Cultural success, living the brand: Penna goes glamping

Celebrating the importance of mixing and connecting with your colleagues, Penna put on an annual conference with a difference this year. It was a glamping trip to be remembered, reports Jennifer Jackson, careers content editor for Campaign Jobs.

On Friday 24th June 2016, over 200 employees from Penna, gathered under a marquee for breakfast followed by a business briefing to kick off this year’s glamping event at Mousley Farm in Warwickshire.

Blind adventurer and international motivational speaker, Miles Hilton Barber, led a humbling motivational speech with the key message: "Whatever problems and challenges you encounter in life, you have to get on with it and find a way around it." It was an infectious and attitude-changing presentation.

The ‘family get-together’ continued with lunch followed by team building games, ranging from welly wanging, music making, an obstacle course, dash and grab and a bouncy castle.

Then the bar opened for the evening events – a carnival, the Golden Pear Awards, dinner, a silent disco and then winding down with a burger van at midnight before the overnight glamping. 

The last year has seen Penna go from strength to strength. It has smashed targets and become a Times Top 100 employer for the eighth year running. There has certainly been a lot to celebrate.

So why did the company decide glamping would be the best way to celebrate success? 

"Two years ago we went glamping and people still remember and talk about it", explains Julie Towers, managing director of Penna. "Last year we held an awards event, the Golden Pear Awards, to celebrate our talent, and that was a success too. So this year we decided to combine the two."

Fun, bold and willing to take risks
Commenting on the significance of the glamping trip, Keith Pilling, chief operating officer at Penna, enthused: "We learned from an early stage that you have to get the culture in your organisation right in order to be successful.

"Here at Penna, we are a family – the whole company lives and breathes this. By coming together and taking part in events like this glamping trip we are truly living our values. We are fun, bold and willing to take risks."

But that’s just part of Penna’s internal communications programme. They also hold fortnightly ‘directors’ dinners’ when staff can ask directors questions, as well as personal inductions and check in coffee mornings for new starters. Pilling added: "We listen to and engage with our employees. If you get these initiatives right and they’re meaningful, the investment really pays off."

Giving people lasting memories
Experiences like this glamping trip are what Towers and Pilling believe makes Penna a success and keep staff turnover under 3% - significantly better than the industry average. Towers commented: "Taking people to a different environment for our conference creates unique memories. We are giving them the chance to take time out, recharge their batteries and inspire each other. Recruitment is a tough industry, there’s not many days when we can sit and have a picnic altogether."

Since the successful sale of the business to Adecco for £105 million six weeks ago, the company has enjoyed a smooth transition and "it’s been business as usual" according to Towers. "We are excited about the growth opportunities that being part of Adecco presents – we are increasing our offering to clients by providing new services and our unique brand positioning as an integrated recruitment business means we can focus on the services and sectors we are strongest in."

Tolerating and celebrating differences is key to success
So what makes Penna such a success?

"It is all down to the people", said Pilling. They are the ones who create an environment where people work well together".  We have staff of different ages, cultural backgrounds and outlooks, so we can’t just have one way of doing things because we would lose valuable talent. The key is tolerance and celebrating our differences and making that blend our unique proposition.

"We have developed many of our employees to become leaders – some of them wouldn’t have thought they would make a good leader because they don’t like hierarchy", he continued. "But with the right attitude and mindset they were able to overcome their barriers and reach their full potential. We have made significant investment in our Learning Academy which offers unlimited training and development for all employees."

You have to ‘call it’ when issues arise
Commenting on the journey from when Penna took over Barkers seven years ago, Pilling said: "We have come a long way. The company was in crisis and no one was taking responsibility for it but we have changed enormously since then. "

Towers agreed: "We always ‘call it’ now – as in, we don’t let things drift, we are nice people, but we know that hiding problems doesn’t help anyone. So we’ve created a culture that seeks honest feedback and we welcome people being straight with each other about challenges, without placing blame – like any good family should."

Ambitious goals for the future
Penna plans this year to strengthen its asessment for selection offer, build its social and digital offering, and its education marketing portfolio, as well as look at services that can be brought in-house. It will continue building on its strong partnerships around senior leadership reorganisation and recruitment with local authorities, and will focus on its executive search and interim experience on key markets of digital and technology, energy and utilities and transport and infrastructure.

"We have ambitious goals", added Towers. "As a PLC we need to have a sustainable business. We want to be the best in the recruitment industry, bringing together a range of different recruitment solutions, and now as part of the Adecco family we are in a strong position to be able to truly deliver on our potential."