The secrets of Britain's happiest company

Telephone answering service Moneypenny is an habitual award winner for culture. Group CEO Joanna Swash shares Moneypenny's secret formula
Joanna Swash

Moneypenny is a one-off. A six times entrant to the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work for, it's a cult company for anyone studying culture. The firm is renowned for its relaxed, positive, optimistic organisation - despite being in the notoriously tough outsourced receptionist and call answering sector.

So what is Moneypenny doing differently? Group CEO Joanna Swash joined the company in the early days before rising to the top. She outlines below just how critical a strong culture can be and how to achieve one for your own business.

With 1,000 people, being authentic and true to yourself is critical. You can’t pretend to be something that you’re not. Everything I do is because it feels like the right the thing to do. There are two simple questions that guide my approach to company leadership, and they should be of note to every business leader.

  • If I was a client or a supplier, what kind of service do I want?
  • If I worked here, what kind of workplace do I want it to be and how would I like to be treated?

The primary element within all this is not up for any debate. For me, straight away, business is all about being human. We all experience the same kind of issues and the same kind of things in our home and work life. If you treat people like humans all the way along, it makes everything much richer. It’s not about job titles and the things people do, it’s about connecting with the workforce in a human way.

Moneypenny staff answer calls on behalf of corporate clients. High morale is critical to performance

Transforming HR into the working life team

To build on the progress and cultural work at Moneypenny, a significant decision was taken at the very start, that perhaps offers a blueprint for others to follow when considering the human experience.

We reviewed our HR provisions and disbanded HR. HR is everyone’s job. It shouldn’t just sit in isolation as a department or be there to sign-off holidays. A human-centred company from inception, Moneypenny’s business model evolves with its employees, so instead of a traditional HR department, the business runs a function called ‘Working Life’ and it is designed for very different purposes – to develop positive and high-impact experiences in what is a very flat structure that thrives on open and transparent communication. Ensuring people feel valued, engaged, and are positioned as a key part of the organization is a collective approach and the business model reflects that.

One example is the relationship we maintain with employees on maternity. Whilst most companies view this as an automated letter sending process, Moneypenny ensures that everyone still feels very much part of the Moneypenny family by facilitating connection on Meta Workplace – with a mini-Pennies site so people can share photos of their new babies and all new parents receive a gift from the team and are invited back into for coffee mornings. Everyone feels connected even when they aren’t physically working, and the outcomes of a strong relationship are earned.

We have also ditched the annual appraisal, preferring instead to divert the time commitment into something more meaningful for people, so once every 8 weeks’ employees meet their team manager for a coffee and discussion about work life called ‘wow chats’.

We trust people to do the right thing. You won’t see lots of data on our walls or performance metrics. It’s all about trust and responsibility. In small teams, people can self-manage and deliver their outcomes together, or challenge each other if things are not going well.

An open and honest approach to business

Clients join Moneypenny because of our culture as do people within the workforce. There is an open-book approach to sharing the good and the learning as we grow, we are comfortable in our own skin. We have a no holds barred approach to internal social media, using Workplace by Meta to share and co-create across the company.

As leaders, we need to be human and authentic in our communication style. I post about my vegetable garden and many other things. It supports people in realising that they are working in a human company, and they become especially impactful if members of the top team are sharing freely, openly, and with vulnerability.

As a management team, I often tell people that if they haven’t messed up at some point then they are not trying hard enough. Go and try something, if it fails, learn from it and move on. I do think part of the CEO role is to get out of the way. As much as I can, I create a vacuum for people to step into while you move onto something else. This is helpful in scaling the business and our culture.

Embracing co-creation and co-design of the workplace

When arriving at our offices, most people realise we’re a little bit different. Our treehouse and the communal seating area complete with several sculptures of sheep and the odd giraffe, are the first things people see. All of this is the creation of employees who were asked to design their ideal HQ.

Top of the wish list was a treehouse, a statue of a gorilla outside the building, some sculptures of sheep, and our own pub. We listened to people and their feedback is part of the company’s ability to grow and develop.

The Moneypenny HQ in Wrexham was opened by the Prince of Wales

Happy organization, happy people

We strongly believe that happy people, equals happy clients. Therefore, we have three-pronged focus underlying all of our varied wellbeing initiatives. The idea is to focus on the three areas of the whole person: financial, physical and emotional.

We have a flexible benefits package – recognising that their people are all at different stages in life, to the design of its offices – communal spaces to promote a family style feel, dedicated wellbeing rooms, shunning air-conditioner in favour of fresh air ventilation; and people at the heart of it all.

Everyone’s day kicks off with a free, healthy breakfast with free fresh fruit available throughout the day and subsidised nutritional lunches. We also offer free fitness classes both on and off site, everyone has access to our free on-site state of the art gym, which is open 24/7. Everyone at the company has access to free 24/7 counselling lines, and we recently introduced mental health awareness training.

When I share my stories and discuss our business with people, they look at me as if it is a sales pitch. I am living proof that it is not. You can’t fake it. To build a strong culture that will stand the test of time, you need to live it. It needs to be entrenched in everything that you do everyday. 

Written by
Joanna Swash
Group CEO of Moneypenny
February 28, 2022
Written by
February 28, 2022