13th September 2022

We Invest In People Platinum accreditation: Smartnumbers’ journey to creating a thriving workplace culture

By Grant White

Investors in People celebrates the very best places to work around the world. With more than 50,000 organisations being audited, it’s the global benchmark when it comes to people management, and Smartnumbers is one of the very few businesses to have been honoured with the Platinum accreditation. 

In this post, Jamie Melling, CEO, interviews Heena Surani, Chief HR Officer, to discuss our company’s efforts to create its uniquely positive and nurturing workplace.

Jamie Melling: Hello, everyone. I’m Jamie Melling, Chief Executive Officer at Smartnumbers. 

People often ask me what it’s like to work at Smartnumbers, and I always tell them the same thing. Smartnumbers is full of very smart, ambitious people, and without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. So, naturally, I was very proud when an important industry body like Investors In People recognised this, too, and we were awarded the We Invest In People Platinum accreditation.

As an innovative technology company, it has always been our long-term goal to bring out the best in our people and make Smartnumbers a great place to work, and this award shows that we’ve done just that. 

No one has been more instrumental in making this happen than our Chief Human Resource Officer, Heena Surani, so I’m delighted to have her join me today to discuss the achievement in more detail. Heena has been at Smartnumbers for about six years, and it’s really thanks to a lot of the hard work that she’s put in that we’ve won this award. So today, I want to dig a bit deeper into the different areas that she’s focused on to make this happen.
I know you’ve been working tirelessly with the senior leadership teams and employees at Smartnumbers to create a thriving workplace. Why would you say creating a positive work culture is important?

Heena Surani: The fact is we are only ever as good as our people, and the market is so competitive at the moment. We need to create an environment where our employees can thrive, be the best versions of themselves, and grow professionally. We have moved to a different model and style of working, we have a hybrid model now, and our employees can work from the office one day per week, and work wherever they want for the other four days. 

We look at the office as another tool. We use things like Google Suite and Zoom, telephone, emails, and the office as tools that we can use in terms of communication. It’s the balance between all of these different tools that are creating this environment that our staff really appreciate. We have seen an increase in productivity, we have seen job satisfaction increase and we’ll keep adapting our style and taking action where it’s required.

Jamie Melling: Definitely, I’ve seen firsthand all of the hard work that you’ve been putting in to make this happen. So I’d love to know, what does the award mean to you, as a leader in HR?

Heena Surani: Personally, it’s probably one of the highlights of my career. I made a very bold statement six years ago, to say that I would achieve Investors In People for the organisation, and to have achieved Platinum has been very satisfying. I manifested the type of environment I wanted to work in, and the talented people I wanted to be surrounded by, and it’s all come true. 

Everybody in Smartnumbers would say it’s a great place to work, but to have that validated by an external body just gives us the reassurance that we’re on the right track. Investors In People only award 2% of the businesses they audit Platinum, and to be a part of that 2% has just been really rewarding, and it just shows you that Smartnumbers is right up there.

Jamie Melling: It really does. Of course, it’s one thing to set yourself this award as a goal, but how did you go about achieving it? For instance, I know one thing that Investors In People audits is whether employees are able to truly be their authentic selves in the workplace. How did you make this happen at Smartnumbers, and what impact has it had on the kind of company culture?

Heena Surani: I think it all starts at the interview stage. Each candidate has the opportunity to sit with their line manager and the team to be interviewed, they also have the opportunity to spend some time with HR, and during this time, it gives them the chance to ask me as many questions as they possibly have around who we are as an organisation. I also share the different initiatives that we have in the company and the processes that we follow. This really allows me to understand who they are as a candidate. 

I’m looking for somebody who can bring differences to the company because I think that it’s the differences that make us such a special place to work. We’re extremely diverse and inclusive, and everybody has a voice and is heard. I think there’s nothing better than feeling like you can walk into the office and just be your true self.

Jamie Melling: I agree. You mentioned the management team — myself included I hope — you say we’re all approachable and willing to have an open conversation with employees. What else can you tell me about how Smartnumbers supports employees with mental health and well-being? And why is that important?

