Softwire found it difficult to reconcile communication problems that stemmed from rapid growth. When Softwire made the leap from nine staff to 20 in the early 2000s, it fell into the trap of assuming the culture of open communication wouldn’t change. But as the company grew, junior staff stopped feeling like they could approach or share ideas with senior management.
Softwire started by tackling its communication problem. For managing director Zoe Cunningham, overcoming the hurdle of “unnatural amounts of communication” was the first step. Even though she felt meetings were becoming repetitive, she recognised that the more the company grew, the more they’d need to communicate.
Cunningham arranged an open calendar policy where anyone from the company could book themselves into her calendar to talk. She reminded staff about the policy so frequently that it became a running joke across the company. Cunningham believes it’s a good outcome, explaining that “if you say something once, they don’t believe it. If it becomes a joke, it sticks”.
Every two weeks, Softwire hold tea and cake with the MD sessions, where staff can come in teams to discuss any issues. It provides a space for those less confident, and is popular with staff who want to catch up on what’s happening in the company.
Softwire also made the decision to make its quarterly meetings non-compulsory, which has helped them to judge employee engagement. If staff show up, it’s because they’re interested in what the management team has to say – if they don’t, the team know they’re doing something wrong.
Softwire now has 160 employees, with the company growing around 15 per cent in size each year.It has a 90 per cent staff retention rate, although a 100 per cent target has been set. The business strategy is to hire graduates – Cunningham refers to them as “the superstars of the future” – and retain them for a long time. The company’s next focus is on providing personal development opportunities.
“We’re always working to find out what people want and make sure they have career progression,” Cunningham explained. “If people leave to study or do something different, that’s fine. But if someone leaves for career progression, we always ask ourselves: what were we missing?”