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From the coal face: Questioning the CEO about revenue expenditure

Smileworks revenue expenditure
The Smileworks team are encouraged to question business operations like revenue expenditure

When a receptionist asked her CEO how the £172,000 they’d made last month was spent it prompted a closer at the company’s revenue expenditure and a resulting saving of 12 per cent the following month.

Abby Harding works front of house at Smileworks, a private dental clinic located in Liverpool. Her day-to-day responsibilities include handling bookings, greeting patients and ensuring the customer experience is as smooth as possible. It’s a demanding and fast-paced environment – a culture Harding enjoys – and one that relies on reinvesting profits to maintain the company’s growth push.

However, the business has fostered a culture that encourages junior members of staff to question conclusions taken by management. This forces decision makers to justify their calls and explain why they are important for growth.

“I could see that the marketing budget had practically doubled and thought, this is unusual,” Harding remembers about one particular occasion when she quizzed her CEO, Ed Challinor, about where last month’s revenue expenditure had been allocated. “I never feel uncomfortable asking Ed about the money spent, so just did it. Without skipping a beat he thanked me for my question and started explaining to us all about how he’s testing different Google AdWords campaigns to see which are the most effective.”

Not knowing what this entailed, Challinor provided a “mini marketing lesson” on Google AdWords to Harding and her colleagues – which shed light on how expensive early testing can be, but how vital it is in the long run.

Justified in his decision to invest heavily in digital marketing, the question forced a bit of introspection from Challinor. He went away and analysed the company’s profit and loss line by line, saving 12 per cent on the next month’s revenue expenditure.

Open and honest

Smileworks braces
Smileworks provides a range of different cosmetic dentistry services

“From my very first day it was clear that Smileworks is super transparent with its figures and honest with its employees,” Harding explained. “There’s a board in the staff room displaying individual targets, company targets and current revenue. We have weekly meetings and look at our targets to see how we are getting on – and the owners are always super open about money.”

The success of the company, Harding added, encourages staff to push further when going about their day-to-day job and question management on the bigger decisions made. When things aren’t going so well teams take a pragmatic and collaborative approach to fixing it.

Harding’s advice for other junior members of staff who want to question the way something is done in their company is simple, make sure it comes from a good place. “When I questioned Ed, it was from a place of being curious and wanting to learn more about what he does. He appreciated this,” she said.

“It’s hard to advise because we’re really fortunate to work alongside owners who are really transparent. However, I know from personal experience that this isn’t always the case. Our managers believe that if they don’t give us the numbers we will either guess them, and probably guess wrong, or get told them by others who will have guessed incorrectly too – so it’s better to get it all out in the open.”

Be curious

Smileworks office
The customer experience is high on the agenda for Smileworks

With expectations of staff high at Smileworks, Harding feels it’s part of her job to ask questions relating to what she does. “Marketing directly affects my job and I thought ‘great, more marketing means more leads’, so I was genuinely interested.

“We are always being reviewed, are given both positive and negative feedback about how we are getting on and reminded that we play a vital role in the business. We are encouraged to keep striving for better results through rewards – half the team are off to Las Vegas in September!”

Whether it’s conducting oral surgery or answering the phone, staff at Smileworks were recruited because they’re the “best at what they do”, Harding revealed. “If I don’t do my job right then the dentists don’t get to see patients. So we get treated with the same respect and get the same amount of time and help as anyone else at the practice.”

For Harding, the response to her question, which some might have felt was out of place, made her feel as looked after by her managers as patients are by the receptionist. “I’ve worked in places where they just expect you to pull sales or bookings out of thin air and they put pressure on you to perform without actually providing anything to work with. That makes for an unhappy working environment.”

The Smileworks approach to transparency with financial performance is empowering staff and making them feel part of the inner workings. Harding and her colleagues adopt a curious approach that is treated with respect by senior managers. It’s an approach many more businesses should adopt.

Find out how three employees changed the way rewards process worked in their business.

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