Insider story: The war on talent – Dr. Marten’s impressive cultural transformation

Dr. Marten’s impressive cultural transformation
Dr. Marten’s impressive cultural transformation

For this instalment of ‘Insiders Story’ Helen Verwoert – Global HR Director of Dr. Martens kindly spared a couple of hours of her time to talk to me about the Dr. Martens journey.

Dr. Martens is an iconic British brand founded in 1960 in Northamptonshire. Originally produced for workers looking for tough, durable boots, the brand was quickly adopted by diverse youth subcultures and associated with musical movements. Dr. Martens have since transcended their working-class roots, while still celebrating their proud heritage and, nearly six decades later, “Docs” or “DMs” are worn by people around the world who use them as a symbol of empowerment and their own individual attitude. Dr. Martens currently trades in 58 countries worldwide.

Now based in Camden, arguably the hippest area of London, Dr. Martens is a globally dominant household name – with a brand and identity to make the edgiest of retailers jealous. However, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. After threats of bankruptcy in the early noughties Dr. Martens were acquired by a business in 2013.

Dr. Martens firm set out ambitious plans to generate £400million revenue in four years, doubling headcount and increasing stores globally from 15 to over 100 – no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination. With the company being so fiercely independent in their approach, their brand and identity were at risk of being diluted.

Helen joined the brand in 2013, shortly before the sale, so she had the opportunity to work with the family first hand.  Speaking of why she joined Dr. Martens, Helen said, ‘I loved the brand. There’s something different about us, we do it our way.’

And she isn’t wrong. Whilst the fundamentals of employee engagement and cultural development are similar from company to company, what Dr. Martens have done is create something that is very unique to themselves and it really sets them apart from the rest.


Rebellious self expression

Helen and the team knew what made Dr. Martens special, but it was crucial for them to define this more formally.

‘It became key for us to define who we are and what our expectations are. What do we love, what do we preserve and equally what do we evolve? There is a lot of superficial shit around culture. What is different about us is, whether you are a consumer or an employee, you get the same experience from us.’

Focus groups were held over a period of 6 months that involved employees from different areas and levels of seniority across the business and from this, the essence of the business was extracted. ‘Rebellious Self Expression’ – a simple, powerful and memorable phrase which was at the heart of everything they do.

After the focus groups and much thought and discussion, Dr. Martens went ‘On The Record’, quite literally, by printing their ambitions, purpose and fundamental beliefs on 7 inch vinyl, complete with artwork and sleeve.


Culture vultures and a revelation in social networking

As we all know, developing and maintaining a great culture isn’t just about sticking some values on a fancy disc and sending it to your employees. Culture isn’t a gimmick.

Helen went out to the business to ask for volunteers to be culture ambassadors – and was amazed to get over 40 responses – the ‘Culture Vultures’ was born.

The responsibility of ‘Culture Vultures’ was to live and breathe ‘doing things the DM way’ looking at mental health & wellbeing, how they could make meaningful connections, as well as collaborating internally and connecting with key charities and local communities to create opportunities to be able to give something back.

The Vultures learnt that nurturing a culture wasn’t about quick wins – sure the free food and office parties were nice, but that’s wasn’t what made Dr. Martens the business it is.

‘The Culture Vultures have really been getting traction from the business, they have got buy in from senior leadership and it has empowered them to see how we work as a business’.

They have developed and embedded some amazing initiatives including ‘CultureAmp’, an intuitive online employee engagement platform, which provides real-time results and feedback.

A real game changer is – LifeWorks. LifeWorks is an internal social networking platform for all Dr. Martens employees, implemented to help keep people connected, rewarded, recognised and supported. It combines a live newsfeed, employee benefits, an EAP service and a colleague directory, with people being able to post live updates from their sites and give each other recognition.

Helen admits ‘In the past our comms wasn’t great – but with Lifeworks everyone around the world can see what we are up to – from HQ, to the stores and the factory teams, everyone has really embraced it’.

The war on talent

Of course, the key to any great culture is getting the right people. Helen admits they haven’t always got it right. ‘We have to hire people who understand the journey we have been on and where we are going.’

‘We tend to find that when we do interview people, they have an affinity in the brand. We have had people tell us that they were never allowed a pair of Docs as a child, or that they remember their first pair of boots – where, when and why they bought them.’