Heena Surani: I think we can all see that the pandemic has created a surge in mental health issues for sure, and we’ve seen a 25% increase in depression and anxiety. Having also experienced anxiety myself in the past, I can definitely relate to employees that are going through it. Just before we went into lockdown, we had all of our managers trained up as Mental Health First Aiders, so they have the skills to be able to identify if there was a problem, to be able to listen in the correct manner, and guide employees in the right direction. Everybody during lockdown was in a very different situation, we had parents trying to homeschool, and we had individuals living completely on their own and feeling isolated, so at Smartnumbers, we put lots of different things in place such as “happy chats”, support bubbles, home packages, regular one-to-one’s, stand up’s in the morning, and we really ensured that we supported our staff in every possible way, treating every single person as an individual.

If we look after somebody’s mental health, their productivity will be increased, and their happiness levels will be high, that’s something that we strive to achieve at Smartnumbers.

We have a great initiative called Sustainable High Performance, and during this initiative and how it’s rolled out, we share so many great resources and information, and that gets taken back to their families and their friends, this has a ripple effect on the communities outside of work as well, and that’s really important to us.

Jamie Melling: Sounds like the relationship between employees is something that we really focus on, you’ve done a great job on that. We know strong relationships are built on trust. What role do you think trust in leadership, and trust in the wider team, play in making Smartnumbers a great place to work?

Heena Surani: Trust is something we try and gain from every employee, but I really do think it starts from the leadership team. So Jamie, when you were promoted to the CEO role, we definitely saw a lot more transparency in the organisation, and that just naturally meant that trust has grown in the company. But if you think about trust, there are two key elements. Do you trust the person, are they honest, are they genuine? And do you trust the job that they do, are they competent enough in their role? 

We’ve given managers the skills to be able to identify if there is an issue, where the issue lies, and how we can break down those barriers and have really open conversations about it. Trust flows both ways, and I think these approaches that we’ve taken have really helped.

Jamie Melling: I couldn’t agree more.  I’ve got one more question: what do you think Smartnumbers should be most proud of as an employer and how do you plan to continue improving as a workplace?

Heena Surani: Well, I think that’s a really hard question. There are so many things that we can be proud of, but I think, ultimately, I’m really proud of the community that we’ve built in Smartnumbers. The way in which employees are hired, the network that we provide, the diversity, the safe environment, and the access to resources and information have really given Smartnumbers an opportunity to provide a lifestyle, and I think that’s really powerful. Hearing positive feedback from our staff has been great, but now that we’ve also got Platinum, we’ve got that external validation as well. 

It shows us that we’re definitely doing something right. I think some of our challenges will appear when we scale up, and how we continue to maintain this amazing culture that we have, how we continue to stay connected with one another. We’ll continue to be looking at different technologies that can help us do that, and also feedback from staff, that’s really important to us. Some of our best ideas have come from our staff, and we’ll never stop listening to them.

Jamie Melling: I couldn’t agree more Heena. I just want to say thank you very much, because you’ve been instrumental in getting us through this process. But it’s not just about the award, it’s about the great work you do on a daily basis as well. So a big thank you from all of us, and thanks for taking the time to walk us through that as well.

Heena Surani: Thank you. Thank you for chatting with me.

Jamie Melling: I would also like to introduce Gary Inman, from Investors In People, who worked with us through the whole process and was absolutely key in helping us achieve the Platinum accreditation.

Gary Inman: Hi, Jamie. Hi, Heena. Hi, everybody at Smartnumbers. It’s Gary Inman here, from Investors In People. I wanted to give you a heartfelt message of congratulations on the amazing achievement of the Platinum award. It’s really exceptional. I’ve worked with 250 organisations with Investors In People and this is, I have to say, the most exceptional one I’ve ever worked with. It really is, you can see that from the survey results that were achieved which are the highest ever achieved for an organisation in Smartnumbers size category, which is 50 to 250. It’s quite a challenging size category because it includes organisations that are growing and facing the challenges of growth, alongside building a culture, so it’s truly exceptional. 

I think the big message is if you’re thinking of working or applying for work with Smartnumbers, you can feel extremely confident that you’re coming to a culture that is nurturing and fun, and I would go so far as to say loving and warm, whilst also being at the leading edge of what they do and very tightly focused on skills. I think it’s an amazing place to grow and learn. It’s been an absolute privilege to work with Smartnumbers and be part of this achievement. So keep up the good work! Thank you.