Lessons from a ‘Best 100’ company: Hire on attitude, not skill

Moneypenny is the biggest and fastest-growing company of its type in the world. Founded by sister and brother Rachel and Ed Reeves in 2000 from a £10,000 investment, it provides call-answering, digital switchboard, live chat and tech based communication channels to 225,000 clients around the world – from small start-ups to Google-sized corporates. These impressive facts, plus Moneypenny’s entry into the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For list, encouraged us to contact Ed and Rachel in the hope of hearing their insights. How have they and their team written a multimillion-pound global success story on a blank piece of paper? A few days after chatting with Ed, we remembered two things above all else. One: Moneypenny’s first hire – Lynn – still works for the company: in 20 years she’s gone from having zero colleagues to more than750. Two: Ed and Rachel’s success is based on a single, simple recruitment strategy that he fell upon after making several bad hires. More on that soon… With hundreds of people working at Moneypenny’s head office in Wrexham, it’s easy to assume that the business is a fancy call centre. However, that’s not it. The company not only appears in the Best 100 list, but last year attracted 3,500 job applications. “We have a waiting list as long as your arm,” says Ed. Something special must be going on. But what? Ed offers the first clue: “When starting out, we looked at competitors and asked ourselves: how can we be better than them? We realised that the answer was to recruit extraordinary people. If we did that, we’d retain our clients and stand out. We knew our clients would buy into our staff rather than buying into us as founders, or into our marketing. So, we set out to recruit stunning people. We wanted extraordinary people to define our business.” That makes sense, but it’s not unusual – almost every business sets out to hire the best. How has Moneypenny stayed true to that ideal over such a long period? “To get there you’ve got to make mistakes,” Ed replies. “By chance, the first person we employed, Lynn, who’s still with us, set a high bar. She had all the attributes of the perfect Moneypenny PA. So, naturally, we thought, ‘let’s find more Lynns’. We looked at her skill set and tried to recruit more people with the same attributes. But the strategy was a disaster. We employed skilled people and had to get rid of them two weeks later because they didn’t have the right attitude. It made us realise that you need to recruit on attitude, not skills. That strategy now runs throughout the business. If we need to train people, we will, but the attitude has to be right to begin with.” This lesson was huge. It’s not far-fetched to suggest the company’s entire success stems from it. Ed comments: “Lots of organisations do what we do and hire on attitude but, unlike us, they don’t prioritise it. At Moneypenny, if someone doesn’t get through the attitude test, we won’t consider hiring them, no matter what skills they have.” So, the simple recruitment mistake that – if not corrected – would have led to Moneypenny’s eventual demise is to recruit on skills ahead of attitude. Ed argues that his company’s success is built on doing the opposite – prioritisingattitude ahead of skills. Moreover, he believes attitude to be so vital that it’s the only thing that unlocks the door to Moneypenny; no matter how skilled or impressive a candidate might be in other areas. But what does a good attitude look like? “A good attitude is a determination to bring your ‘A’ game to work every day and enjoying it,” says Ed. “It’s knowing that your clients rely on you to be at the top of your game and appreciating that dropping below that standard is not good enough. It’s also about bringing positivity and fun to the workplace.” With that clear recruitment strategy in place, Moneypenny focused on getting the next step right: retention. Ed wants happy, motivated staff and believes the best strategy to achieve this is to highlight their value to the business. He says: “I sit down for lunch with every new recruit and explain how important they are. I tell them that if I were run over by a bus tomorrow, not one of our clients would know or care. They, on the other hand, are vital to our clients; they are relied upon every day. It’s vital to get that message across.” Ed hammers the point home by describing the type of culture he wants to avoid. “I visited a company the other day and it was like an old golf club. The best parking spaces were reserved for the directors; the staff had to park on the street. We have reversed that culture. If anyone’s going to park on the street here, it’s the founders.” Moneypenny reinforces the ‘value’ message by investing in staff facilities to encourage a sense of community. For example, it has introduced a subsidised office ‘pub’ where employees hang out on Thursday and Friday evenings, taking it turns to work behind the bar. It also runs free fitness classes and has invested £15m to create an ergonomic, modern, efficient new workspace. “When we amalgamated five separate offices into a single space, it had the most dramatic impact on Moneypenny we’ve seen in the past 15 years,” says Ed. “We engineered the space to ensure people mix more and so generate more friendships. If you create an environment that drives friendships, you go a long way to ensuring people are happy. Smiles top the list for retention.” The final ingredient Moneypenny’s founder sprinkles into the mix is trust. “Trust is huge,” he says. “We empower staff to take charge of their destinies by trusting them to manage their own clients in a way that exceeds expectations. We have mentors rather than managers, and we encourage people to manage themselves. They do this by going back over their emails and calls and scoring themselves. As long as they know what ‘good’ looks like, this method works amazingly well.” But the whole shebang hinges on Moneypenny’s crystal-clear recruitment strategy. Without pulling the right people into the company in the first place, no amount of trust-building or pub-drinking will lead to growth, success and client/staff retention. That’s why locking out people who have the wrong attitude while welcoming team-players who have the right one is thegolden rule. Moneypenny’s success and ever-growing staff waiting list prove just how effective recruiting on attitude can be.
Disclaimer: The statements made by our interviewees are an expression of their own views and opinions and in no way reflect FEBE Ventures’ views or opinions, nor are such views or opinions endorsed or supported by us.