PEEPs for our people

31 January 2022

Opencast has taken a big step forward in its commitment to provide the best support for its people – with a new team of ‘people experience partners’ (PEEPs) ready to ensure that everyone in the business has someone advocating for their needs. Head of people Lindsey Steinberg explains.

How can a fast-growing business like Opencast – set to double in size to 400 people in the next year alone – maintain its commitment to look after and listen to its people?

That has been the big question facing the OC people team over recent months as we grapple with the inevitable capacity pressures that come with rapid growth. We also want of course to ensure that the people who are already here stay and grow with us.

As a business we’re determined to preserve and strengthen our people-first culture. As our chief exec Tom Lawson stressed in his recent end-of-year review, “while our growth is important, looking after our people and our clients must always be the top priority”.

That determination has been the driver behind our creation and deployment at the start of 2022 of a new team of people experience partners – aka PEEPs.

Opencast's four people experience partners (PEEPs)
"We will inevitably need to learn lessons as we go and we’re determined to involve our people in helping us do that"

Best possible support

Until this point, our heads of service had increasingly found themselves with ever-more people reporting into them – and it was quickly becoming overwhelming for them to be able to support people adequately through one-to-one conversations.

Given our determination to look after and support our people as well as possible, we could not let that one-to-one support slip. We thought long and hard about how we could support people as we scaled – but without adding new tiers of hierarchy.

We looked at approaches for pastoral support taken by other businesses – particularly since  the pandemic hit – and found a strong industry shift away from solutions that simply add new line management support.

The trend among forward-looking businesses is increasingly to employ experts who look after people’s technical expertise, while others look after their learning and development. For us that would mean a formal roll-out of training programmes with pastoral care alongside to find out how people want to develop in their roles and careers.

There are definitely businesses that will look to add more formal management structure in response to their growth. But at Opencast our people like the lack of formal line management, and we were determined not simply to take the easy way. The PEEPs approach felt right for us.

People champions

At the centre of our PEEPs work is their function as people champion – with their chief role to be the employee voice. Our PEEPs do not have a performance management role: they are about supporting people in their personal development.

The PEEPs approach is not about communicating progress down waterfall style. Because we work in an agile environment with technology, we decided to take a similar approach with our people to ensure that if any changes need to be made, they will come from our people rather than by top-down communication.

Having PEEPs means that, in planning our business strategy, we will consider the views and voices of our people. If we're thinking about doing a new piece of work, the new system means we should already know whether it is something that will interest or benefit our people, be attractive to them, and encourage them to stay with us.

We believe that our people should be doing work that interests them. So, the PEEPs will ask people to reflect on where their careers are today, ask what they've enjoyed about where they are now and the kind of work they want to do.

Our team of four PEEPs (pictured) has already started working with our corporate development team to let them know what our people say they want. The corporate team will then go out and actively seek the kinds of work our people want. Our planning team will identify the people who want to rotate say every six months or who want to move into work with social impact.

PEEPs in practice

When we went out to recruit our PEEPs team, it sparked a real interest with people in the HR community, because the role sees a genuine push for the people experience agenda. Too often people in HR end up handling negatives, like discipline and poor performance, when in fact there's a much more positive agenda at play.

We will make sure that our PEEPs are challenging for change and that if something needs to be different they can feel confident within our organisation that they can challenge and have the support they need to press for it.

So how will our PEEPs work in practice?

We’ve split all consultants working across Opencast by role, so that each PEEP will cover different roles, with each PEEP looking after up to 50 people.

Our PEEPs are already getting to know our people, understanding their motivations, including the things that make them happy or sad and what their career aspirations are. They're looking hard at the employee journey and where they can provide the best people experience through an engaging working environment.

The PEEPs will review the processes Opencast has in place right now, including for reward and career progression. They are sure to be involved in the reward and career conversation because they will hold such rich information about our people and the work they've done.

Building on trust

At Opencast we trust our people and our PEEPs system is built on that trust. Our growth means that it's no longer possible for one head of service to decide how well somebody is doing or how much they should be rewarded.

So how will we know if the PEEPs system is working? Making a judgement purely on the basis of retention rates will be hard to measure from a data point of view. After all, we don't have high attrition rates even now.

We will inevitably need to learn lessons as we go and we’re determined to involve our people in helping us do that. So, after the PEEPs system has been up and running for a couple of months, we’ll have a conversation with our people about how they’re feeling about it all. Early feedback on the initiative has been incredibly positive.

When we continue to see positive change on the back of what the PEEPs are pushing for, in terms of personal development and career pathways, with the right changes being made to our ways of work and the kinds of work we’re doing, we can be very confident that we are moving in the right direction.

Meet the OC PEEPs (pictured, left to right)

Cam Smith (lead people experience partner) – joins from One Utility Bill
Lauren O'Connor (people experience partner) – joins from MRI Software
Terri Lane (people experience partner) – joins from Betsson Group
Louise Barker (people experience partner) – previously OC internal recruiter.


Lindsey Steinberg

Head of People Operations

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