Silver Chef, an Australian-based, public-listed business (and an awesome Business Changing client), has just ranked 22nd in the prestigious BRW 50 Best Places to Work – for the third year in a row. They were also recently accredited as a 2013 Aon Hewitt Best Employer (Aon Hewitt are a global human resource consultancy firm). What an inspiration! We talked to Sylvia Po-Ching (Executive General Manager) and
Lesley Lodge (Chief People Officer – what an excellent title!) about what it is they do that makes their company such a great place to work, and what this culture has done to their bottom line.
What line of business is Silver Chef in?
We’ve been providing equipment-funding solutions for over 25 years, helping thousands of small businesses get going. Equipment is funded through a rental model under two brands in Australia and New Zealand: Silver Chef, which operates in the hospitality industry, and GoGetta, which operates in industries such as transport, construction and fitness. We have 161 employees.
Being publicly acknowledged as being a great place to work is major kudos. Is your company culture something you focus on or is it just the way you do business?
We believe we are able to create an environment that both challenges and motivates people. We do this by clearly painting a potential path for them in the organisation’s future, and provide development opportunities to make this possible.
We believe that an engaged, high-performing workforce understands, shares and works towards the same vision and, as such, our employees are focused on our ambitious 2020 BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). And these goals are audacious (we reckon about 50% achievable) – they include getting to 200 employees, being in four countries and having a share price of $12. We also have one altruistic goal: funding 1.5 million people out of poverty, which our employees really support.
What initiatives do you have in place that make Silver Chef a good place to work?
We refer to our company internally as ‘The Village’ and we aspire to a ‘village’ atmosphere of community, fun and recognition for all our staff. Our employees really enjoy coming to work in our newly refurbished premises which includes an open plan layout, windows surrounding the entire office, multiple large training rooms, undercover parking for all staff, a large kitchen (with a full fit-out including an oven, booths and a lounge with a drop-down TV), a second smaller kitchen area, a library area and a veranda. Within this there’s a café-style coffee machine, a health-food fridge with fruit and yoghurts, and other basic kitchen essentials on offer such as bread, milk and spreads.
Our village is a pretty fun place to work. We have monthly recognition awards and team lunches to celebrate not just success but personal events such as birthdays, new employees joining the business etc. Fridays are casual dress and we have drinks on a Friday afternoon – it’s an opportunity to join colleagues over a beer, wine or soft drink at the end of the shift to wind down at the end of the week.
To help keep employees engaged, we set a goal every quarter (which we call a quarterly theme). When we achieve the quarterly theme goal, the entire company is rewarded with an exciting event such as a night out go-carting, a trip to play mini-golf or even a party in the head office. Incentive wise, we use performance and reward differentiation to reinforce individual performance expectations and an individual’s contribution to the success of Silver Chef.
Silver Chef’s focus on customer service and our Brightness of Future program (explained below) encourages employee engagement and certainly contributed to our accreditation as a best employer.
Which of these initiatives is the one most employees appreciate the most?
Our Brightness of Future (BOF) program. It’s all about looking deeper into the company for emerging leadership talent, then developing people’s career opportunities. We put training and development in place for staff so they can improve in their current position and work towards getting the skills necessary for other roles within the company.
Did you try any initiatives that didn’t work out?
Over the years we’ve tried various initiatives – some of which weren’t as successful as we’d hoped. We tried the API Leisure & Lifestyle membership but not many employees followed up on their offers and discounts, particularly those based interstate. We also offer monthly massages to all staff. It’s a nice and easy perk for those based in the West End office as the masseuse simply turns up and works her way round everyone. Interstate staff are also given this benefit, but very few of them go ahead and arrange an appointment for themselves.
Which is the most expensive initiative you do, and what free one do you think every company should try?
Our quarterly themed nights are an ongoing expense, the cost of which increases as our number of employees do. Casual Friday doesn’t cost us a thing but you’d be surprised how relaxed casual clothes make employees feel. We notice greater levels of open communication, more collaboration among colleagues, and a better ability to deal with stress. Plus it gives a real buzz in the office to end the week.
What do you say to companies who say they can’t afford to offer the same initiatives you do?
It doesn’t need to cost a fortune to offer a better workplace. In fact, it costs nothing to:
– Empower employees to ‘do what is right for the customer’
– Equip employees with the skills and tools to make empowered decisions
– Publicly recognise employees who demonstrate a focus on the customer at all staff meetings
In return, staff are engaged and motivated, they enjoy their work environment, the culture and working with their colleagues. Our staff turnover is extremely low and staff enjoy working at Silver Chef so much that they refer friends and family for any vacant positions.
Do you look to any other companies/leaders for best practice you can apply to Silver Chef?
We use the Rockefeller Habits methodology, Gazelles being one of them – they are also best practise in a number of companies such as experience and gift-voucher website, Red Balloon (who placed ninth in the BRW Best Workplace this year). And of course, we have worked very closely with Zac de Silva and Business Changing and this has been an important part in helping us succeed and be recognised as a best workplace. Zac knows his stuff on how to grow the people engagement and culture of a business.
What is it about your workplace that most impresses the BRW judges? Have they shared their judging comments with you?
They were impressed that we align skill development with the needs of the business; we align communication and HR programs to drive customer focus; and we involve employees in action-planning to drive engagement improvement.
What makes you most proud about being included in the BRW list?
Being a Best Employer means so much more than a badge of accreditation – it’s about identifying the real reason why we, as human beings, organise ourselves in groups with a specific purpose and goal. Becoming a Best Employer is verification that we are on the right path.
As well as working with Silver Chef when they were recognised for being a Best Employer, I was also running Barkers menswear when we won Best Workplace in NZ, and Most Improved Workplace, both in 2009. If you’re keen to get your workplace up to an international standard, get in touch! Zac