29 Apr 2019
Digital Nation Viewpoints: Jules Chappell OBE, Managing Director, Business, London & Partners
At London & Partners, Jules leads the teams that support investors into London, working closely with the Mayor of London’s office. As part of that role she also helps London-based companies to export and attracts major cultural and business events to the city. She was once Britain’s youngest ever ambassador and held a number of strategic roles within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) before leaving to help scale a start-up communications company.
How can you build and maintain an effective company culture and values?
Especially for companies that are growing very quickly it is something that should be thought about at the very, very start of their journeys. I don’t underestimate how hard that is because when you are starting and you’re iterating your proposition in response to the market and to grow, the brand slightly iterates as well.
When you’re a young company it can seem like a real luxury to be spending time on purpose and brand rather than, say, the bottom line and operational matters but it is worthwhile. It is worth investing in because you’re looking to form something that feels just as special with 40 employees as it did when you were just six or seven strong.
When a company is scaling it can be hard to get the culture right. If you were to take some of those huge challenges in the tech world - such as needing to hire 200 people in a couple of months - even the most seasoned of CEOs would think it difficult. That’s why spending time not just on the operations but really putting in the hard yards on culture is so important, as it’s how you attract the talent you’ll need to truly grow your company.
How important are new flexible working practices in the digital economy?
People will turn down higher salaries to do a job that they find fulfilling, that perhaps gives them a better work/life balance with far greater flexibility. The whole concept of money is changing dramatically.
The most important consideration is around flexibility and being treated as a grown-up – that you’re trusted to do the job and you’ll figure out how to do it. Flexibility, maturity and trust are all so important.
I’ve come from the public sector, which was way ahead of the private sector on this. When I was recruiting in the sector, flexibility went from being a special box that someone would tick to request it, to something common to almost every applicant. At first it was mostly women and then increasingly men were asking, and then it just became normal.
We’ve all been guilty of thinking we’re indispensable but in a business that’s working extremely well nobody should be. The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern didn’t think she was too indispensable to take maternity leave. If she can say, “I'm head of a country. I'm perfectly competent but so are those around me,” then so can anyone.
What new technologies and techniques are you using to make internal communications more effective?
Funnily enough, some of the tech is old but it is just getting better. We’re implementing a new system that means we can have a monthly meeting with all our posts oversea over video but without a delay or some of the glitches you used to have put up with. In terms of where that goes, hologram technology is exciting. It won’t be long before you feel you’re genuinely talking to people in the same room who aren’t physically there.
The culture won't need to shift because the culture will have already shifted. It's just the tech that will catch up.
How is the sector tackling gender, diversity and equality issues?
Initiatives such as the 30% Club are doing amazing jobs in shifting board diversity through peer pressure. However, although some things are moving fast, in other ways change is glacially slow.
My husband and I took shared parental leave. It’s great that shared parental leave is now an option but I think that the UK is still behind the game here. There’s still quite a low take-up, meaning that that paternity practices in the UK don’t yet reflect the paternity rights to raise children as a parenting team, of any combination of sexes, and to tackle things as a family. I sense a cultural shift coming and I think that could be transformational in terms of how we work and live to our full potential.
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