Over the past 7 years, we’ve settled on a way of working that works for us. If you’re interested in working with us, either as a client or a member of the team, this blog will give you a feel for how we approach our projects and whether we’d enjoy working together…

There are 3 guiding principles behind our approach…

1. We’re agile

Ok so before you roll your eyes… yep we know ‘agile’ is a bit of a management buzzword and in our experience it can mean very different things to different people, so what does agile mean to us? 

Well, first and foremost it means being user centric. We design and build people operating systems (peopleOS) for employees – they’re our users (and we want them to use the system in a way that makes them happier and more engaged, and which also leads to better customer experiences and business performance).  

We think the best way to satisfy employees is to understand their needs as users, get them improvements to the peopleOS as quickly (and cheaply) as possible; and then to use their behaviour and feedback to inform fixes and upgrades.

 Traditional HR takes a waterfall approach, but we don’t think that works when you’re working in a rapid growth context. Firstly, because it’s too slow. And secondly, because you’re operating in an environment of uncertainty — it’s impossible to accurately predict the impact of a new intervention in a complex and evolving system.

In our view it’s far better to re-engineer your peopleOS by breaking it down into short sprints that allow us to design, build and release improvements iteratively. 

This means that the design of your peopleOS will ultimately be driven by user behaviour and feedback and not, as is so often the case in the HR space, by an untested opinion or piece of popular pseudoscience. 

Being agile doesn’t mean we make it up as we go along. We do lots of groundwork both to understand our clients’ companies and the user experience of employees, but we are also constantly searching for new insights from the latest scientific research and pioneering practices in other companies. But the truth is, even when you’ve done your homework, sometimes good ideas just don’t work. The key is to find out as quickly as possible what has and hasn’t worked and why, and to adjust accordingly. You can only do this if you have a bias towards getting on with it.

What we love about working agile is that it allows us to pull together teams with an exciting breadth of skills and experiences. It allows us to work at a consistent tempo, to keep learning and getting better as we go and frankly, to get more done.

We think the best way to satisfy employees is to understand their needs as users, get them improvements to the peopleOS as quickly (and cheaply) as possible; and then to use their behaviour and feedback to inform fixes and upgrades.

2. There is no us & them

Working in short sprints allows us to take a dynamic approach to how we utilise our people. Put simply, we try to create the perfect team for every sprint. This means we look to complement the capabilities a client may already have in-house, with our network of associate Architects and Developers (see the explanation of the roles on our teams below). If the sprint requires a copywriter, a graphic designer, a positive psychologist or a data scientist… we pull them in.

Why do we do this? Our view is that most HR/People teams don’t have the skills they need to create an amazing employee experience or to build a peopleOS that delivers happier people, happier customers and happier investors. To be blunt, most HR teams have too many generalists and not enough people with deep, specialist expertise. The People teams of the future need analysts, coders, psychologists, anthropologists, designers, storytellers and so much more. But at the moment, there just aren’t many of these people working in the People space. And if you’re a growing small or medium sized company, you need these skills but you probably can’t afford them on your payroll. That’s where we come in. We want to be an extension of your People team that you can dip into when you need it.

To make this approach work, it’s really important that our sprint teams are flat. People may have different roles on the sprint, but there’s no hierarchy. Everyone on the sprint team takes collective responsibility for what’s delivered. We don’t think there should be a distinction between client and consultant or between our Associates and people who work for The Pioneers full-time. Everyone’s responsible for meeting deadlines, ensuring quality and delivering value and no one can hide behind the excuse of ‘that wasn’t my job’.

3. We don’t work with people who don’t believe in the same things as us

It’s a lot easier to work like this when you like the people you work with and when you’re emotionally invested in the client’s business. 

This is the biggest lesson we’ve learnt since we started The Pioneers seven years ago. We love the variety in our work — working with different types of companies with different challenges — but we’ve become much more selective about the clients we take on. What we’ve learnt is that we’re at our best with clients who are  ‘true believers’… companies who believe in the importance of culture, companies who want to innovate in the way they manage their people, businesses that are happy to be different and who are genuinely committed to trying to create the best workplace they can for their people.

We’ve done good work for companies who don’t fit this criteria, but our experience is that it tends not to take off. We deliver a project that gets results and the People Director we’re working for gets really excited, but then the rest of the leadership team isn’t prepared to commit and follow through. 

If you’re a “no one gets fired for buying IBM” type of company or if you’re a People Director who’s a lone voice for culture on your leadership team, then we’re probably not the right partner. 

If you want to be a pioneer. We definitely are.

What are we like to work with…

At The Pioneers we have three values — three things we want our clients to see in our work and how we show up as a team.

Insightful

We’re fascinated by people and culture. There’s been so much research in the past decade on human behaviour, motivation and decision making that it’s impossible to keep up. But we try! 

We’re also inspired by the increasing number of organisations that are experimenting with new ways of working and showing how organisational culture can become a sustainable source of competitive advantage.

