MyPeople Meets is a series of articles featuring influential business people answering questions about what motivates them, their views on organisational values and high performance cultures along with personal insights on why they do what they do. This month, we meet Joel Turner, Head of People Communication & Culture at Sky Betting & Gaming, who has a wide-ranging role which is focused on creating a shared sense of purpose and community across the organisation.
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do…
I’m Head of People Communication & Culture at Sky Betting & Gaming. We work hard at creating a shared sense of purpose and community for our people. In common with lots of communications people, my role is pretty wide-ranging from working with our Exec on their leadership voice – to dressing up as a town crier to welcome everybody to the ‘Gathering’, our annual whole company off-site event.
What has shaped you, regardless of your school or occupation?
I’m a bit of a show off – and that meant I ended up trying lots of different ways to express myself and my personality. I remember being Frosty the Snowman in a school play at infant’s school and the stage curtains going down, with me inadvertently standing in front of them and getting loads of laughs. That definitely stuck with me.
My early adult years were always about avoiding ‘normal’ work for as long as possible. I started a band with a couple of friends at the end of school, which led to me setting up a pirate radio station that was unexpectedly popular (within a 4 mile radius of Sheffield city centre at least), which led on to me doing legit radio projects with Sheffield University and also across in Manchester with some of my Factory Records heroes. We ended up turning the radio station into a fully-fledged training charity for young people, which was part of the Hallam University Media Studies curriculum for a number of years. Although it was never part of any bigger career plan, there are clear skills and experience learned whilst doing all these things: planning, writing, video and audio production, a bit of design, managing people – and of course being able to comfortably stand up in front of an audience. If you work in communications, generally speaking you need to be able to do a bit of everything.
Who’s been your biggest career inspiration to date and why?
The best manager I had was someone who would challenge me to not accept the status quo, to keep pushing boundaries and thinking differently, whilst encouraging me to try and think longer term about what I wanted to do. He was only moderately successful!
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
The velocity of work. The secret is to try and keep things simple by understanding what the objectives are in any piece of work and only do the things that will make the most impact.
How did Sky Betting & Gaming support its rapid expansion and growth after becoming an independent company?
We did a whole bunch of things to create a separate identity and shared sense of purpose outside of Sky. This was necessary because we had plans to recruit 300 people in 12 months and would be competing with Sky and others in Yorkshire for the best talent. We did the usual examination of the things we believed had made us successful over time and developed our own set of behaviours which we called ‘The SBG Way’. We articulated the SBG Way by referring back to key times in the past that echoed through into the present day and inform the way we work. It ensured authenticity.
How do you communicate with such a dispersed workforce and keep everyone engaged?
Even though our people are more distributed nowadays, we still value bringing people together face-to-face above all else. We work hard at opportunities to bring people together to share, learn and build relationships. Back in the old days this was exemplified by our regular ‘Roulette Wheel’ sessions every Thursday morning where everyone would down tools and go and listen to someone talk about something they were working on hear updates from Senior Execs. We still do the same nowadays, encouraging people to come along in person – and if they aren’t able to, we also broadcast a live stream of the talk and do a live Q&A on Slack. It’s important to remember the fundamentals of what makes for engaging communication and consider the changing needs of your audience.
As Head of People Communication & Culture, what recommendations can you make for talent strategies?
Have a clear sense of who your organisation is and be able to articulate what you are collectively trying to do. Attracting great people into your organisation depends on an inspiring vision and people seeing how they can contribute to it. Once you have the great talent in place you need to keep checking that your offering meets the demands of your people. Make sure you give people time and space to grow – and be in control of their own development. We’ve found that one size fits all training and development strategies don’t work.
Which qualities and skills do think employers look for the most?
It’s almost always about valuing the right behaviours over technical skill. You can learn skills, but it’s much harder to change behaviours.
What makes your workplace culture unique?
All workplaces are unique. We pride ourselves in trying to provide an environment where people can be in control of their own destinies and make the changes necessary to keep on improving what we do. At SBG we definitely have a strong sense of identity and community. We’re all in it together, supportive and caring – and we love to celebrate the successes.
What does High-Performance Culture mean for you?
Giving feedback and having great conversations are the cornerstones of a high performance culture. Don’t accept poor behaviours because someone has knowledge and skills that are hard to come by. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept, so challenge that behaviour and try and create an environment where other people also feel able to challenge and call it out.
Tell us about your most significant technical accomplishment, the project that you’re most proud of?
I’ve been through a few periods of significant change and helping to make sure we’re able to navigate through them as smoothly as possible have been most important. However, in 2017 we held our very first ‘Gathering’, a now annual whole company offsite dressed up as a summer festival. It’s a full day event where we encourage as many people as possible to come along and get involved in a whole series of talks, Q&A, workshops and even the odd game show. It’s a massive feat of organisation and creativity. So far we’ve taken over a private airfield (the main stage was on the runway) and the farm where Emmerdale is filmed. In 2019 we were lucky enough to be able to take over the set of ITV’s Victoria and a spectacular period era Buckingham Palace. We even did talks from Queen Victoria’s bed!
What apps do you use most?
At work, it’s all about Slack. The platform is simple to use and key to putting the power of collaboration into the hands of our people. When it comes to digital communications channels, it’s where the real action is.
Who’s your most influential sports person/team and why?
Being a life-long Sheffield Wednesday supporter I don’t really look to sports teams for success! It’s more about resilience and hope. I do however take inspiration from the communities that build up around football teams and how they bring people together behind a cause. There are definite parallels to draw when considering organisational culture.
To download a PDF of this interview click here