted by smiling faces. Not the smiling faces that scream, ‘I have to smile because my boss tells me to be nice to visitors’, but those of genuinely happy people.
Christmas is approaching, which means it’s the busiest time of the year for the RedBalloon customer experience team – the phones are ringing non-stop.
Megan Bromley, the company’s employee experience manager, greets me. “I’m wearing a Christmas apron, is that OK for the interview?” she asks. Who am I to get in the way of some Christmas cheer? I look around and see everyone is wearing Santa hats. I should have worn my reindeer sweater.
“The Christmas hats were on everyone’s desk this morning as a small Christmas gift,” she tells me. “We don’t make them wear them all the time!”
For four years now RedBalloon has been listed in BRW’s Top 50 Employers Ranking. Most recently sitting at number 17, they share the list with big names like Google (third) and Adidas Australia (47th).
As I walk around the office, it is easy to see why they have cemented their spot on the list; they care about their workers. The office is open plan, founding director, Naomi Simson, and communication specialist, Lauren Aston, sit right behind the customer experience team.
“I think what keeps us on that list is our commitment to our people,” Megan explains. “While a lot of businesses’ number one focus is on profit, for us there is definitely an equal comparison between profit and people.”
Many companies judge their success on their customer engagement score – ie. how many of their customers are active fans and will promote their business. RedBalloon know their Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) is just as important. According to Megan their eNPS is 84 per cent, which means more than three quarters of the staff would, and do, actively recommend RedBalloon to their friends and family.
IT’S NO ACCIDENT
It was no mistake that RedBalloon landed on the BRW ranking. As Megan explains the ins and outs of the office culture, it becomes clear the employee experience program is grounded in literature and runs deep within the RedBalloon ideology.
“I do a lot of reading about what other organisations are doing,” she says. “Then I ask ‘Could that work for us?’, ‘How do I ‘RedBalloon’ it?’
“The key for me is to keep it simple. If it is too hard and too complicated, people won’t do it.”
But according to Megan, the office culture stems from the top. Founding director, Naomi, had the idea 11 years ago when she set up the successful online business. After working in the corporate world at other large organisations, she realised there were better ways to manage staff. She was selling fun, so she wanted to live that experience with her employees at work.
Enter Megan, the HR manager. “I came on five years ago when we had 38 employees,” she says. “It was three months after I started working that my title changed to better reflect the ideology of the business. I am not a big fan of the term HR – humans aren’t resources. I am now the employee experience manager, and I love my title.”
Many of the employee experience initiatives RedBalloon is famous for today were put in place by Megan. The culture incorporates every aspect of the business, and it all stems from the ‘Big Red Tool Kit’.
“The tool kit is all about rewards and recognition,” she explains. “We have an online points program called ‘Red Hot Rewards’. It is a mirror image of our website and each team leader has a bucket of points to share with their team members.
“As an example, if I am working on a project and it gets rolled out, the CEO may want to give me some points. She can go into the system and allocate 50 points to me, as well as write me a message. I can then save up those points to buy something on the website – It’s like a RedBalloon savings account.”
But the employee experience is only as successful as the RedBalloon team leaders, according to Megan.
“If our team leaders really get the employee experience and appreciate the value it can add to the business, it filters down to their teams,” she says. “It is in all of their role expectations that they live and breathe the employee experience.
“They say the number one reason people leave their job is to leave their managers, so the closer the team leaders are aligned, the better the experience.”
It may be an old adage, but happy workers do equal happy clients.
“We know if we have happy people, they are going to be more productive in their roles and have greater conversations with our customers and our clients. And they just feed each other,” Megan says.
“At the end of the day we sell experience, we sell happiness, and we are in the business of giving someone a good time. We really want that to reflect in the people who work here on a day to day level.”
According to Megan the benefits are two-fold, as potential employees are literally knocking at her big red door. Each time a new position arises Megan receives between 100 and 500 resumes. Just last week she advertised for a finance director and has already received 150 resumes.
