How we gave our firm purpose and mission

January 29, 2020

Liza RobbinsBy Liza Robbins.

If you walk into Exco Poland this week, you’ll find a colourful scene.

The firm has literally just finished decorating its offices with flowers and plants.

“When we moved into our lovely new office, which was open space, we started to have more people with headaches and stress,” General Manager Laurent Le Pajolec told me. “We realised we needed to take steps to improve the office environment. Providing more greenery is part of that.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to you about the imperative to develop a strong understanding of *why* your firm exists.

The team at Exco Poland can expect many more changes in the coming months, because the flowers are just a small part of a wonderful new scheme to infuse Exco Poland with a sense of purpose and mission.

It began well over a year ago, when Laurent realised that the firm was at a disadvantage, because they did not have a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programme.

“We have lots of younger employees, and we know that they want to work for a company where they are not just doing a job, but where they can change the world,” he explained to me. “They’re looking for companies which engage them and which behave responsibly.”

At the same time, he could see that their clients all had CSR programmes, and it was becoming expected for a company their size.

“If we don’t want to fight only on price, we have to show that we are up-to-date and relevant in areas like CSR, GDPR and security.”

They embarked on an extensive consultation exercise with employees, to help decide which values were important to them and which causes they were going to promote.

Ensuring that the entire team was on board, and getting their buy-in right from the start was crucial for the programme’s success.

“We needed to make sure that everyone understood and had input into what we were trying to do, or it won’t happen,” says Laurent.

Eventually, they settled on four core values on which they wished to focus: Sport and health / Wellness; The environment; Family; and community solidarity.

To make sure that the list was implemented, they appointed a full-time staff member who would be responsible for CSR, because they recognised that busy staff members would struggle to get this launched.

They ensured that there was a comprehensive list of actions to follow – not just a general statement of values.

And they decided to start with small initiatives, building up the scale of their activities as they went along.

Hence, the flowers. But in the six months since the scheme launched, there has been a whirlwind of activity and of inspiring initiatives.

For example, they were put in touch with an organisation helping children in hospital, whose accounts were a mess, and helped them sort it out pro bono. Later, two staff members volunteered to visit the sick children, building the relationship further.

There is already an ambitious plan afoot to help young sportspeople find part-time work in business, so they have a reliable income while training.

They organised a competition to see which team could take the most steps in a week, as well as running sessions (“We got the idea from Exco France,” says Laurent, “and it drove some people to take up sport for the first time. We’re always sitting in the office – this reduced stress!”).

And they have already started measuring their carbon emissions, so they can figure out what they need to do to reduce emissions, and how many trees they need to plant in order to offset their remaining emissions.

The bold aim? To become the first accounting firm in Poland with zero carbon emissions.

And the impact?

Laurent says that the consultation exercise was useful in and of itself, because it forced a valuable discussion about the firm’s aims and values, and also required a strong focus on communication.

Since the programme was launched, “we’ve seen an improvement in the atmosphere, staff are more engaged and people in different teams and offices are better integrated, because they work together on volunteering projects.”

They are developing KPIs so they can accurately measure the difference the programme is making on recruitment and retention of staff.

Meanwhile, the firm has started talking about the initiatives publicly, and Laurent says that clients have noticed – and love it.

“They can see that we’re a responsible company.”

When I asked him what he might do differently next time, he says only, “I would have done it earlier! The big mistake was to wait so long…..”