With DM still on such a huge trajectory, they need agility and adaptability in their employees, as well as having the right leaders to embody the vision of the business. And sometimes this means not hiring the obvious choice.

As a business, they have a flat structure, there is a lack of hierarchy, they don’t take themselves too seriously, but boy do they know how to get shit done!

Now at 103 stores globally, a new CEO and seeing exceptional sales globally, Dr. Martens haven’t lost who they are. Their leaders know what’s going on in their business.

Everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the senior management team are warm, friendly and take the time to understand you as an individual. It is rare in a business you can be unashamedly true to yourself and have that welcomed with open arms.

So…what next?

‘More of the same!’ is Helen’s answer. And who can blame her?

What she and the rest of the business have achieved in the last 5 years is nothing short of remarkable.


For all things interim management, change & transformation, get in touch with us via the info form below, and if you would like to feature in our ‘Insiders Story’ blog, email me on


You can view more about Kate Wass our executive interim specialist here.

Are you spending a fortune on management consultants? Here’s how to kick the habit…

Are you spending a fortune on management consultants?


It seems that every business leader I talk to uses Management Consultancies during their change programmes, but none of them seem happy with the service, the solution they implement or the cost.

Change management has never been so important, companies are having to constantly recalibrate because of market changes, new CEO appointments and disrupters entering established industries.


The big 6 management consultancies still win most of the work as they can quickly come in with the strategy and the resource to get things moving quickly.


They give you access to:


  • A wide range of resources that have been proven to work.
  • Commercially minded leaders, who run the consultancy – which your business can benefit from.
  • A range of case studies, as well as good analytic skills to your business.


Why people get frustrated:


  • Their solution is typically ‘off the shelf’; what works in theory, doesn’t always work in practice.
  • Consultants can persuade clients that solutions are overly complex – which means they stay for longer than needed and costs escalate quickly.
  • The senior leaders come in to sell the solutions, then you are left with junior consultants to do the work – who lack experience but are often still charged at significant day rates.


Can interim management be an effective solution to some of these issues?


This is a broad subject, in my (totally biased!) opinion interims can provide a cost-effective solution:


  • They are cost effective – normally half a consultancy cost and with significantly more experience of making things work.
  • They are impartial – they are brought in to do a job and that’s what they focus on. They have no interest in making issues complex or increasing resource levels.
  • They are normally senior and experienced executives – they are strategic but can also roll their sleeves up to do the work.
  • They will remain loyal to your business objectives and not a consultancy’s.


There are challenges when hiring teams of interims, you need to make sure that you hire the right people and that they work together as a team.


The good news is that steps can be taken to significantly reduce that risk, in the form of a robust process specifically tailored for hiring Interim Executives. We’ve written a guide on how to successfully hire Interim Executives.


You can view more about James Cumming our people change and business transformation specialist here and email him on


Making the most of your LinkedIn profile, part 2

Now that you’ve got your profile looking all shiny and new, it’s time to start connecting with people and creating a solid foundation of contacts that can shape, influence and help develop your career. Part 2 – growing your online network.


7: How to grow your network

The easiest way to do this is to sync your profile with your email address book. This will then bring up a list of connections that you can vet before sending a connection request to.

I try to be more personal when connecting with people by sending them a message with the request. It takes no more than 30 seconds to do this and gives the person an idea of why you want to connect.


If someone sends you a connection request/accepts yours, don’t be afraid to send them a message to thank them for connecting. Best to not go in with a sales pitch in the first message, as this tends to rub people up the wrong way!


8: Request recommendations

Recommendations are as good as a reference in some ways. They are personal testimonials written to illustrate the experience of working with you. There’s a drop-down menu in the recommendations section of your profile, that makes it easy to select a contact you want to ask to recommend you. Have a think about who and why someone would recommend you and when you send the request, make it personal.


If a colleague, ex-boss, mentor/mentee has gone out their way to recommend you, then this is always a good sign. You can recommend them back too – but both are visible on your profile, so keep it professional!


I never look at people’s endorsements when I’m sourcing for a role. I’ve been endorsed by nearly 100 people for finance. None of them have ever worked for me, some never met or even spoke to me….list your skills and if you get endorsed for them, great. If not, it’s not the end of the world.


