myHRexperts | Easy HR Support For Growing Businesses

Winner BRW Great Place to Work 2015

Best Employer CEO

MAT BAXTER is the CEO of UM, an award winning media agency.  The most recent award UM has won is Number 1 on this week’s announced list of 2015 BRW Great Places to Work.

Yesterday I spoke with Mat about what it means to be a Great Place to Work, the business benefits, and Mat’s advice for other CEOs aspiring to also build a great place to work.


Some of the key business benefits that UM has experienced from being a Great Place to Work include:

  • Employee turnover rate of 6% against an industry average of 33.2% (2014 survey of media agencies).
  • Clients happy with consistent people providing their service resulting from engaged employees who stay with the company longer than other agencies.
  • Savings on recruitment costs due to low employee turnover is a significant benefit.
  • Winning more new business over competitors due to employing and retaining the best people in the industry.

UM’s brochure reiterates their appreciation of the criticalness of their people when it says Agencies don’t win pitches, people do.


In developing a great place to work, Mat spoke about the three levers of the people and culture framework, which he says are important for all businesses.  The three levers are communication, reward and recognition, as well as training and development.

UM’s employee engagement scores around communication are now at 96%.  Amazing result.  Communication is always a challenging area for every employer.  UM is winning that game, which is testament to its commitment to developing a great workplace for all of its people.

Mat says that your commitment to being a best employer cannot just be lip service, or superficial displays such as a ping-pong table.  You as the CEO need to convince others of the importance of developing a great place to work.  Money talks – where the money is spent is a more accurate reflection of the company’s commitment to its people.  UM make a significant investment into the training and development of their employees.

The media industry has a shortage of talented people due to low numbers entering, people leaving the industry, and industry growth.  Therefore, Mat says that it is imperative to grow your own talent, and promote and retain your most talented people.

Although UM (Australia) employs 90 people, it has invested $1 million in training.  UM has three trainers on the payroll to deliver on its training and development program aimed at educating employees and growing talent from within the business.


Each week a short meeting of all employees is held.  Mat says this is the best forum to publicly recognise the contribution of employees, which he says is significantly more valued by employees than monetary rewards.

Amongst the ways that Mat spoke about recognising the contribution of UM employees, each quarter a star employee is announced based on outcomes and behaviours and is rewarded with a star named after them.  They are presented with the registration certificate of their named star and the coordinates of their star’s location.

Another gesture of gratitude that contributes to the overall reward and recognition program is the quarterly allocation to each employee of gold gift cards with either a coffee or beer symbol on them.  These gift cards are for employees to give to their co-workers as and when they want in a demonstration of appreciation for their co-worker, ie “have a coffee on me”.


The average age of the UM workforce is 26, therefore high on Gen Ys, who Mat says are given a bad rap through generalisations around their expectation of work.

While most organisations are moving to a flat non-hierarchical organisational structure to decrease the layers of bureaucracy, UM has moved to a 15 level structure to provide more opportunities for promotion, better job titles, and more frequent but smaller pay increases rather than waiting three to five years for one big pay increase and promotion.

Also, Mat says Gen Y wants to see the business doing more than just making money – business cannot be seen as greedy in the eyes of Gen Y.  Each quarter UM closes the office and employees together do something for charity, which also reinforces one of its core organisational behaviours of Goodness.

Mat’s Final Advice

Mat said the most important success factor for a CEO to build a great place to work is that they need to take people on the journey.

Mat says the CEO’s role in developing a great workplace is to set the vision and write the cheques.  Let the people develop the specific strategies to develop a high performing culture.

In summary of UM’s approach to its people and culture, another UM quote:  Happy People, Happy Clients.

Congratulations to Mat and his team at UM for their win as the BRW Great Place to Work for 2015.  Also, congratulations to Mat on his recent promotion to the position of Global Chief Strategy and Creative Officer in New York.

Written by Claire Harrison, Managing Director, Harrison Human Resources,, 1300 001 447, Twitter @Claire_HHRLinkedIn claireaharrison

Harrison Human Resources is a Brisbane based human resources, people and culture consulting and outsourcing service provider helping businesses to build great places to work and deliver bigger business results.

The post Winner BRW Great Place to Work 2015 appeared first on Human Resources Brisbane | Best Workplace Assessment.