Passion for People starts with BEER

Building a happy, engaged team makes for a successful business Picture: Getty Imagest

Building a happy, engaged team makes for a successful business Picture: Getty Imagest - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Best Employers Eastern Region survey helps businesses transform their culture. MHA Larking Gowen explain how it was part of their journey to award-winning employer status.

The Best Employers Eastern Region 2020 launch conference is on March 18 at Tattersalls in Newmarket

The Best Employers Eastern Region 2020 launch conference is on March 18 at Tattersalls in Newmarket - Credit: Archant

There's no better advocate for change than a business that has successfully transformed itself. "I attended one of the earlier Best Employers Eastern Region events," recalls Jon Woolston, managing partner of Norwich-based accountants MHA Larking Gowen. "I listened to two or three of the speakers and thought, 'That's what I want us to be'."

Now he's back at this year's BEER launch conference at Tattersalls in Newmarket on March 18 - this time as one of those speakers. He'll be joined on stage by MHA Larking Gowen's HR manager Amanda Ninham and they'll explain how taking part in the BEER survey formed part of a positive transformation for their firm's culture.

"The survey is a great benchmarking opportunity," Ms Ninham explains. "You can choose your comparators, look at different industries and look at how you compare to your peer group - and against industry generally."

So what prompted MHA Larking Gowen to take part? "The business was successful, especially on a financial level. But in other areas - such as staff absence and how hard recruitment was - I felt we needed to change," Mr Woolston explains. "Being an accountant, the first thing I wanted was some data so I could compare, to see if we were getting better or worse."

Jon Woolston, managing parther of MHA Larking Gowen Picture: Larking Gowen

Jon Woolston, managing parther of MHA Larking Gowen Picture: Larking Gowen - Credit: Archant

Ms Ninham joined MHA Larking Gowen in January 2016, recruited to help make that change. She began by conducting her own audit. "I looked at the data to support the areas Jon had identified as potentially needing improvement," she explains. "Then I oversaw the Best Employers survey, which gave us more people-based feedback. So we had the data and now we knew what was important to our people, so we knew where the opportunities were."

Armed with this information, MHA Larking Gowen developed its "Passion for People" wellbeing programme. "We shared our approach with our people, then resurveyed them to get more detail and understand exactly what the areas of focus should be," Ms Ninham says.

Most Read

"There were times when we had disagreements about what we were going to do, but we worked through them," Mr Woolston says. "And not everything we tried worked."

"We were both focused on the same objective: to make this a great place for our people to come every day, to make them feel supported, so they can give us good effort, good time and good work," Ms Ninham says. "So even when there were disagreements about what we could do, it was for a good reason and we were always moving in the right direction."

The wellbeing programme was launched with a firm-wide communication delivered by the partners - and things began to change at MHA Larking Gowen. "While I'd known things could get better, I hadn't known how much better it could be," admits Mr Woolston. "Once we got some momentum, the benefits started coming. Both from seeing the change in our people but also financially. As a business, we've grown in a way I don't believe we could have without it. So it has ticked all the boxes and delivered a lot of results."

From starting the process with the 2016 BEER survey, MHA Larking Gowen went on to be named Best Employer in the prestigious Norfolk Business Awards in 2019. Not that the award marks the end of the story. "The most important thing now is that we continue the journey and make sure it's sustainable," says Mr Woolston. "If you ask me where the journey is going to take the firm, I don't know - and I don't need to. All I know is we still seem to be making progress, which is exactly what we need."

"Our role at this year's Best Employers launch conference is to share that story," concludes Ms Ninham. "There will probably be a lot of HR people there and if any are thinking, 'I'd like to do this but don't know where to start', it's good to show them what's possible. They can look at us and see it is achievable."

To book your place at the Best Employers Eastern Region launch conference, click here


This day-long event at Tattersalls in Newmarket on March 18 will be packed with insight, information and solid, actionable advice. The topics the speakers will cover are:

Tipping points on growth and engagement (CJ Green, BraveGoose)

A Best Employer story (Jon Woolston and Amanda Ninham, MHA Larking Gowen)

Achieving accreditation (Tracey Locke JLL, Mace Group)

CEO panel (Alistair Clabburn, Liftshare; Jeff Ward; Centurion; Sharon Allan, Arthur Rank Hospice Charity; Peter Mitchell, Holkham Estate)

Creating a highly productive, performance-based culture (David Smith)

A Best Employer story (Andy Wood, Adnams)


The 2020 Best Employers Eastern Region survey is your best chance to gain a unique understanding of employee engagement and get recognition for your business.

The Best Employers Eastern Region was founded by professional recruitment specialists Pure and eras Ltd in 2012 and is delivered in partnership with Archant and Birketts. You can also earn Gold or Platinum Best Employer accreditation, as well as being in with a chance of scooping one of the prestigious awards that reward and showcase the best employers in the East of England.

For further information, click here