March 9, 2021
Rebecca East

An interview with Sarah Mason, Chief People Officer at Foxtons

“We went into the pandemic with a strong culture, which really helped.”

Founded in 1981 in Notting Hill Gate, London, as a two-person estate agency determined to make its mark on the local property scene by doing things differently, Foxtons has since grown to a business with over 1,000 employees across a network of 50 plus offices. Combining a wealth of HR knowledge and two psychology degrees with an inherently people centred and sales driven career background, Chief People Officer, Sarah has been with Foxtons since July 2018.

On a mission to bring people centred performance management to life, in episode 4 of The OpenBlend Podcast, OpenBlend CEO & Founder, Anna Rassmussen talks to Sarah Mason FCIPD about the importance of diversity and inclusion at London’s leading estate agent, exploring how they’ve been using digital platforms and virtual events to keep their communities connected. Foxtons have worked hard to maintain their close-knit company culture and support employee wellbeing over the course of the last 12 months, using OpenBlend to facilitate open, honest and direct conversations between their teams and managers.

‘The D&I piece, the piece around being diverse and genuinely inclusive, not just diverse, but being inclusive. That is, I think, quite unique to Foxtons as an estate agent.’

Here, we share some insight into the topics discussed between Anna and Sarah within episode 4 of The OpenBlend Podcast...

What is unique about the people at Foxtons?

Expertise is at the heart of everything we do. It's one of our key strategic pillars. People, reach, technology. We have very expert people, it’s a key premise of our strategy. I wouldn't say that's unique, because I think lots and lots of companies say their people are experts.  We genuinely believe they are. But where we're actually unusual or unique in the estate agency industry is that we're a bit of an outlier when it comes to diversity. The estate agency industry is not known for its diversity. It's known to be very white, very male. We're not like that at all. We've got a really active D&I community base and about 40 to 45% of our workforce are BAME. We've got a 50/50 split of men and women. We've got lots of women represented at senior levels throughout the organisation. And this hasn't happened by accident. It's very deliberate.

Given the situation with COVID, what issues have sprung up around your company culture?

I think the biggest issue has been that the restrictions have really made it difficult for us to gather in person and celebrate success. That's a really big part of our culture. We usually have lots of social events. We have a very extrovert social group of people who work for us who like hanging out together. We've had to be a bit more creative with that. We have had lots of virtual and remote events. Our teams all do virtual events within their teams. For instance, even my Talent Acquisition team, when the first lockdown hit and we weren't open, they would regularly work out together online, because they used to go to the gym together and they missed it.  Lots of our teams carried on socialising online. We also did some other incentives to make up for it. Instead of the regular incentive trips that we used to run, we did a different incentive where our sales teams could earn a financial bonus instead of a trip, which whilst it offers an incentive, it isn't quite the same. It doesn't replace the fun and getting together, which we’re looking to start up again as soon as it’s safe to do so.

You've been talking about how you feel that everyone at Foxton’s is part of a close-knit community and you feel that your employees go to their manager and their colleagues first - as opposed to the support networks that are built into your organisation. How has OpenBlend supported your managers and their teams over the past 9 months?

One of the downsides, weirdly, of a close-knit company culture, is that people feel awkward about asking challenging questions of each other. We have this great culture where people are mates at work and enjoy hanging out, a high-performance culture that is sales-driven, but often that means they don't always ask the questions they should do with each other because they feel like they wouldn't also talk to a friend like that.  Having the OpenBlend Platform has been amazing in driving these open and direct conversations between our employees and their managers, which they weren't having before. Managers just weren't asking those questions of their teams to check-in around wellbeing, because they felt awkward doing it.  Now, the OpenBlend system prompts them, and it normalises it, so it feels like they should be asking questions on wellbeing and motivation and being able to manage stress. It's been amazing.

Want to find out more about Sarah’s career path to become Chief People Officer at one of London’s leading estate agents, her work-life blend and her impact at Foxtons? Or the different initiatives Foxtons have in place to support their hybrid teams and keep their close-knit company culture thriving? You can listen to the full episode of Episode 4 of The OpenBlend Podcast over at Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

If you feel inspired or motivated by The OpenBlend Podcast, you want to appear as a guest, or you have something to say on the topic we’ve covered, get in touch with us on hello@openblend.com or leave a review. We are always keen to hear your thoughts, and how we can make The OpenBlend Podcast the number one resource for people leaders and HR innovators looking to make a change.

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