15 Apr 2019

Digital Nation Viewpoints: Eileen Burbidge MBE on building an employer brand


Eileen Burbidge MBE is a Partner at Passion Capital and serves as non-executive director to some of its portfolio companies including Monzo Bank. She is also the Chair of Tech Nation, the British government-backed organisation supporting the digital economy across the UK. She is the UK Treasury’s Special Envoy for FinTech appointed by the Chancellor; Tech Ambassador for the Mayor of London’s office, served on former UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group and was recently appointed to the board of FTSE-listed Dixons Carphone plc.

How important is it today to build an employer brand?

There is no option to not build one today. You can either build it, practically and concertedly, or it’s going to get built around you anyway.

People have more choice about where they want to spend their time and what they want to do; they are making decisions about the kind of jobs they take based on what a brand stands for and represents. So, it’s incredibly important for employers to build brands beyond the logo, typeface and feel.

Do companies in the digital economy understand the bottom-line impact of culture and values?

Because they’re able to witness what’s happening with the biggest global tech brands, companies in the digital economy do recognise the financial impact of company culture. It’s also a sector where you probably have more vocal employees with a greater expectation of transparency because of social media and internal communications channels. They know that their culture impacts the bottom line because employees and customers will make real decisions based on their perception of the culture.

How can companies build and maintain that culture?

We've invested in 71 companies since 2011 and you would think that we would have some kind of recipe, playbook or best practices, but I’ve been pressing myself to think why we haven’t been able to develop a theory on this. The only thing I can say is it comes from the top.

It comes from the executive leadership. It comes from the company founders. It’s one thing to have teams spend a lot of time putting their values in documents and slides but if leaders don’t action those values or, worse, contradict them, it becomes a mess. Of course it’s important to get everyone fully involved and engaged but it really does come down to the leadership embodying them.

What benefits are companies offering beyond salary that are successful?

People like workplace flexibility, although I’d caution that that doesn’t have to be a hard-and-fast work from home policy. It’s flexible working where different people have different needs and requirements at different times. It reflects an ethos of treating people like adults and trusting them to manage their time to achieve the objectives set. With that comes respect. And respect at all levels for people from diverse backgrounds and points of view – diversity of thought as well as at a demographic level.

Best in class for me at the moment is probably the Monzo Bank team – they have an absolutely outstanding culture. The morale is unbelievable. They’re up to about  400 people in total with one of the leading tech organisations in Europe after only three and a half years – and  only four or five people have ever left that tech group, with at least one who already came back.

How is working culture changing in respect of maternity and paternity leave?

In the tech sector, I think the perception is that it's a younger working population which may or may not be true, but because of that I think family leave comes up later in the lifecycle of the company. What’s great is seeing high profile people such as Mark Zuckerberg starting their families and how that brings the subject into the limelight. It’s positive that we’re calling it parental leave – it’s family leave, not just maternity leave. It's now very just accepted that this is not just about one specific gender or type of individual.

What changes are you seeing in training and personal development?

We’re hearing a lot more conversations around executive coaching, which is really promising – and once that conversation becomes normalised people drop the ‘executive’ modifier and it’s just ‘coaching’. Professional development, coaching, training, counselling, therapy… I don't care what it’s called but it's very useful for people to talk to others about and share their experiences and getting support.

A workplace should be an environment that supports professional and personal development because that's what builds stronger contributors to the workplace.



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