What are the coolest benefits a 21st century company can offer its staff? Gym membership, private health and dental cover, and season ticket loans are pretty much standard. How about pay day drinks, equal share of company profits, a pool table, flexible working? In common with a lot of businesses, my company - media agency the7stars - offers many of these. And while I'm sure my 140 staff appreciate these extras, there is one thing that we do that they value above all else: we trust them and treat them like grown-ups. If this sounds like a statement of the obvious let me explain how this works in practice.
1. We don't keep track of holidays
Our staff work in teams and sort out holidays between themselves. People take more, say if they are getting married or going on a big trip, less if they are saving to buy a flat. After all, we trust them to plan and buy media campaigns worth millions of pounds on behalf of clients like Iceland Foods and Trainline. So why not trust them to manage their holidays? As a policy, this has really delivered. No-one has ever gone clubbing in Ibiza for weeks on end - our experience is that people tend to take roughly the same leave as if we were counting. It also saves loads of admin time as there are no holiday forms or spreadsheets to manage.
2. Pointless hierarchies and job titles are banned
Organisational charts depress me. Pyramid-shaped diagrams with peoples' potential reduced to job titles and reporting lines. Yes we have team leaders with whom the buck stops because when you are handling millions of pounds of media, accountability is key. But you won't find any CEOs, deputy MDs, or junior/senior account directors here because we don't want anyone to be restricted by their job description. Our approach is more: here is the challenge for X client, here are creative/budget parameters, what's the most innovative solution we can come up with? Oh and nobody is too important to answer the phones.
3. We expect the best but we also think the best of our staff
As an independent agency amid big agency networks, the7stars is something of a challenger brand which means we have to work twice as hard and be twice as smart as our competitors. This approach demands determination, drive, creativity, and being prepared to go the extra mile. So we think it's only fair to give everyone working for us a complete picture of our business plan, our profit targets, good news as well as bad. Again, this policy has paid off: in the ten years we've been in business none of this info has appeared on social media, in the press or in the hands of our competitors. What's more, trusting people makes them feel involved and that they have a stake and a say in the company and its direction.
4. Creating a community is as important as building a business
Yes we are very focussed on growth, yes we like to win: new business, awards, you name it, and yes there's always another goal to reach. What differentiates us is that "soft" measures such as staff wellbeing and people experiencing the agency as a great place to work, have always been as important as our commercial goals. What we aspired to in launching the7stars was creating a community where people were encouraged to explore their potential as individuals but also inspired to help the agency develop a sense of shared values and purpose.
There is also a very strong "giving back" ethos; we offer donation days that allow staff to take time off to inspire and lend their skills to charities and other worthy causes. Meanwhile as a company we support charities including Art Against Knives, which works with at-risk young people living in areas of London affected by knife crime. When it comes to creating a sense of community, our charity events are helped by a lively - occasionally raucous - social scene which includes softball and football teams and regular bake-offs between team members.
5. It isn't easy but it's worth it
The acid test of whether trust is deeply embedded in your culture is that it should feel challenging. As anyone who has ever launched a business will know, you feel deeply protective of it and the temptation to have 100% control and to sign off every decision is huge. So delegating decisions over things like new business strategy to a sub team is a big step. We want to grow, but we don't want to do that by pitching to every advertiser who asks. I trust the sub team to carefully analyse every pitch opportunity and decide which ones we will go for with the most important criteria being "do we really want to work with this brand as a long term business partner?" the7stars is no longer just my company, I share it with 140 others and I only want us to win clients that the team will enjoy working with.
Jenny Biggam is co-founder of the7stars, one of the Sunday Times' top 5 best small companies to work for 2016
She will be taking part in AdWeek Europe's panel discussion on Fitness, Health & Happiness in Media on Thursday 21 April at 2.00pm