Employee engagement and talent retention are watchwords for 2017. We talk to Robert Gorle, who was recently appointed financial director of employee engagement company, Perkbox, about staff, the challenges ahead and what he plans to do with Perkbox.
Formerly found walking the big corporate offices of Yahoo!, Gorle made a shift to start ups, working with gaming platforms Zattikka and Plumbee before moving to Perkbox. He says the difference between working at a big company like Yahoo! and a start-up like Perkbox is the scope of the work: “As an FD at a start-up like Perkbox you get involved in a whole range of different areas of the business and pick up different roles, everything from legal contract reviews to being involved in the facilities – as well as all the financing side of things.
“Whereas at Yahoo!, there are different teams for each of those functions and skills so you tend not to get involved, you become more of a specialist in one area. At Yahoo! I was involved in planning and analysis whereas that is only one fraction of my job here.”
This he says, is what he loves about working in a start up and it’s a big part of what he looks for in a role, because “you don’t know what the next day is going to bring and you get to apply your attention to whatever area needs most help at that time” which, according to him is “great fun.”
Aside from the varied role, there is another difference too. While big corporations are worrying about investment and growth amid the uncertainty of Brexit, Gorle is decidedly relaxed about it. “If it saps confidence then it’s [Brexit] unhelpful. We’re largely UK based at the moment. We do have plans at some stage in the future to look at international markets and clearly it is easier if there are better markets. But the opportunities are there and Brexit I don’t think will be a big obstacle for us.”
But while Brexit is not a key concern of Gorle’s in his new role, he does have to consider how to balance the finance function with employee engagement, and says that in most companies “that’s probably one of the biggest challenges you face, particularly in growing companies like this.” Gorle explains the balancing act between “wanting to retain the innovative start up culture but at the same time needing to put in the appropriate systems and processes, which is almost in conflict.
“The finance function here for me is to sensitively put in the appropriate controls while doing my best to nurture the ongoing start up culture and philosophy, rather than make the company grow up too quickly.
“In companies generally, finance is about having policies and then consistently applying them across different teams and different areas, making sure that people think the company is being led responsibly.
“That they know that if they ask for a new headcount it will be reviewed against sensible criteria and the right priorities will be looked at. In addition to things like paying the payroll and general compliance obviously.”
So what does Perkbox do to engage its employees? Well, according to Gorle, Perkbox “lives and breathes its business.”
The office, he says, is “definitely a fun environment, just from the décor” and there is a big meeting room called The Happiness Lab.
As well as the office decor, Perkbox employees get their birthday off and get to take part in fun activities within the business, most recently a perk hunt, which in Gorle’s words was a “scavenger hunt around the office, where we had to get into teams and run around and find various things and dare other teams.”
This sort of investment in people isn’t just for fun, it’s a huge part of engagement and Gorle says it means staff enjoy working together, rather than it just being a job, and offers recognition and reward.
“I think it’s a very important part of office culture to make employees feel that they’re not just being asked to do a job but that they’re actually individually important. “
Beyond keeping employees engaged while structuring processes, Gorle’s new role will also have him balancing compliance with strategising and I ask how he plans to do this. In true FD fashion he tells me “compliance has to be in place.”
One of the first things Gorle says he does when he starts a new role is review the compliance, get the reporting up to scratch, assess the external obligations and make sure it’s all running smoothly. Before doing any of that, “you can’t do anything else” says Gorle. Past this, the new FD is quick to recognise that the real value of an FD is in strategic insight and says he plans to “bring financial insight to look at the business cases for the different investments and help prioritise against all the different opportunities which are always presenting themselves.”
With Perkbox expanding at a huge pace, growing its headcount from 20 to 130 in just 20 months, Gorle says he would “like to see Perkbox continue to achieve its ambitious plans. I would like to see that I’ve been an integral part of helping it to grow and make whatever difficult decisions to respond to challenges to help achieve those goals.”
Gorle understands the start-up business well and measures this success through happy customers, saying “Happy customers is the ultimate. Our platform is all about engagement and retention and happiness so we want our customers to enjoy using our product. If we can make customers happy and increase their retention then everything else is built on top of that.”
As we wrap up our interview, Gorle, true to his product, warns that regardless of whether we see a boom year or a difficult year, “employee retention remains one of the most important things for any business.
“Looking after employees is core to every FD and every company whatever the year brings, even if we have another 2016.
“If your employees are happy then you can see it through.”