How focusing on employees leads to growth and an award-winning reputation

The MHA Larking Gowen team receive their Best Employer award Picture: I Do Photography

The MHA Larking Gowen team receive their Best Employer award Picture: I Do Photography - Credit: Archant

Named Best Employer in the 2019 Norfolk Business Awards, MHA Larking Gowen say passion for people pays off

Jon Wooston, managing partner of MHA Larking Gowen

Jon Wooston, managing partner of MHA Larking Gowen - Credit: Archant

Everyone knows that happy employees are productive ones – but getting engaged and satisfied workers is rarely a quick process. Winning the Best Employer award, sponsored by Pure and Birketts, at the 2019 Norfolk Business Awards, was the culmination of a five-year journey for accountancy firm MHA Larking Gowen.

It had always been a financially successful business, but managing partner Jon Woolston, inset, had been concerned about staff turnover, absence through illness and how hard recruitment was. “I just felt we needed to change,” he explains. “But I needed some data – to take it from being a gut feel to a point that gave us a clear direction.

“When it’s your business, it’s very easy to think you know everything – that you’re the best sales directors or the best HR people or whatever,” he adds. “But I had enough doubt in my mind to say, no, let’s get an expert in and hear what they have to say.”

In 2016 a new HR manager joined the firm. Amanda Ninham explains: “Working with Jon’s vision of how he wanted the firm to be, the first thing I did was conduct an audit.” She also put MHA Larking Gowen into the Best Employers Easter Region survey to gain more people-focused feedback. Armed with the information these steps revealed, the firm began developing a new wellbeing approach.

“There’s no one easy solution,” Ms Ninham says. “We looked at several aspects of the feedback we’d got and where we wanted to be as a business, then developed an HR strategy across those things. Then we did further pulse surveys of our employees, to drill down on key things they had told us they’d like to see improved or were of particular value, then concentrated on those.”

This process led to the launch of MHA Larking Gowen’s successful Passion for People programme. “The key that runs through everything is engagement and communication,” Ms Ninham explains. “You don’t know what your people want unless you ask them – and if you ask them but then ignore them, that cheeses them off mightily. So after you’ve asked them, you share what you’ve learnt with them.”

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As the programme evolved, it rapidly showed its worth. “Like any change, you’ve got to try to make it second nature,” Mr Woolston says. “Once we started to live it the benefits were coming, both from seeing the people and financially. As a business we’ve grown in a way I don’t believe we would have without it.”

Another benefit was being recognised with the Best Employer award. “That was a happy by-product,” says Ms Ninham. “But we probably wouldn’t have sat down and taken stock of everything we’d done if we weren’t pulling it together for evidence for the award entry. That is quite a therapeutic process because you really see how much you’ve done and how good it is.”

Since winning it, the award has gone on tour around MHA Larking Gowen’s seven offices. “It’s having its photo taken with all our people,” says Ms Ninham. “That has been hugely motivational because it’s tangible: our people have seen and touched the award and they know they’re part of the success.”

“The important thing now is to continue the journey,” concludes Mr Woolston. “Winning the award feels like the end of the beginning. Now it’s time to go on and see what we can really do with this.”

What the judges said

Since first entering the Best Employer category five years ago, the difference that MHA Larking Gowen has achieved is nothing short of transformational. Back then, it was at the start of its journey and it listened, consulted and invested – while taking some brave decisions to throw out its traditional HR policies and disrupt the business culture.

The results are impressive. It has created one of the most agile working environments in professional services the judges have seen, resulting in true autonomy for the teams and managers having genuinely empowered their staff.

It has developed award-winning wellbeing and flexibility approaches that have helped it become a true employer of choice, and the loyalty from its teams has enabled growth.

In a profession where it’s not easy to stand out, MHA Larking Gowen is now a place where professionals want to develop their careers and the passion for people is genuine.

Lynn Walters, executive director, Pure

Jeanette Wheeler, partner, Birketts

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