In business, as so often in life, it is the deep and enduring relationships that add both resonance and meaning to the end product – and bring out the best in all who work with, for and alongside it.
This is the case for Changeboard’s Jim Carrick-Birtwell and Porteur Keene, who have worked together for 20 years, and 10 years ago spotted an opportunity to develop a website to provide specialist HR jobs online.
That site was Changeboard, which has evolved from an HR jobs board to become a global content provider with a suite of on- and off-line products and real-world events.
The story begins in 1995, when Keene and Carrick-Birtwell met while working at consultancy firm Arthur Andersen. Both natural networkers, the two became friends and quickly found they shared a strong appetite to build brands – supported by their natural ability to unearth great talent. After working in recruitment for 10 years, they decided to build a partnership of their own.
From job board to community platform
What was the driving motivation behind setting up Changeboard?
PK: Jim and I had worked in recruitment for about 10 years, then went into business to establish a trusted HR search firm called Bullet. We then tapped into the potential of evolving technology to transform the way HR professionals would develop their careers.
JCB: We wanted to focus on an online products-based business that was much more scalable than recruitment. A specialist HR job board was an obvious way to leverage our networks. We agreed that I’d focus on setting up Changeboard, and Bullet would provide the seed funding. Five years later it became obvious that Changeboard had more growth potential, so we wound down Bullet to concentrate on Changeboard.
How has Changeboard evolved during the past 10 years?
JCB: The biggest feature has been the evolution from being a pure-play HR job board to an HR jobs, content and community platform and media business.
PK: We both had a hunch that, with such a trusted audience utilising the site, it would be remiss to offer them only job search functionality. We knew that often these people used our site only for a limited time, given the lifespan of a job search.
Our challenge was to engage them continuously, so the idea of an HR community was established. We built an editorial team who could leverage leading-edge thinking from employers, business schools and thought leaders.
JCB: The international expansion into the Middle East and the development of locally customised models for HR jobs and magazines in digital and print has also been a focus for us in recent years.
What do you want Changeboard to be known for?
PK: Externally, I want Changeboard to be known for its relentless focus on the audience and delivering beyond their expectations. Internally, I want our colleagues to feel a sense of pride in what they have created alongside Jim and I.
JCB: Championing the ‘future talent’ agenda has become a galvanising theme – it goes way beyond our commercial success – and aligns the work of everyone in our business with something that can make a really positive difference in society.
What are you most proud of?
JCB: That we are focused on building a business that can add value to HR professionals’ careers; in the process it provides stimulating employment for our passionate and talented colleagues.
PK: Our Future Talent Conference at the Royal Opera House in July was the high point. The speakers and 500 senior HR leaders in the audience made it a special day. We challenge ourselves to exceed expectations, so I hope to have eclipsed this in 18 months’ time!
Lessons, challenges, growth
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned in business?
PK: There are no short cuts to success. Work hard, trust your gut reaction and don’t concentrate on the quick wins.
JCB: Your success is dependent on your employees’ talents. It’s vital to hire the smartest talent and channel their abilities in a supportive environment. Having courage to let go of staff that no longer fit is as important.
What legacy would you like to create/leave behind in business?
JCB: To be substantively involved in creating products and services that can genuinely help people get inspired to explore and discover careers and jobs that they are well suited to and can thrive in would be hugely rewarding.
PK: I’d like to see Changeboard establish itself as a global HR community, and for its impact on that community to be thought-provoking. Kevin Spacey recently said: “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” To create an environment where our staff benefit from what Jim and I created in their ongoing careers would be immensely satisfying.
What’s the biggest challenge you are currently facing?
JCB: Having two full-time jobs! As CEO of both Changeboard and Plotr (a careers inspiration platform for 11-24 year olds).
PK: The HR events world seems to have focused on making money without concentrating on the needs of the HR professionals it seeks to attract. We are changing it by asking our audience what they want and creating momentum by bringing together new contributors and formats.
What have you learned from making mistakes?
PK: In the excitement of growing a brand, you can try to grow too quickly and can lose perspective. It helps to step back, think, seek opinion, and then move forward.
JCB: Our mistakes and successes nearly all revolve around people. Hiring for raw ability and values fit is now much more important than the skills an individual may have.
Changeboard's vision and values
How do you ensure your spirit of entrepreneurship continues through the organisation?
