While they say, "never look back", when you have moved from start-up to scale up, it's essential to reflect, learn and, importantly, grow. As the Global COO of a company that has scaled from 10-160 people in 7 years, it's important to reflect. What was needed six years ago to support the business versus what is required now, sometimes feels worlds apart. Honestly, it is hard to believe that I started working at VoxSmart with ten people, eight desks and no office door. Those ten people were wearing several hats, sharing desks, and making ground-breaking decisions that, in many ways, have led to where we are today.
Did we have a People team? No. An Operating Strategy? No. A Learning and Development program? No. But what we saw was the bones of an incredible company with the potential and passion for scaling into something extraordinary. As I write this, we are 160 people with a globally distributed team and some of the best talent and technology I have seen in my 25 years in the industry.
I know what you are thinking; it is like saying your baby is the best looking. However, in my career I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and while we are not perfect, we are in a great place, which has by no means been a fluke.
Talent acquisition and retention.
We have grown our company carefully and respectfully over the years to get it to where it is today. How have we managed to hire and retain some incredible talent over the years? It's a great question, and I hope it's a simple one to answer.
We decided early on to come at our people strategy from a different angle. We chose not to hire on CV; we hired people with passion and market knowledge, those willing to come on our journey. We hired people we knew, who we had worked with in the industry and in many ways, we hired on our gut. In the early days, we decided to create a workplace culture that differentiated us from competitors, and FinTech’s paying above the market rate. We focused on values and transparency and our vision for the future. This was as critical at 20 people as it is now at 160.
As we have scaled, we have focused on building strong foundations within our business. Being purposeful and strategic in our growth has been essential. The operating model required in a start-up, pre-funding is vastly different to a well-funded, global company set up for scale. We are steadfast in the benefit that our ability to grow internally will allow success externally and we are proud to have established a model built on the foundations of people, collaboration, communication, and transparency.
While this landed well and has us in a strong position, we had another focus close to our hearts as we grew. From the beginning, the team would hear me say many things like "so what, now what" (basically what's the next step) or “a message sent is not a message delivered" (just because you press send does not mean you got your message across). But the one closest to my heart and values was- "there is policy, and then there is humanity". Over the years, I have often worked in businesses that say one thing and do the other; I won't go into the details, but basically, the fundamental lack of respect for people personally needing support is appalling, especially under the most extenuating circumstances.
At VoxSmart, we ask all our managers to lead with humanity to support the needs of our staff. An example of this is our compassionate leave is not capped. Paid parental and carers leave is available, trained mental health first aiders sit within our organisation to support our team, and with a value around resilience, we offer resilience days to help people get the time and space required to be their very best in the workplace.
It is not lost on us that the People that work at VoxSmart are the secret sauce in what we do. Treating them with respect is the very least we can do. While having D&I policies and learning and development programmes in place is essential, we like to recognise that policies are a guide, not a one size fits all. This approach put us in a strong position when Covid hit our global offices and continues to guide us as we scale.
The future at VoxSmart is as bright as those working within the business. We continue to see a strong talent entering and push internal teams to improve as we grow. More recently, our People operations team have launched an internal project to ensure that the inner foundations are fit for purpose for our global teams - focusing on internal progression, job levelling, reward, training and strong OKRs. We have reviewed our mission, vision, and values in preparation for the next stage in our incredible journey, ready for the next chapter in the VoxSmart story.
What will this next chapter look like? Especially in a changing tech world with words like “Hybrid working” and the “great resignation” hanging over us? I hope it is a future that allows greater transparency. As VoxSmart has scaled, we have hit road bumps along the way with people, tech and communication. I would like to see us look to the DNA running through our company's veins, one that takes us back to what we truly value, that of respect, honesty and good old-fashioned innovation of ground-breaking technology. I want to look back over the last few years and say, “we may not have got it all right and we made mistakes along the way, but at the end of the day, we stayed true to what we wanted to build when we were a team of ten in that little doorless office in Farringdon”. Now, it’s our responsibility to take what we’ve learnt and apply it to our future.