A happy engagement

The business

Snowdrop Systems is a privately-owned company based in Oxford and Glasgow. It delivers HR and payroll IT software, and employs 98 people. The company currently enjoys a turnover of £5.6m, and has around 500 clients, including the National Assembly for Wales, the UK Passport and Records Agency, and Pret a Manger.

The challenge

Established in 1991 with just seven employees, the company has undergone ‘managed growth’, expanding in line with customer demand and new opportunities. As this has taken place, managing director Mike Richards, and HR manager Melanie Guy, who came to the company 10 years ago, have worked to ensure that everyone who works for Snowdrop has the right attitude. Their philosophy – ‘Always exceed customer expectation’ – applies to internal customers as much as it does to external clients.

In an industry where skilled employees are targeted and lured to new jobs through reward packages and bonuses, the company has sought to engage all its staff with the growth and direction of the company, so that everyone feels their work directly contributes to the organisation’s success.

Guy says the process of engaging staff begins at the recruitment stage. While everyone is recruited for their attitude above their skills, a thorough induction programme ensures each newcomer is introduced to every part of the company.

“Employees spend about half an hour with each team leader so they know where they fit in with the company and how everyone’s role relates to them,” says Guy.

The role of introducing newcomers to each team doesn’t rest with one sole member of that team, but is passed around – thereby ensuring one person isn’t permanently on the welcoming committee.

The company’s business plan is included in the company handbook, and made freely available via the staff intranet.

“From day one, we make sure there isn’t a secretive approach,” says Guy. “Everyone can see where we’re going as a company and what we’re striving for as a team. There are no pockets of people who know things other people don’t.”

While this approach applies for all employees, the company introduced a special 18-month graduate induction programme at a point when it only had 15 employees. Graduates are exposed to all areas of the business and given real responsibility in their first roles. A mentoring scheme means that each recruit has someone they can turn to for support, advice or general conversation. Moreover, because the company attaches importance to these relationships, the mentor can deliver this support whenever required without it interfering with their own work.

For compensation and benefits, all employees have access to information relating to forthcoming bonuses according to department and overall company performance. This means employees can see the effects of their work in real time.

Twelve months ago, the company created the Reward Room, an initiative that offers high-performing staff a choice of rewards as a result of their work. On one occasion, a recipient chose a fireworks display, which allowed everyone to watch and celebrate.

“It’s designed to be visual and contribute to our team ethic,” says Guy. “It’s not an expensive approach, but it is a productive one, because there’s always great excitement when someone realises they’ve been selected for the room.”

The outcome

The company enjoys staff turnover of 10 per cent, and was selected as one of The Sunday Times’ 50 Best Small Companies to work for, based on employee response. While there is a trend for IT graduates to take a first job before moving on to larger and more responsible roles with other companies, Snowdrop has retained the majority of its graduates, with four of the current management team being original graduate recruits.

The employee perspective

Eric McDonogh is 24 years old and has been employed by Snowdrop for two years. He is proud of the fact that he designed the computer interface that is now used by 7,000 police service employees in the UK.

“Working for Snowdrop means you can learn more and really make a difference to the company,” he says. “It’s not for everyone, but there’s more scope for seeing the result of your work here than there is with a big employer.

“A lot of the people you work with in the company are also your friends,” he notes. “Because you socialise and celebrate with one another, it means you have a shorthand when it comes to working together.”

A one-time winner of access to the Reward Room, McDonogh values all the compensations Snowdrop delivers to its employees – from the annual bonuses, to the surprise work parties.

HR learning points



  • Generate ideas to keep employees engaged in-house and incorporate ideas suggested by staff

  • Ensure you develop staff. Guy, for example, came to the company in a sales and marketing capacity, and gained her CIPD qualification after assuming her HR role.

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