A year of growing support for our people

20 March 2023

Last year Opencast launched a new team of ‘people experience partners’ – aka PEEPs – to champion its people’s individual needs. A year on, head of people experience Cameron Smith outlines how the innovative strategy has played out – and the impact the new system has had.

In 2022 Opencast more than doubled the number of people on its team to over 400. It was an expansion that highlighted the needs of our people dramatically. A blog by our head of people operations Lindsey Steinberg in January 2022 set out our vision for one-to-one support through the creation of our people experience team.

It’s now been a year that I’ve been leading Opencast’s people experience team, so it now feels like a good time to offer an update on the successes we’ve had – and be open about lessons learned.


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"PEEPs now play a key role in supporting our consultants and we help people navigate their development pathways"

Why more support for our people?

In 2021 Opencast was a lot smaller and our flatter structure gave people autonomy. However, we had started to hear concerns about a lack of personalised support and unclear career development. With further growth forecast, we had to act to make sure we had the right mechanisms in place but without adding to the company hierarchy.

This led to the creation of the role of people experience partner – PEEP – and our first PEEPs joined the business in January 2022. I joined the team shortly after that.

Our mission was to get to know our consultants on a one-to-one basis and to be trusted and supportive partners who foster their growth, development and wellbeing. We aimed to do this by advocating individual needs through a coaching approach, to enable our people to reach their full potential and achieve their career aspirations.

Introducing PEEPs

We were given a blank canvas by the company’s board to create our new team and the first few months were exciting and rewarding. People across the business were receptive and eager to build working relationships. We quickly realised that people’s needs were different, so tailored our approach.

Trends started to emerge and we recognised the value of coming together as PEEPs to discuss the topics people were raising with us. These varied from learning needs, aspirations for work on certain types of project, or the need for the business to define routes to progression and development.

PEEPs and progression

PEEPs now play a key role in supporting our consultants and we help people navigate their development pathways. We know that everyone’s path is unique and our coaching approach allows us to guide people without having the technical knowledge of their specialism.

Whether someone wants to develop by climbing the traditional ladder (eg from consultant to senior consultant) or they want to pivot into a new career, our PEEPs can support and guide them.

We are even open to people’s new career pathway not being with Opencast. We would rather have a great Opencast alumni network than have people that aren’t happy or thriving in their role.

Last year Opencast unveiled a new process for progression, which allows people to showcase their abilities and cement a promotion. The PEEPs have played a key role in ensuring people are prepared for progression panels. Twenty three consultants received a promotion through this new process in 2022. If someone isn’t successful, we work with them to motivate them and give constructive feedback.

We’re also committed to the personal development of the PEEPs themselves, with each now going through (or preparing to start) their ILM Level 5 qualification in coaching and mentoring.

Support on multiple levels

By having a dedicated PEEP, Opencast’s consultants have someone who knows them and has time to support them. Everyone has a PEEP assigned to them from their job offer stage, so we can offer people support even before they have started with us.

The queries we receive vary from helping someone with an internal process, coaching someone through a tricky roadblock on their client project, all the way to if someone is struggling with their mental health.

A key trend has been the need for reasonable adjustments required for our people to be happy and healthy at work. A particular focus has been neurodiversity - we’re now working with several expert organisations to tailor our support, and all 32 members of our wider people team have completed neurodiversity training and 26 people are now qualified mental health first aiders or champions.

In 2022, we helped 26 people to relocate to work for Opencast in the UK from countries as far as India and South Africa. We acknowledged cultural and societal shifts and the level of PEEP support was increased tenfold. Our support ranges from assisting people with setting up bank accounts, to viewing places to live on their behalf before their arrival in the UK, all the way to helping them get places in local schools for their children.

Lessons learned

We’ve reflected on how well-defined the PEEP role was when we joined Opencast and we have had to take an approach of test-and-learn in all areas.

We recognised that it helps our PEEPs to be able to focus on one specific job family, so we re-aligned the PEEPs to each focus on specific practices within Opencast.

We’ve learned that it can take time to get to know the industry and supporting people amongst the complexity can be a challenge. We value the strength of the technical communities within Opencast and our main reflection is to communicate all the time.

Looking to the future

After a successful first year, we will soon be looking to recruit additional PEEPs, continuing to challenge our approach to support and learning new innovative ways to help the team.

A key goal is to attend more conferences and widen our network. We fully expect to learn even more lessons as we move into our second year of work.

Read more about Opencast and PEEPs.

Meet the PEEP team

Head of people experience
Cameron Smith – joined February 2022, based in Newcastle

Senior people experience partners
Ellie Wilson – joined May 2022, based in Newcastle
Ciara Slack – joined November 2022, based in Newcastle

People experience partners
Terri McNamara – joined January 2022, based in Devon
Annabel Smith – joined June 2022, based in Leeds
Louise Barker – joined January 2022, based in Newcastle
Debbie Chalmers – joined January 2023, based in Edinburgh.

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