We chat with Matt Collins, MD at Platypus Digital. He talks about the inspiration behind his business, its company culture, and how HR is at the heart of this.

“The desire to make a positive difference to the world is baked into their DNA.” This is how Matt Collins, founder of Platypus Digital, describes his employees. “Our team is everything that’s good about our agency.”

Platypus is a charity marketing agency delivering positive change. It connects charities to the people they need, like donors, fundraisers and service users.

With a ten-year career in the charity sector under his belt, Matt launched the business in 2014. He explains, “I had seen how charity clients were typically treated by agencies. They were often pushed to the bottom of the pile in comparison to corporate clients. I wanted to create a business focused solely on charities that delivered positive change through digital marketing.”

Fast forward seven years and Matt now employs a team of 10 (soon to be 11) plus a bank of freelancers and partners. “I have built a team of people whose values reflect those of our clients.”

HR Strategy

A progressive HR strategy has grown the team and developed the company culture according to Matt, “The first step for us was identifying our workplace values. I used to think these were created by managers about the team they wished they had. But I’ve changed my tune. If done properly, they can help you decide what to look for in new team members and help them to progress.”

Platypus employees were instrumental in shaping its company values. “I had created and imposed the previous set. So how could we claim them as our values? We invited staff to a workshop and asked them to describe the current culture. They imagined a new starter and what advice they would give them about how to do things at Platypus.”

They decided on the following core values:

  1. Make a positive difference.
  2. Constantly improve.
  3. Communicate openly.
  4. Support each other.

So how do these work in practice? With initiatives like an anti-racism workshop hosted by JMB Consulting last year. It has helped the team to understand ways in which they can continuously improve. “One of those ways was influencing the charities and agencies we work with to pool our shared learnings.”

Platypus Digital team“Often when businesses look at improving equality and diversity they focus on recruitment. Actually, you need to improve the culture and practices for the people already in the organisation. Your house should be in order before you even think about appealing to a wider candidate base.”

Over the past three years, Bespoke HR has worked with Matt to help develop this culture. This has involved creating individual policies to fit with the company values. “I have appreciated the expertise and ongoing advice I’ve received on best-practice from the team.”

The company’s HR policies are constantly evolving. These currently include policies on menopause, periods and gender identity. “Even if we don’t need to use a particular policy right at this moment, it gives us peace of mind that we’ve planned ahead.”  Staff are also involved in this process. “For example, we recently introduced a ‘Get home safely’ policy. This was prompted by a discussion in our weekly meeting about women’s safety and the wider national campaign.”

All policies are accessible and avoid unnecessary jargon. All written copy goes through the Hemingway App to make it as clear and accessible as possible.

Staff benefits

But it’s not all about policies. Staff benefits play a large part in helping to attract and keep people. Current offerings include:

  • Flexible working/working from home, part-time, flexitime and job sharing.
  • 43 days holiday (including UK bank holidays).
  • Quarterly profit share scheme.
  • A £2,000 training budget per team member.
  • A yearly £1,000 donation to a charity of choice, matched monthly donations of up to £20 per month.
  • 10% of staff hours used pro bono for a charity of their choice.
  • A paid five-week sabbatical after five years of service, and every five years after that.

“It’s a crowded marketplace,” he acknowledges. “We know that we need to stand out to attract good people. We also want to keep these people and reward them for their hard work. We review our benefits regularly and respond to the changing environment. The last year has been a test of our remote and flexible working approach – and we have adapted accordingly.”

“At the moment, the team receives a monthly wellbeing allowance to help with the isolation and stress of working from home. They spend this on things like exercise equipment and gym memberships, candles and flowers for their homes or nice meals. We also contribute to the increased household bills that come from transporting the office to their homes.”

Platypus Digital employees

As a result, staff retention is high. With an industry average of around 17%, Platypus has seen less than 10% turnover in the last three years. “This is something I’m proud of,” says Matt. “If people do move on, I want them to remember us as being a great place to work.”

Recruitment process

So how do the values filter through to the recruitment process? A gender decoder helps assess all job descriptions and adverts. An anonymous recruitment process aims to avoid bias. Candidates are shortlisted and hired on ability, not experience.

The Platypus team worked on the below process, which Bespoke helped to implement:

  • Applicants complete an online application form.
  • Personal information is removed by a third party.
  • The anonymous list is then shared with Platypus.
  • Shortlisted candidates are contacted to arrange interviews (with flexible slots available).
  • The interview starts with a time-limited test for the candidate to work through alone.
  • Interview questions test main skill ability. These are scored individually by the panel (which includes a Bespoke HR consultant).
  • After the interview, the panel gathers the completed sheets and calculates scores.
  • The successful candidate is offered the role.

Advert placement is also a key consideration. The team often uses networks for communities that wouldn’t access the ‘traditional’ sites like The Guardian. “Sites like Tech Returners for example reach people returning to work after an absence. This can help parents and those who have had ill health,” Matt explains.

What else would he advise on diversity? “Actively seek out opportunities to talk to different people. We were as guilty as the next person of relying on friends and friends of friends to find people in the past. We are now committed to widening our reach as an agency so we’re not just an echo chamber. It’s a work in progress and is not always perfect we know. Sometimes candidates accidentally identify themselves during the process. But it’s something we’re constantly refining.”

So, what’s next? Platypus is in the process of becoming a registered B Corp. It has also recently published an impact report analysing its contribution to society. “We will continue to refine our HR strategy to reflect the conditions around us,” Matt concludes. “Ultimately, we want Platypus Digital to be a great place to work. We work with charities because we want to make a difference in the world. To do great work, we need a happy and fulfilled team.”

Tips for a fair recruitment process

  • Build up your network before the vacancy arises.
  • Reach out to people on LinkedIn whose skills match those you are looking for and encourage them to apply.
  • Give your recruitment agency a specific brief (especially if you’re trying to reach a group that wouldn’t usually apply).
  • Ask a third party to review your Q & A process to reduce cultural bias.
  • Show the salary and don’t set academic restrictions on the role.
  • Share questions with the candidate ahead of the interview. Structure these around skills and values.
  • Pay people for their time if there are specific tests of their skills.
  • Create a structured scoring system.
  • Discuss everything post-interview with a third party/facilitator to avoid bias.

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For more information on Platypus Digital, please visit: www.platypusdigital.com

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