Erika launched Spring, the agency for change, in 2005, leaving an agency career in London to set it up in Southwold with her husband, the architectural photographer Simon Hazelgrove. They arrived with no clients and gave it three months. A major account win right at the end of that period secured Spring’s future and over the next decade it grew exponentially: clearly they had tapped into a gap in the market.
As experts in their trades - Erika’s being brand communications - but not yet in business management, they had to learn some things the hard way: chief of which was that at a certain scale values cease to be intuitive, culture starts to be set by omission, and not facing up to difficult conversations and tough decisions can only take you in one direction.
Sure enough by the time the team reached thirty people, the reputation and ethos they had worked so hard to fulfil were starting to suffer. On the face of it the business was hugely successful: as is so often the case, it’s hard to see the problems from outside but as a business leader they become very apparent to you in your talent attraction and retention, client relationships, and profitability.
It was at that stage that Erika joined a Vistage group chaired by the phenomenal David Sheepshanks, which introduced her to business tools including Pete Wilkinson’s Reclaro 1-3-5 business plan and Floyd Woodrow’s Compass for Life. With the support of these processes, her coach David, and the CEO peers in the Vistage group, she set out on the process of transforming the agency’s culture and fortunes.
Erika started to mentor Spring’s team members individually using the 1-3-5 format and materials around it to spark ideas. Individual plans were built alongside the overarching business plan for Spring which Erika, Simon and senior team members agreed. Over the course of the first six months she worked with every member of staff to help them set a personal vision, identify challenges and set out active, quantifiable steps to tackle those challenges.
Alongside this, Erika led a programme of workshops whereby the agency’s core values were discussed, debated, and finally agreed. The starting point for this was Erika’s own personal values set, and although the agency’s ethos was different in many respects, it’s clear to see how closely they aligned with hers. Involving all team members in co-creating the Spring ethos ensured that everyone involved could consider how their own values sat alongside that of the agency; an important thing for anyone who works within an organisation.
The values set also follows a very clear logic: from first encounter, to understanding a brief, to delivering excellence continually, to delivering beneficial outcome, to being focused on change. The language is clear and simple, each action has three words to create a rhythm. Every phrase in the set is a clear action.
Having set the values with collaboration across the team, Erika then spearheaded the process of stitching them into every single aspect of Spring’s work and vision. From the team mentoring - which continued on a 6-weekly basis from then on - to contracts, sales packs, supplier agreements, recruitment advertising, even decisions about rewards and perks, service creation and in short, every step, breath and process inside and outside the business. This became her principal focus, and over the course of the next five years the team shrank in scale before growing again, and at the same time grew in capability, commitment and confidence.
As a direct and perfect outcome of this focus on ethos and culture, a small team, largely formed of people whose entire careers have been at Spring, has grown to Senior Leader level. Since early 2021 this team has taken day to day charge of the business, its strategy and management and in the perfect conclusion to this tale of Active Ethos, in March 2022 they took on the agency as its new owners.
Bring Positive Energy
Know What Matters
Make Excellent Work
Improve People's Lives
Live Our Vision
What Erika has learned from the process is that values-led-culture influences every single aspect of business strategy and delivery, ensures everyone on the team is at their best on a daily basis, fosters a level of emotional clarity that delivers honesty, makes a business exemplar amongst its peers, delivers exponential growth and that, as the owner and Director of a business, it is the number one creator of ownership in your team. It’s this utter focus on stitching your values into every single aspect of the business that has led to the term Active Ethos.
She has also experienced it at its toughest and knows it is not an easy thing to do, and that often the person who heads up the process is a lone voice until a long way through. It is her complete commitment to driving ethos through her own business that has compelled her to focus now on supporting other business leaders to do the same, lean on her for support when it is challenging, and reap the rewards of their commitment to the process.