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What it really means to put people first 

Ayshea Robertson

What does ‘People First’ mean to us? Well, it all links back to our founding principles, which our owner – Richard Tang – built our company around: “Happy Staff, Happy Customers, Happy Suppliers”. Contributor Ayshea Robertson, HR Director – Zen Internet.

We believe that the key to long-term business success is to get the ‘people’ bit right. And we’ve not done too badly at this! Over the past 24 years we’ve gone from being a small start-up operation out of Richard’s bedroom in Rochdale, with only a handful of customers on dial-up modems, to creating a rapidly growing and efficient business that now services 100,000+ customers nationally, had a turnover of £71 million in 2018, and has won/received numerous awards and accolades – including being named as one of the ‘Times 100 Best Companies To Work For’.

Creating a great culture
This is not news to anyone. Obviously, the culture of an organisation has a big influence on how people feel about working there. And we want Zen to be a great place to work, so we place huge importance on getting our culture right. For us, this goes beyond implementing various well-being, social and engagement initiatives (although we also have a lot of these); it is more fundamental then that. It’s about enabling our people to feel part of and connected to the business (and their teams), and empowering them to be a success. 

Behaviours and attitudes are also critical, as they can have significant impact on our culture, so it is vital we ensure that our people align with our beliefs and values. Cultural fit is important to us. 

Investing in our People
Another obvious but extremely important one! Investing in your people really drives growth and development, and at Zen we have an extensive Learning & Development programme, covering everything from initial induction programmes, through to comprehensive technical training and leadership development. At the half year point, a massive 77% of our people had received formal development – that’s over 400 people.  

We believe in enabling people to fulfil their full potential, and provide as much support and career development as we can to help them achieve this. We always try to look for internal promotions before we go externally for roles.

Creating great leaders
One of the areas we are particularly passionate about is leadership. And providing our people with the knowledge and tools so they can be the very best leaders is something we invest a lot of money in. As you will know, the strength and quality of your leaders can really impact on your company success, and this has been a key focus for us over the past year. 

We launched our Leadership Academy in October last year, and have been rolling out The Living Leader training programme across the company ever since. We started with our management cohort, and can already see the benefits it is having on those that have completed the course. It has really encouraged people to think about their behaviours and their impact on how other people perform. We have had some fantastic feedback from the participants, and are starting to see real change across the company. 

At Zen, leadership doesn’t stop at management level; leadership is about influence, which is why we believe everyone is a leader at Zen. And this is why we are investing in providing all our people with Living Leader training. The more engaged, inspired and empowered people feel, the more likely we are to perform collectively as a business, and The Living Leader training is an initiative that helps to drive inspiration, ownership and engagement. 

Championing diversity
Being a people-centric business also means we have a responsibility to make sure that it is accessible to all. The tech industry has some great initiatives set up to tackle issues like gender imbalance or stereotyping, and there is progress being made. However, more needs to be done. 

As the mother of two teenage daughters, it has been important for me to ensure that they are brought up knowing and believing that they can achieve anything they put their minds to. They see what I, and many more female role models, have achieved in what are very male-dominated sectors. This has meant that the possibility of having a gender barrier in their way doesn’t even occur to them. And that’s how it should be for everyone. 

Gender balance, diversity and inclusion are an integral part of our people strategy at Zen. From a different way of thinking that leads to new ideas, to more varied experience to draw upon, we acknowledge the value and huge benefits of having a more diverse workforce and are looking at ways we can improve this within our business. 

Nurturing the next generation
Attracting the next generation of talent must be a key focus for us all. Establishing links with local schools, colleges and universities has been fantastic for our business. We’ve planted ourselves at the heart of our communities and have been making great progress with initiatives like coding clubs for children and promoting careers in technology that are accessible to everyone. And we have a number of exciting initiatives coming up to take this a step further; such as focussed work experience schemes, graduate and apprenticeship recruitment and role model/mentoring.

Our success shows that having a People First approach to business, helps us to make the right decisions for long-term success and sustainability. Of course the financials are important and need to be considered; but for us, success is much more than simply looking at the bottom line. We care about the well-being and happiness of our people, and that is what makes our business succeed.  

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