Creating content

Now that you’ve got the profile and you’ve got the connections, it’s time to start creating some content.


Having an active and engaged profile on LinkedIn is a great way to show your enthusiasm, passion and understanding for your industry, and can be perfect to demonstrate this to future employers/employees.


9: Share content:

Sharing news which is relevant to your industry, business or your interests can help people understand what makes you tick and what you’re trying to get from LinkedIn. This will increase profile views, connection requests and general engagement. It also shows passion and commitment to what you do!


10: Like & comment:

Depending on what you want from LinkedIn, it’s important to engage with content and like/comment on posts to get noticed. Maybe you’re looking for a new job? By actively showing an interest in possible employee’s content gives a good first impression before you’ve even met them! A comment expressing a viewpoint starts to establish your opinion and thought-leadership. This will encourage other connections to comment, meaning your profile becomes more visible to non-connections.


12. Publish an article

In my opinion, this is one of the most underused functions on LinkedIn.


Publications is a feature on LinkedIn to showcase your knowledge, opinions and to give advice. They also give you a great chance to stand out from your competition. Maybe it’s an eBook or blog that you have written relating to your profession – use your expertise and interests to grow your network on LinkedIn. If people like what you write, then they will follow you to keep up with any future content you post.


So that’s it, my complete guide on creating a compelling LinkedIn profile! You can email me at


To view more about Sam Perry our Shared Services Executive Search expert here.


Making the most of your LinkedIn profile p

Making the most of your LinkedIn profile part 1

LinkedIn is a great business networking platform, but only when it’s used properly! If you’ve recently decided you’d like to create a LinkedIn profile, or maybe you’ve had an account for years but never seen the benefit or had time to properly use it – then here is a complete breakdown of everything that you need to do to ensure that it’s fully optimised and will effectively showcase your skills.

The most important question to ask yourself is; what do you want to gain from LinkedIn?

Maybe you’re looking to grow and market your business, grow your sales leads, recruit a new member of staff, or even find yourself a new job. LinkedIn is great for business networking, and your profile is a one-stop location for future staff and recruiters to look at your profile and see what you have to offer.

I created my LinkedIn account back in 2010 when I had my first job in recruitment. I remember thinking of it as “Facebook for business” and just used to read various news articles and nose over random profiles every now and then.

However, skip forward to today and I now used LinkedIn every day and find that it is has become an invaluable tool which has helped me massively in my job.

Although not everyone’s a recruiter or selling a product, by not having an optimised LinkedIn profile you could be missing out on great business or career opportunities.

Step 1: Profile photo

Your profile picture is important on LinkedIn. But why? As this is usually peoples first perception of you. Let’s be honest, first impressions count.

This is how someone will most likely remember you if they haven’t met you. Keep it professional – forward facing, with a clear background and a smile!

Step 2: Headline

Your headline doesn’t have to be your job title. There are 120 characters available, so use them – you can give people a clear idea of what you do and how you can help them!


Step 3: Summary – What’s your story?


One of the most important parts to your LinkedIn profile is your summary. DO NOT leave this blank. This is an opportunity for you to sell yourself – don’t just list skills or job titles, invest some time in your summary – you can use it as your pitch! Try to make it a little personal, so the reader feels engaged with you. You can have a look at mine here.

Step 4: Current position

Should give a summary of the company, plus your roles and responsibilities.


Step 5: What are your skills?

Scroll through the list of skills and try to identify which ones are most relevant for you. Tick as many that are relevant, as recruiters will search on these skills when sourcing, but it will also show off your skills to other people who view your profile.

Step 6: Contact details

Make sure your contact details are correct and up to date, so people can get in touch with you if they want to!

Why are we all so scared of business change?

implementing change
Why are we all so scared of business change?

We all experience anxiety and lack of motivation in our professional lives, yet we’re hesitant to implement change despite these feelings.


Change can be intimidating, but it can also present much-needed opportunities for growth and development that you wouldn’t experience if you stayed in the same, comfortable and familiar role that you’re in at the moment.

Everyone has different ways of dealing with change, but how can you incorporate change into your everyday working life if the prospect feels overwhelming?

