Leadership & Management67
The Journey to Accountability, Empowerment, and Self-Management
September 13, 2020
September 13, 2020
Reddico, founded in 2012 and based in southern UK, is a marketing agency delivering high quality SEO and content campaigns to clients in the UK and abroad. Their goal is to act not as contractors, but as an extension of their clients’ marketing teams. Reddico achieves this through building strong relationships, striving to understand their clients’ situations and needs, and always being ready to pivot along with the market.
Reddico’s ongoing success is the direct result of this passion and dedication to their clients. They’ve earned accolades as the UK’s most respected agency, won multiple campaign awards , and been named the 4th best place to work in the UK. A constant process of evolution in Reddico’s management style and internal structure have helped create an agency that has not only distinguished itself amongst an increasingly competitive market in terms of profitability and customer satisfaction, but has also created an exciting and supportive team culture.
But the Reddico of today is unrecognizable when compared to the organization founded in 2012. Growth has not always been smooth, and in 2017, internal strife and team dissatisfaction forced a critical reexamination of how Reddico did business. Examining the choices made by both leadership and the larger team during that period of tension are crucial to understanding how Reddico has now blossomed into one of the UK’s most successful businesses.
Reddico was founded by two brothers, Luke and Nick Redding, whose shared passion for online business helped them establish one of the UK’s most successful SEO agencies. From 2012 to 2017, Reddico’s commitment to excellence helped the agency establish a dedicated client base, and it was soon listed among the Tech Fast 500 and the Sunday Times Fast Growing Lists. Within five years, Reddico had grown tenfold, from a team of two to a team of twenty.
Hand in hand with Reddico’s sudden growth came an evolution in the organization’s internal culture. Team members worked hard and supported one another when times got tough. Reddico’s offices in Kent began to feel like home for many team members, complete with beer fridges and table tennis. Hard work wasn’t without its rewards: Reddico sent their team on annual trips to Barcelona, Budapest, and the ski-slopes of Austria.
From the outside, the Reddico team seemed like a close-knit, loyal community. On the inside, cracks were beginning to show.
Despite Reddico’s commitment to supporting and rewarding its team members for their excellence, some were growing frustrated with the lack of internal flexibility. While other tech companies were transitioning to adaptive work schedules, the Reddico working day was 9-5, with few exceptions. Work from home was rarely and inconsistently approved, and could be rubber-stamped by one manager and then denied by another.
Department managers were similarly frustrated. As their responsibilities grew and their available time became more fragmented, they found themselves unable to monitor and support their team members using traditional methods. Chains of communication grew snarled, the structure determining work/life balance appeared increasingly ad-hoc, and team members began second-guessing leadership and each other.
The directors conducted an employee NPS to get a better understanding of what was happening amongst team members. They hoped to score a World Class NPS, but were surprised when results came back merely Good, with some team members scoring as passive or even as detractors.
Now aware of the discontent growing amongst their team, the directors met with the affected team members and soon found themselves asking difficult questions:
Why do we need managers?
Why do we need to police our team members?
If our team members love what they’re doing at Reddico, why can’t they manage themselves?
In the wake of these conversations, the three directors of Reddico convened to discuss the organization’s workplace culture and structure. All three agreed that their team members were talented, driven, and wanted to see the business succeed. They didn’t need to be micromanaged. They needed to be empowered.
The next step was building a roadmap towards that empowerment.
The directors brainstormed as to how a utopian company would operate. Proposals such as unlimited flexibility and holidays, self-set targets, values-based recruitment, and employee-directed performance reviews were some, but not all, of the ideas put on the table.
The directors then looked outward, to organisations across the globe who had taken similar steps towards leadership reform. Their successes, failures, missteps and corrections were collated and analyzed, and measured against what Reddico was doing at that time – and what they hoped Reddico could one day achieve.
The result of this research was the first draft of the Reddico Manifesto: a document detailing what Reddico wanted to be known for, what values and beliefs formed the company’s foundations, and how their business would adapt to better match these values. Every change proposed by the manifesto rested upon three pillars: trust, freedom, and responsibility.
The manifesto was issued to team members, and initial feedback was mixed. While team members were wowed by the potential of the revolutionary structural changes implied in the manifesto, their enthusiasm was tempered by skepticism. The team had seen big promises fall through in the past, both at Reddico and at other organizations, and they didn’t want to be disappointed again.
After much discussion, the team put their doubts aside and said yes.
It was time to put the manifesto into action.
The proposed wide-ranging structural evolution couldn’t be implemented overnight, or without dedicated support. A new internal role was created – Head of Culture – whose purpose was the planning and rollout of Reddico’s new structure.