“Recruitment for us is really organic; if someone leaves we will recruit that position, but we will always ask, ‘What is the purpose of this position?’, ‘Does this role need to evolve and change?’, ‘Is it the right job title?’” she says.
“We look at the structure of the whole team so we are as productive as we can possibly be.”
IT WON’T WORK FOR US
Megan says many big and small businesses make excuses as to why a similar model wouldn’t work for them.
“Some of the bigger organisations lose the aspect of trust as they grow,” she says. “Trust is implied at RedBalloon.
“I think if all businesses could trust their people, relationships would be very different.”
And when it comes to budgeting for the many varied activities and employee initiatives, Megan doesn’t have a big bucket of money to pull from.
“To put it into perspective, since I started working five years ago, my financial year budget has been pretty much on par, year-on-year,” she explains. “The only thing we have increased is our expenditure on learning and development.”
It is the little things that make the biggest impact, she says.
“We do a fortnightly breakfast that costs $200 for 60 people, so that isn’t a big expense,” she says. “Every week in December we give a small gift – this week it was Santa’s hats for $1 at IGA.
“So there are little inexpensive ways to recognise our people and create fun.”
ACCEPTING STAFF TURNOVER
In our fast paced and changing society, businesses need to realise staff turnover shouldn’t always be viewed as a bad thing.
“Naomi is an entrepreneur, so she has always said RedBalloon is not the end destination for everyone – it’s just a part of people’s journeys,” Megan says.
“You simply need to make the most of them while they are there; the whole concept of the gold watch at the end of the 10 or 20 years is a concept that is so far gone. Appreciate your people while they are here.”
But it is important also to have those hard conversations about why they are leaving, she warns.
“A lot of people are afraid to have those hard conversations about performance, attitude and behavior,” she says. “You must have that conversation, find out why – is it something that you are doing? Do they not like someone? – and then ask how you can fix the problem.”
TOP EMPLOYEE INITIATIVES
Make your office a happier and more productive place by treating your employees. RedBalloon’s Megan Bromley shares her best picks.
1. MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That is why the team at RedBalloon has a team breakfast in the office every fortnight. It is a great way to get the team focused.
2. GETTING TO KNOW YOUR TEAM
The key to ensuring your employees are happy is to know what makes them tick. It’s simple – ask! Every RedBalloon employee answers a serious of questions, such as ‘what are your pet peeves?’ and ‘how would you like to be recognised?’ This makes it easier for us to give them what they want.
3. TARGETS AND REWARDS
Making targets is important for any business, but celebrating those targets is just as beneficial for the team. Last year we overachieved and so we took the team to Fraser Island.
4. INCLUDE THE FAMILY
Inviting along a best friend, sister or partner to the Christmas party or EOFY dinner can mean more to your employee than any extra cost to the business.
5. TOUGH WEEK AHEAD?
When we know a certain department in our office has a tough week/month ahead of them, we ask them to fill out a card with their two favourite snacks, two favourite drinks and two favourite ice creams. Then, each day we will have one of their favourite things available to them.
6. DRINKS DAY
Once a trimester all drinks are on us! We have a deal with a local café up the road where each RedBalloon employee receives a card allowing them to get any drink they would like for the entire day. We go up at the end of the day and pay the bill. It’s a favourite!
7. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!
So take the day off! Every RedBalloon employee can take one day off on their birthday, or immediately around their birthday. Let’s be honest, who wants to be at work on their birthday, and it sure beats a cake.
8. COMMUNITY REACH OUT
Each year the team get one day off to help out any charity they want. It could be volunteering at the local Vinnies or helping out with National Tree Day.
9. INVEST IN GROWTH
A main focus at RedBalloon is training and growth, so every trimester we invest $1,000 per person into training.
Food ties people together, so we hold monthly team lunches. This could be at a local pub or in the kitchen with a sausage sizzle.