One popular model, the change curve, can be used to help understand the varying stages of personal change and ensure that the correct support can be provided as needed.

The change curve identifies six different stages that people experience when they go through change. These stages are:

–      Stage 1: Initial reaction

–      Stage 2: Self-criticism when implementing change

–      Stage 3: Confusion and doubt

–      Stage 4: Acceptance and rationalisation

–      Stage 5: Solutions and problem solving

–      Stage 6: Normalising the change

As you work through the various stages of the change curve, you’ll start to notice the positive effects of personal and business change and be able to identify at what stage you’re stuck at. Once you know this, you can find the best support to help you successfully transition into the next stage.

Whilst business change may not always be successful, it’s important to take the value of a new experience seriously.

To have a chat about your executive search, contact me at
You can view more about Carl Hinettour Executive search of HR professionals specialist here.

To lead an agile transformation successfully, it’s time leaders took a new approach!

Leading an agile transformation successfully
Leading an agile transformation successfully

To survive and thrive in today’s market, many businesses are undertaking the fundamental shift from a traditional business model, to an agile model specifically designed for today’s fast-moving, digital economy.

This shift brings a new form of business that enables innovation, collaboration, and value creation at unprecedented speed, scale and impact.

I have recently read a report from Mckinsey  & Company titled ‘Leading agile transformation: The new capabilities leaders need to build 21st-century Organisations you can click here to view the original article.

It talks about how, to form and lead an agile transformation successfully, leaders need a new approach.

The mind-sets and skills leaders have, which has been carefully honed across the years, are no longer as necessary to lead a modern business. By evolving and revolutionising their leadership qualities, executives can transform their businesses into agile enterprises, engineered for the digital economy.


The emergence of agile businesses 

Why has this become such an important topic for senior leaders?

Rapid technological and social change means an increasing number of sectors are approaching a tipping point – companies must become agile to compete and survive.

The pace of these changes is outstripping the ability of our existing private, public, and social institutions to keep up.  More and more companies are becoming overwhelmed with the increasing need to enhance customer-centricity, speed, growth, efficiency, and employee engagement.


Mind-sets and practices needed to lead an agile transformation successfully

Leaders wishing to transform their organisations must begin by transforming themselves, starting with their mind-sets:

  • Shifting from reactive to creative mind-sets.
  • From certainty to discovery: Fostering innovation.
  • From authority to partnership: Fostering collaboration.
  • From scarcity to abundance: Fostering value creation.


How you can bring a distinctively agile approach to the team?

After shifting to new mind-sets and behaviors, the second major focus for leaders is learning how to help their teams apply new agile ways of working. Teams are the core unit of agile businesses, so it is important leaders support them with implementation:

  • Build open, diverse, and empowered teams.
  • Support working in rapid cycles; focused, short bursts of work, with frequent reflection time.
  • Encourage your teams to focus on your customers and understand their needs deeply.
  • Explore opportunities to explore design thinking and business-model innovation.


Capabilities you need to enable agility throughout the business:

After shifting individual mind-sets and behaviors and applying agile ways of working at a team level, the third action for senior leaders should be transforming the organisation:

  • Co-creating an organisational purpose with participation across the business, then broadcast it at every opportunity.
  • Exploring a holistic new agile design for your business, creating it as a network of empowered microbusinesses supported by a lean backbone, working in high collaboration with external partners.
  • Shaping a new agile culture within your business.
  • Engaging people across the business in co-creating the new agile organisational design and culture through constant experimentation and learning.


How can your business build these capabilities among leaders at every level, starting with senior leaders?

We have looked at the emergence of agile businesses and explored the three sets of leadership qualities needed to create a successful agile business. But how do you go about developing these capabilities among the leaders in your organisation and is there an agile way to do so?

Here are the main areas to focus on:

  • Engage or develop a cadre of enterprise-agility coaches supported by a leadership-transformation team.
  • Design a tailored journey for the top team to follow.
  • Create an immersive learning experience for all senior leaders across the enterprise.
  • Apply the learning to all agile-transformation experiments and initiatives.
  • Frame and roll out the leadership initiative in 90-day cycles.


To discuss further, you can email me on


You can view more about Danny Moore our head of client engagement here and the rest of the refind team here.