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Creating space to liberate people

On the eve of celebrating the move to our new expanded London office, our CEO Susan Bell reflects on our exceptional people, shared sense of meaningful purpose and how choice is imperative to liberating people.

One of the questions people are often asked is “why do you do what you do?” For me, the answer is simple. When I joined Waterstons, it was the culture, the values, and the people that attracted me; and eight years later, the same things keep me here. I’m proud to be CEO of a business that stands out from the crowd; that has a purpose and meaning that transcend the accepted norms of businesses in the tech sector.

Our people are recruited via a process that goes far beyond testing their skills; in fact, formal skills testing is something that we rarely undertake. We recruit people who display the values that Waterstons is built on; honesty, integrity, selflessness, commitment, trust, and the desire to empower and support others in their success.

For many of my colleagues, their career journey will start at Waterstons, recruited through our graduate scheme; for them, the culture is something that’s just ‘how it’s done’ – often they’ll have known no different approach. For those joining us later in their careers, the way we do things and the way the business feels is very different to what they may be used to; and supporting them as they adapt to our culture is something we take very seriously.

Each and every one of us at Waterstons, regardless of background, seniority, or role, is committed to a way of working that some still see as radical. We don’t want people to feel like they come to work to be told what to do and how to do it, but rather to give them an environment in which they can collaborate with others, free themselves from the chains of fixed hours at their desk, and to do great work for our clients. Seeing different people taking different approaches to similar problems, and being empowered and supported to do so, is the difference of emphasis in this business that brings me joy – no two people work the same way but each is driven by the same desire to do right by their clients and partners, and their peers.

Our belief system supports us in everything we do, and in the delivery of great work by exceptional people – and to do so at any time, at any place, anywhere in the world. The expansion and evolution of Waterstons has been led by our clients’ needs, and with those needs in mind, we’ve opened offices in locations which allow us to be close to our customers; responsive to their needs; and to demonstrate our commitment to their success.

‘People First’ is how we describe ourselves to others; it sums up a large part of the culture that makes this business special. It means we’re committed to our own people’s wellbeing and personal lives, but also to our clients, the partners with whom we work, and those around us. People First means giving people a safe space in which to be challenged, to succeed, and sometimes to fail. It is the engine which drives our business, which supports innovation and change, and which powers our growth.

As we make the final preparations for the official opening of our new London office, and at the very beginning of our international expansion in Sydney, Australia, I’ve been reflecting on what all of this means to our business.

Opening new offices isn’t just about expansion for the sake of expansion. It’s not even just about being closer to our customers. It’s about those things and about offering our own people the chance to live and work in the right place for them; about opening up wider pools of talent when recruiting; and embracing the different influences, practices, and cultural variations that come from each new town, city, or country.

Every one of our offices feels both immediately familiar, but subtly different to colleagues from another location; they’re spaces to collaborate, to inspire, to generate ideas and to enjoy – the same goals every time, but delivered with a different and unique ‘vibe’ driven by the diverse nature of the people who work in each. The offices are a microcosm of the people that make up our business; each driven by the same goals, and with a shared sense of purpose and values – but each with their own beautifully unique way of displaying them.

And, above all, that’s what it’s all about for us. We don’t want to tell people about our culture and values and how to live by them. We want to create space for them to enjoy their work, to support and be supported, to do great things and work with great people; and most of all, to create mechanisms by which they can liberate our culture and values, with their own twist, from within themselves.

Walk in to any Waterstons office, and I know you’ll feel the difference.

Waterstons Sydney Official Launch

11 March 2020 , Circular Quay

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