Article | by Alan Cooper

Counting Sheepies

 

Company founder Alan Cooper discusses the importance of internal communications within a thriving business, and how Freestyle’s monthly award ceremony has evolved from a mandatory meeting to a much-loved perk.  

Every month here at Freestyle, someone walks away with a tiny plastic orange sheep mounted on a wooden block. It’s the most coveted award in the business, with the whole team flocking (yess!!) together to see who wins it each month.

This monthly award ceremony is known as the Sheepies,and as well as the titular award, also includes company-wide updates that keep the whole business informed of our current activities and recent successes. It’s one of the reasons why we have such a stable and successful team. 

It turns out there are a whole bunch of reasons to be part of Freestyle – unsurprisingly there’s a queue to get into the pen when the Sheepies come around.

 

Recognition and reward

The Sheepies include monthly peer-to-peer recognition for anyone who has shown excellence in any of our five company values – anyone can be nominated for anything so long as it demonstrates one or more of these values. Nomination isn’t compulsory, but it is anonymous – although part of the fun is guessing!

Then there’s the ‘Top Dawg’ award – quarterly recognition from the board for anyone who has excelled in any part of their job. Each board member gets a nomination, and it goes to a blind vote – the winner is then carried around the streets of Warwick by the remainder of the team. Ok, some of that isn’t true.

If that’s not enough of a reason to participate, we also have the monthly content award, featuring a prize for whoever has created the best blog or internal content, whether its purpose is to encourage debate within the world of digital, or showcase the Freestyle culture (why do you think I’m writing this piece; I want that bottle of Prosecco!).

A shakey start

When we started out with ‘company updates’ it felt a bit painful. It seemed that no matter how motivated, engaged, excited or otherwise delighted the agency was as a whole, our requests for any questions or comments were met with tumbleweeds. I’m sure many business leaders will be able to empathise, and can acknowledge the unfortunate reality that the contributions to business updates or ‘show and tells’ are often scarcer than we’d care to admit.

After a couple of these awkward sessions, we decided to relax the format and make the event more of a social occasion with information included, rather than just a formal meeting. The inclusion of pastries, juice and competitions also seemed to help.

The next conundrum to solve was how much financial or otherwise ‘difficult’ information should we share, if any at all? We’d had conflicting requests from within the agency, from all quarters. As befits our character, we took a chance, and now give monthly business performance updates.

Several months down the line, the whole team is joining in, contributing, asking, answering, and engaging. Once again this feels like a proper grown-up thing to do. The whole agency volunteers content and things to talk about, they shout across the room at each other, and you can feel the true spirit of Freestyle right there in the room. One of our recent returners from maternity leave actually said, “I’ve missed these, I’d forgotten how much fun they are!”

Communication is key

There will no doubt be some readers who simply respond with ‘duh, of course’, but as I’m really old, I’ve experienced the other side of this, where companies don’t engage their own employees or tell them how the company is faring. Now that we’re doing it, it feels like such a no-brainer. If we’re doing well, we all get to enjoy it. If we’re not, there’s a collective and shared digging-in to change things.

There are reams of academic studies and conference content that showcase the importance of internal comms, and I’m not going anywhere near that here, but what matters to me as a business owner is that we’re doing right by our staff and our prosperity as a company. To me, the Sheepies are a clear example of where we’ve got it right – they’re almost a perk!

Even our nocturnal types (you know who you are) manage to drag themselves in, partly for the croissants and pains au chocolat, but equally because it’s the chance for the whole company to get together and share and participate. The Sheepies are, like other ideal feats of internal communication, an enabling function.

The February update even had 30 (yes 30!) nominations for the monthly Sheepie award, and every nomination was genuine. From the back office team coming in at the weekend to spruce up the office before a new client visit, to the tech guys delivering ahead of schedule, to the impressive plate-spinning of our new account executive, everyone is recognising each other and breaking down departmental silos.

Well, with that finished, I’ve already got someone in mind who has inspired me recently, so I’m off to vote for this month’s star.

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