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OBS managing director Andy Neumann says being an ‘employer of choice’ is not a matter of chance at the IT services company Josh Robenstone
Andy Neumann believes he has the secret to creating the country’s best workplace. “You’ve got to have a few crappy jobs to know what matters to employees,” explains Neumann, the managing director of information technology services company OBS .
The result is a workplace that is fun, celebrates success, encourages trust and openness and never forgets its reason for being: the customer.
It is a combination that has resulted in Melbourne-based OBS being named among the nation’s 10 most desirable workplaces each year since the BRW Best Places to Work awards began in 2009 and this year earned the company the coveted No. 1 place.
Neumann says the accolade has special meaning because for OBS being an employer of choice is not a matter of chance. It is the result of careful design and management.
“The point of being a great place to work is that you have to be able to produce that environment consistently,” he says. “You can’t just achieve a set of conditions and forget about it. You’ve got to be able to do it again and again.”
Starting in 1999, OBS has followed seven principles: good intentions, teamwork, passion about technology, continuous improvement, agility, trust and pride in being an Australian company.
These values, Neumann explains, provides the framework through which OBS engages with its customers, makes decisions internally and employees interact with each other. At performance reviews, the principles are used to guide the process and 360 degree feedback ensures that managers are also measured against the values.
“The core principles are the framework to how everything is done at OBS, from how new employees are hired and welcomed into the company to how communication is delivered and how employees are thanked for their contribution,” Neumann says. OBS has an office in each mainland capital, including Canberra, and has a staff of 207 – doubling its workforce since it first made the rankings in 2009. As the company has grown, the challenge of maintaining the culture intensifies but so far it is a challenge that has been met.
The company’s sales and marketing director, Ben Shapiro , says it has been able to do this by hiring people who share OBS’s passion, ethics and direction. The company has a rigorous four-step selection process designed to flush out employees who do not match the company’s culture and values.
“The big point of this process is the type of person we’re looking for. Skill is important but in the end it comes down to values and attitude,” Shapiro says.
In the past year, 4100 people have applied for positions at OBS. Irrespective of the position or the expertise required, employees who make it to the interview stage go through the same screening process.
First comes the interview with human resources staff, who assess the candidate’s cultural fit. Second base is a technical interview in which the applicant’s knowledge and skills are tested. If they pass muster, they meet with the hiring line manager to ensure there is an affinity between employee and manager. Finally, if the candidate is still in contention, comes a meeting with a member of the OBS senior executive team, usually Neumann.
“By this stage, we’re testing personal characteristics and attributes, whether that person would be a great ambassador for the business,” Neumann says. There is no science involved in the final leg of selection. “We have a pretty firm ‘the gut is always right’ rule and for the most part we’ve been pretty much on the money.”
For new employees whose cultural fit has been assured, the seven core principals fit like a glove but it’s “trust” that Neumann considers the defining value. “We’re very open and transparent with our staff,” he says. “We’re very consultative and collaborative in the way we run the business. Everyone knows that they have input into the business.”
An open-door policy for feedback ensures that Neumann and his management team are always available to field questions, suggestions and ideas for the business.
Neumann regularly visits each branch office for “town hall meetings” in which staff are encouraged to raise any matter they like – and they do.
“Our staff is so passionate they want to get involved. It would be foolish not to harness that energy,” he says.
OBS provides consulting and technology services around the core areas of knowledge management, business process automation, human resources management and staff collaboration. Each employee, Neumann says, is passionate about technology and its benefits for people and organisations.
“Our business focus, our external brand, is ‘We transform your business’,” he says.
“Employees know that they are not coming to work just to do a job and go home. What they do has a positive impact on individuals, businesses and the community; they are making a real difference.”
But it’s not all work and high purpose at OBS. Each office has a Chief Fun Officer whose responsibility it is to ensure that fun is also an important part of the business.
“The company is big on fun,” Neumann says. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”