PK: Changeboard is divided into a number of hubs internally, including jobs, editorial and events. We’ve always encouraged our employees to operate their respective areas as their own businesses. In doing so, we have fostered an environment where ideas are generated, plans executed and reward for success is a simple hygiene factor.
A number of our employees started in junior positions and now command senior management roles. We are delighted that these people have taken our trust and exceeded our expectations.
JCB: If you empower talented and motivated people to manage tasks and teams, and praise success, it’s amazing how much innovation pours out.
What are the guiding values & behaviours within the business?
PK: We have five core values: fairness, balance, teamwork, measurable excellence and the wellbeing of our people. Jim and I see these as the guiding principles that dictate our behaviours.
JCB: They’re the distilled personality traits of the business that we all identified as the most positive aspects of the place we wanted to work. We ran workshops with everyone after we set up Changeboard, to discover what positive traits and behaviours we wanted to define our actions and interactions. We named them ‘our values’.
How do you ensure all employees understand the vision & values?
PK: We hire with our values in mind. There are no guarantees, but those who seek to join us understand our values are defining and core to determining the behaviours we expect from everyone.
JCB: I spend time with each new joiner in their first week explaining what our values are about. Most importantly, we have a whole business workshop every six months to revisit values, discuss examples of where they have been demonstrated, and where we could do better. That way, the behaviours and nuances associated with them get embedded into our culture.
Tell us about the culture.
JCB: Grown-up, supportive, diverse, and very team-orientated. We aim to act more like a professional services business than a media business; but we have the informality of a media business.
PK: Our culture is implied, not absolutely defined, and grew from the cumulative traits of ourselves and our people. Shared values, attitudes, standards and beliefs are the bedrock of our culture.
JCB: Fostering a coherent culture that aligns everyone towards the same goals is the only way so few people could deliver as much as we do.
Why integrity and loyalty are vital
How do you ensure employees' role model values and behaviours to ensure authenticity, inside and outside the organisation?
JCB: Everyone in the business references values in real situations and it keeps them fresh – they are the measures by which we hold one another to account. As leaders, you have to role model them every minute of the day. It’s obvious if you parade values like a badge of honour, but they lack authenticity in your behaviours. In that respect they are a true litmus test of personal and organisational maturity.
PK: We have stressed the importance of our values and behaviours to our guys in their interactions, and as such they are second nature to them, as they are to Jim and I. No system is perfect and occasionally we do get it wrong. However, with a culture that fosters continuous improvement, if we deviate we hope a correction is not accentuated.
How do you create trust as well as loyalty and integrity between yourselves and your people and customers/community?
PK: Jim and I have sought to do good by our colleagues and customers. That is why Changeboard is a trusted brand.
JCB: At an individual level, there has to be a consonance between the integrity and ethics in your personal life and the actions and behaviours in your business life. At a business level, your brand is made up of millions of interactions, and your customers and community have a sense of whether your brand is based on an authentic outlook that can be trusted.
What’s your advice to other business leaders looking to create a values-led organisation?
JCB: Involve as many people as possible in identifying behaviours that make your business feel healthy, and let this process form the basis of your values. Lead by example to ensure everybody else knows how central they are to the business.
PK: In many organisations business leaders lose sight of the importance of the authenticity of values in the pursuit of the bottom line. Often values can just be a list created by management and forced on staff.
What does the future hold?
What is your ultimate vision/ mission for Changeboard?
JCB: To be a global provider of insightful content that finds its way to busy HR professionals to better their careers in the most convenient, frictionless way.
PK: To establish a trusted global utility for the HR profession, via our website, magazine and events business. We have done this on two continents: five to go!
What’s next on the agenda? How will you ensure the business can respond to the fast pace of change that characterises modern business?
JCB: Digital is now synonymous with content. Changeboard has made a really good start, but we are rebuilding the sites so they can support scalable content models around the world. The plan is to enable Changeboard to become the Huffington Post of HR – so every HR professional is empowered to share insights and learn from peers.
PK: We continuously measure where we are. Where necessary we believe in “co-opertition” [a fusion of co-operation and competition]…don’t be scared of partnering with organisations where you may overlap commercially in some ways but in others it makes sense to work together. It’s a new way of thinking, but a smart one!