We think you want to work with us because we’ll see things others don’t and because we can bring a perspective that unlocks new understanding and new possibilities.

Applied

We work hard to make sure our approach is informed by quality research, but we don’t turn up convinced we already know the answer.

Every company is different. Every culture has its own history. And if you’re blind to the context in which you’re working, then the things you build don’t ‘latch on’ and the improvements aren’t sustained.

At The Pioneers we pride ourselves on our ability to understand your business and what makes it tick, so we can work with your people to get meaningful and sustainable results.

Pioneering 

Well you’d expect nothing less! We want to work with people who expect to be positively challenged, who want to push boundaries and who want to achieve something exceptional

The People space is changing rapidly. As it says on our homepage: the future of work is already here… it’s just unevenly distributed. As this wave of change plays out, talent, customers and investors are going to gravitate to those companies with the best cultures. This means that there’s going to be big winners and big losers. And in our view, the best strategy is to be a pioneer. To experiment. To take risks. To be at the front of the queue and to stand out as different. Playing safe, sticking to what you’ve always done or adopting ‘HR best practice’ is a recipe for becoming the victim of disruption.

The four roles on our teams…

Director

Each team has a Director. This person partners with the client’s Founder, CEO or People Director to design the peopleOS and to agree the strategy for building it out. The Director is then responsible for ensuring that the sprint teams deliver value (i.e. that they build stuff that makes the peopleOS work better) and for co-ordinating between sprints. 

What makes a good Director? Typically they’ll have some relevant firsthand sector or situational experience, but what’s critical is that they can:

  • Understand your business, your growth plans and your vision for the future and the implications for your people and culture
  • See the wood and the trees so they can breakdown ambitious goals into discreet problems and iterative builds
  • See and plan ahead so the right people come onto the team at the right time

Producer

Every team also has a Producer. The Producer is responsible for how the team works together and for maintaining the rhythm and structure of the sprint. Their job is to get the best out of people, which means they’re part team coach, part administrator, part fixer.

A great Producer is someone who:

  • Makes other people’s lives easier by anticipating problems and filling in the gaps
  • Facilitates the sprint process by creating (just enough) structure to help the team collaborate and ensuring a discipline and rhythm to how the team works
  • Makes sure the team stays focused on collective responsibility and delivery

Architect

Our Architects are subject matter experts. That might mean that they’ve got expertise in a particular people management practice like recruitment, performance management, organisational design or reward. Or it might be that they have an academic or professional background in an area like psychology, service design, people analytics or anthropology. Typically Architects come onto a sprint team to help design a component of the peopleOS.

What makes a great Architect?

  • A genuine expert — someone who’s put in the hard yards to develop a depth of understanding in their field
  • Someone with good commercial acumen who can understand the different needs of different companies and who cares about people’s experience at work
  • Someone who wants to work as part of a multifaceted team and who’s prepared to share their Lego

Developer

If our Architects are experts in ‘what’ to build, our Developers are specialists in ‘how’ we deliver it. In our opinion when you’re building out a peopleOS, the real value is in how it’s brought to life. Great ideas aren’t actually worth that much to our clients; it’s only when you translate great ideas into great experiences that you create a culture that gives you a competitive advantage. Our Developers are the ones who really make stuff happen, they include copy writers, storytellers, coders, graphic designers, film-makers and performance coaches — people who are great at building and creating new products and services.

What makes a great Developer?

  • Practical skill —  people who love their craft and who are really good at what they do
  • People who are proactive problem solvers and who want to inform the design of things, rather than wanting to be told what to do
  • People who learn quickly and who can adapt to different challenges

If you think you might be interested in joining our team, please get in touch today and we’ll get straight back to you.

How to get the best out of The Pioneers

Engage us early and often

The problem you think you have, may not be the problem you need to fix. 

Organisational culture is a complex phenomenon with issues, problems and opportunities that are interwoven and often difficult to untangle. Part of the value of what we do is to see through this mess by identifying what problems you need to solve and in which order (and which problems you should ignore). This means that we like to start the conversation early. 

In our experience lots of companies are nervous of sharing their messy problems with external partners.  They like to spend a lot of time internally really thinking through their issues and defining an RFP that they can then take to consultancy partners to solve. In all honesty, we don’t think this is the best way to engage us. We’d much rather try to help you understand your culture and the right way forward. We know this might take months or even years. We understand it might mean we share a lot of free advice that may not actually lead to any paid work. But we’re very happy to do this, because we don’t want to do great work that doesn’t deliver value because we’ve wasted time, money and effort in fixing the wrong problem.

So, if you want to create a company where your people are happy, fulfilled and engaged in their work then we’d love to speak to you. If you’re a growing company that wants to create a peopleOS that works for your people, customers and investors, then we really ought to speak… trust us, it’s quite a tough nut to crack and you might want some help!

If you only speak to one consultancy, please make sure it’s us. The easiest thing to do is either set up a quick call or ping us an email.