In early 2018, a nine month roadmap was laid out that would implement recommended changes one by one, allowing time for team members to adapt, provide feedback, and tweak the parameters of how the new structure impacted their day-to-day.
The order in which major issues would be addressed was based upon research into how other businesses had evolved their internal structures. Priority was given to providing maximum support and resources to team members throughout the transition. As such, the first point on the roadmap was a review of team member accountability, including how team members set and owned their OKRs.
The second point was to re-evaluate the work-life balance of Reddico team members. It was the goal of leadership to ensure everyone at Reddico came into work feeling energized and excited, and they couldn’t do that if they were juggling their last remaining sick days, or trying to arrange important family events around their work schedule. The entire concept of the 9-5, 48-week work year would be turned on its head.
Finally, changes would be made to the management structure. In an organization where everyone set their own goals and was accountable to themselves, the roles and responsibilities of middle managers and team managers needed to be reevaluated, if not discarded completely.
Reddico set out on the first leg of their revolutionary journey in March 2018. Nine months later, they would be an entirely different organization.
The first and most important step in reforming Reddico’s structure was to give team members greater control over how they set and achieved their targets. An OKR system was established to track productivity and alignment, with each team member asked to manage two professional OKRs and one personal OKR, which had to advance their personal practice. However, all the OKRs also had to align with Reddico’s stated values.
It soon became clear to leadership that the three-OKR system was overly complicated. Many team members were choosing OKRs that fitted the company values in order to please the system, rather than choosing an achievable OKR that would benefit clients or advance their skills. Juggling three OKRs simultaneously forced team members to split their attention between too many goals while achieving none of them. With team members only reaching 15-20% of their targets, something needed to be done.
The three-OKR system was scrapped and replaced with a two-OKR system. These OKRs were self-set and aligned to departmental or wider company goals, whilst always being measurable and relevant. Team members worked together to plot a series of targets that would help them mutually satisfy the OKRs.
By providing a broader framework via lead-set OKRs, team members were more easily able to keep their professional targets aligned with company goals and keep those simpler targets at the front of their minds. By the end of the OKR revision process, team members were hitting 80% of their targets.
When it came to work/life balancing for Reddico team members, the most radical solution also proved the most effective. Leadership asked themselves: if our team is working hard and meeting their targets, why do we need to control how or when they take leave? In fact, why do we need to control where they work? If we trust the team to create relevant goals and satisfy our clients’ needs, why don’t we also trust them to manage their time?
As such, the traditional structures of annual holiday leave and sick leave were discarded. In their place, team members were given unlimited holidays. They could choose their own hours, and work from home whenever they pleased. Leadership were more concerned with whether the team were happy, productive, and meeting their targets in an efficient manner, than where or when they worked.
With restraints removed, and team members now able to structure their work around their lives as opposed to molding their leisure and family time around the 9-5, morale skyrocketed. For the first time, the team felt both trusted and empowered to get the job done.
When examining how to reconstruct leadership inside Reddico, the most important question was: what does the perfect manager do? Do they oversee, or do they uplift? Do they lead, or do they enable?
The answer they found was that a productive, happy team needed both leadership and nurturing skillsets – but not embodied in the same person. They would divide the responsibilities into two roles: leads, and coaches.
Instead of departments overseen by a single manager, Reddico created circles of responsibility, based upon theories of sociocracy. Inside the circle, team members would support and uplift their colleagues, and come to democratic decisions about major goals and methods of achievement. Each circle would be guided by a team lead, and each individual team member inside the circle would have a personal coach.
The role of the lead was to be accountable for the performance and function of the circle. They would ensure the team was fulfilling the client’s needs, and hire new team members whose skills and mindsets aligned with the circle’s goals and vision. They were the engines inside each team, driving them forward towards excellence. Coaches, on the other hand, existed to support, motivate, and empower team members. In hard times, they were available to nurture. When the path forward grew difficult to navigate, they would guide and educate.
While leads were chosen for each circle based on skills and experience, every team member was encouraged to choose their own coach from somewhere outside their own circle. Coaches and leads were roughly analogous to a Scrum-esque product owner and scrum master structure, and the adoption of their roles transformed circles from top-down, admin-heavy departments into teams where everyone had clear goals, motivation to succeed, and immediate support at hand.
The dissolution of the top down structure in favour of circles of responsibility resulted in team members feeling increasingly empowered and able to work without oversight. They also became more comfortable when raising issues, both in 360 reviews and personal meetings. Team members were increasingly responsible for and connected to the wellbeing of their circle, and so were eager to point coaches and leads towards team members who needed additional assistance. Team members also began having more productive discussions about methods of refining or streamlining their processes. The end result was an organization without whisper networks, where all team members engaged in open, honest, enthusiastic conversations.
