What makes an excellent business? Motivated and happy employees – and innovation

By | November 12, 2013

Yp awardsLast month I attended the Yorkshire Post’s Excellence in Business Awards in my capacity as judge of the Outstanding Employer category, which is sponsored by Bradford University School of Management. It’s always gratifying to see the number of great businesses we have in Yorkshire – both large and small.   These businesses would stand out wherever you put them in the world and any business leader can learn from them, no matter which country they are operating in.

My research in recent years has an interest in what makes for a motivated workforce (covered in this blog on 10 factors creating job satisfaction). Judging these awards felt like seeing this research come to life through inspirational case studies.

The awards (click on the video link below to see clips from the evening) demonstrated the resilience of our county’s best companies despite the economic downturn and showed that they can compete in an ever increasing national and international market.


Courtesy of Yorkshire Post

Winners such as PTSG (companies with a turnover under £10M), Evenort (companies with a turnover between £10 and £50 M), Zenith and the innovative start up Bluesmith which was named as Young Business of the Year, all demonstrate that there are dynamic and growing businesses providing products and services that are exported worldwide.

But what makes a business excellent and ensures it strives ahead of its competitors? Here are my top tips for companies to lead the way.

1. Be innovative

Innovation is clearly a Yorkshire trait and was demonstrated admirably by Harrogate-based business EnviroVent which won the Innovation of the Year award for its heat conscious ventilating systems. It is an excellent example of a sustainable business that has real growing potential.

Courtesy to thelazycamper.co.uk

Courtesy to thelazycamper.co.uk

Another winner who won because of his innovation was Jacob Hill, named Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He stood out with his Lazy Camper business which he set up after attending the Leeds Festival in 2011.

His innovative camping in a bag sets have caught the zeitgeist of festival goers worldwide, generating both orders and accolades.

As for our own award , Bradford University School of Management’s for Outstanding Employer of the Year, innovation is also very much in evidence.

Last years’ winners, Plusnet, made the shortlist again. The focus they have on engagement with their growing workforce is clear and they continue to make stellar efforts in ensuring employees have a voice in the organization – despite, or perhaps because of, their growth. Their next big challenge is to build their new additional operations centre in Leeds.

I would say the hallmark of their success has been retaining a Yorkshire focus whilst at the same time ensuring excellent customer satisfaction.

2. Invest in People

Specialists in manufacturing execution systems and automation projects, Cimlogic, made it on to the shortlist after impressing us judges with their organization-wide investment in project management training.

CIMThey have recognized the capabilities that this gives which were of benefit, whether individuals directly managed projects or not.  We were also impressed with their innovative use of the controversial zero hours contracts irrespective of widespread criticism.

Whilst these contracts are often thought of as examples of poor HR practice, Cimlogic has managed to use them to retain and support three members of staff who had other commitments but wanted to stay involved in and connected with the business.

The Shipley based company is also facing the challenge of an office move but again this is about providing the right environment to support a growing business and its employees.

3. Be an authentic employer

This year’s winner of the Outstanding Employer of the Year award was TPP which stood out for their authenticity as an employer.

TPP2Admittedly, this is a factor which is difficult to quantify but it’s about tangible commitment to employees. TPP, for example, have a ‘leave work at 5:15pm’ policy as they expect staff to have a work-life balance, unless of course there is an emergency.

This might sound superficial and if not treated properly it would be, but handled well it sends a clear message that the company values and supports its team. This approach was demonstrated during a meeting with our judging team which was interrupted by TPP staff who were checking to see if our discussions were coming to an end as it was approaching 5.15pm. This would be unheard of in most businesses!

Additionally, TPP have recently moved to their new offices. These were built from scratch to house 600 employees, twice their current headcount and testament to their ambition. The judges were impressed with the extent to which everyone has been involved with the design and the fact the move has given staff an opportunity to learn new skills and knowledge that they would not otherwise have been able to acquire.  This again is another indicator of real authenticity as it shows that every challenge is seen as an opportunity to learn.

4. Be different

As a management researcher, I know that a distinctive, strong and committed culture such as that seen at TPP is a real differentiator – it is something competitors can little hope to emulate. And in this regard TPP is not alone.

As always we also saw loads of really great businesses that couldn’t make the shortlist – companies like 9xb, Compliance365, Navartis, Resolve IT Solutions and Search Laboratory all similarly have strong supportive cultures. Again these are all businesses that are successful, growing and strongly tied to Yorkshire and its skill base. All also have that authenticity and commitment that goes with a workplace in which people feel valued for the contributions they make.

In some respects, these mid-sized companies are Yorkshire’s own Mittelstand – they are very much tied to their region like their German counterparts which are seen as the engines of German’s economic strength.

MittelstandYorkshire – great place to visit, great place to do business and a great place to work. How’s that Lancashire?

What other factors can make a business excellent? Should all companies adopt a 5.15pm leave work policy?  What would stop you doing that?

About Dr David Spicer

David is Senior Lecturer in Organizational Change at Bradford University School of Management where he lectures in the areas of change management and organizational behaviour on undergraduate, postgraduate and executive programmes. He is also a visiting professor at TiasNimbas Business School in Holland and Germany and alumnus of Harvard Business School’s Global Colloquium for Participant Centred Learning. He holds degrees from the Universities of Bristol, Stirling, and Plymouth.  His research is concerned with organizational learning and change, and he is currently working on a major project looking at the dynamic capabilities of Motorola and Intel.


+        Organisational learning in small firms

+        Organisational learning in a downturn

+        Styles of leadership – East vs West

+        Cultural change in mergers and takeovers