No major change comes without speed bumps. Providing the entire Reddico team with flexible working hours and unlimited holidays soon made it clear that different team members thrived in different environments, and that some were better suited to more traditional systems with concrete leadership structures and top-down accountability.
Leadership set out to make sure every team member was able to work in an environment that suited their needs. For some, that meant an amicable and supportive transition away from Reddico. For others, a mentorship process helped them adapt to the new structures, while an onboarding system was created to help new hires understand expectations and responsibilities.
Monitoring and mentorship for new hires continues today, and clearly communicating Reddico’s self-management ethos remains a key component of the organization’s recruitment and probationary process. Thanks to the system of coaches and circles of responsibility, all team members are part of the education and support process, and help one another learn the necessary discipline and self-management to thrive at Reddico.
Two years after the complete implementation of the Reddico manifesto, the organization is still in a state of evolution. If anything, the most important lesson learned from the changes undertaken over the past years is that there is no room for complacency.
What’s most important to Reddico’s leadership is a constant reexamination of the company’s internal values. An organization that contents itself with the status quo isn’t stable; it’s stagnant. As such, Reddico is always revisiting their core values and asking, how are these driving the company and our team forward? How does this value or structure benefit individuals? How can we uplift everyone working for Reddico, as opposed to only uplifting the company?
To ensure alignment amongst all team members, Reddico hosts annual offsites where every team member can discuss the ups and downs of the past year, what they hope to achieve in the coming year, their strengths, weaknesses, and how these can all be leveraged to benefit both the business and the individual. This helps every team member build an emotional connection with the company.
These offsites also offer opportunities for team members to bring their own concepts for workplace evolution, and stay involved throughout the implementation process. One example of a change initiated by team members is the integration of Reddico’s core values into team 360 reviews, quarterly team votes, onboarding materials, and more. This integration allows the team to analyse their performance and areas of strength against the values, and to find opportunities to improve themselves and others.
Involving team members in the evolutionary process ensures that they don’t merely adopt new practices, but are involved in the development, testing and refinement on the ground level. Bringing the entire organization into the conversation helps to create and maintain alignment and synergy between leadership and the team. With constant communication, the entire Reddico family can stay aligned on how best to move the business forward.
The next steps in Reddico’s growth as an adaptive, flexible company is to examine their entire company structure and implement a policy of complete transparency. Early steps that have already been taken are the introduction of salary panels voted on by team members, as well as profit sharing agreements paid quarterly to team members. The next stage will be to find new, democratic methods of recognizing the achievement of team members through internal communications channels, rather than through regular evaluations.
Leadership are also constantly looking inward at the organization’s core values, and adjusting them in light of Reddico’s cultural evolution and where the company is headed in the future. It’s true that strong values can guide a team, but equally true that all teams develop their own ethos and mindset over time, and each should always be responsive to the other.
Walk through the front doors of any organization, and you can get a sense of the mood and internal culture within minutes. Poor culture is reflected in the emotions and engagement of employees, and positive culture is the same.
When you walk into Reddico’s offices, you feel that positivity.
Morale at Reddico is at an all-time high. Employees don’t just love working at Reddico; they love the structures of the business itself and want to continue improving it from the inside out. People outside Reddico are beginning to notice: in 2019, Reddico was named as the 9th best place to work in the UK. In 2020, it rose to 4th place.
Reddico’s great culture is quantifiable. Team member satisfaction as measured by team NPS has risen from 45 to 96 since the beginning of the transformation. Client NPS score, meanwhile, has risen from 56 to 81.
Does client and team satisfaction come at the expense of revenue? Absolutely not. Revenue increased 41% in the year up to 2020, while profit was up 65%. Reddico’s leadership are keen to point out that correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, and offering employees unlimited holidays is not an automatic doorway to greater profits. However, it does demonstrate that acting in the best interests of the team, and empowering team members to set their own goals and forge their own paths, hasn’t caused any implosions.
Early fears that team members would not make use of their leave out of fear of being seen as unproductive has not come to pass. In the manifesto .pdf provided to all new team members, it is clearly stated that leave is meant to be used. As such, annual leave increased by 33.9% in 2019, and team members took a total of 1507 work-from-home days, compared to only 100 in the year before the manifesto was implemented. Sick leave, by contrast, dropped to only 1.02 days per person, compared to the UK average of 4. In addition, Reddico works with a mental health advisor who meets with team members regularly to help navigate stressful or anxious situations.
The leadership at Reddico have already seen their practices being adopted by industry competitors. In an increasingly competitive digital market, constant refinement and reflection of structure and working methods is necessary to stay ahead.
Reddico isn’t content to stand still. Their entire team is poised to sprint into the future.
The revolution is over. Now comes evolution.
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