My journey to a new planet - building the Pure Planet culture

Pure Planet


I recently met a good friend and former colleague for coffee. I told her that I’d been doing some HR work for Pure Planet - an upstart of a start-up - a new renewable energy provider based in Bristol.

I couldn’t stop talking about the culture and spirited workplace the team at Pure Planet were creating. When she could finally get a word in, she turned to me and said “Rich, you’ve come home, haven’t you?”       

She was right. There is a serene sense of being in the right place at the right time, of being part of something special in my new role as People Director at Pure Planet.

Pure Planet is a business with a purpose - to make renewable energy affordable and available to all. If it were a stick of rock, it would have sustainability running right through it. Not only have I worked closely with the founders in their earlier launch of Virgin Mobile, we all believe in the power of creating a vibrant workplace, team engagement and a strong values-based culture.

So, as I’ve been a part of Pure Planet almost from day one, I thought I would share my reflections on how we are building a new culture based on purpose, people and sustainability. Join me on my journey to a new planet...

I booked my seat early

My role was the third hire which, when you consider all that’s involved in creating a new energy supply company from scratch, shows the importance the founders place on people matters. People are recognised as intrinsic to Pure Planet’s success, which is highly motivating to me and creates that meaningful sense of belonging that has been so important to me throughout my career.

Having HR ‘at the table’ from the start is important in any start-up. You would expect me to say this, but I have good reason. The culture that forms will go on to touch every aspect of organisational life and also the customer experience. Having HR input from day one helps shape a people policy that will not only attract and retain the right people - but the right customers too. After all, it’s the experiences and service created by our people that customers ultimately buy.

A business with a strong purpose

Pure Planet has a strong purpose. Just under 30% of Great Britain’s energy is generated from renewable sources. We want to get that to 100%. Everyone who joins us knows this - and it acts as a powerful recruitment message. It is a very honest and authentic desire from the founders - and from everyone here.

We are an independent company, founded and run by friends - and we want to make the world a better and more sustainable place. Yes, we are here to make a profit, but we are here for a purpose too. And a purpose that inspires its founders is likely to inspire those that join.

Leaders by example

Good leadership is important in any business but probably none more so than a start-up. Leaders and founders set the agenda and are the embodiment of the business’s values. In a start-up these values need to be clear and well defined - and, most importantly, lived for real. Not for nothing does our former boss Sir Richard Branson get so involved in the launch of every Virgin start-up.

Pure Planet is a young company with accessible leaders. From day one they wanted feedback and recognised that great ideas come from those who share their passion. They are inquisitive, relaxed and transparent. Their example has had a huge influence on the emergence of the Pure Planet culture, and the commitment it inspires. Anyone can have a vision, but it only becomes real if you can take your people with you - and treat them right as you do.

Freedom and agility

Right from the start we wanted to create an environment that wasn’t like the classic management structure - and this meant very little hierarchy. Pure Planet is all about making a difference and, to do that, we believe in playing to the strengths of the skills our people bring. And this means working in project teams, to achieve a particular objective. When this has been achieved, the team will disperse and re-form with different colleagues to form a new team, bringing a new combination of skills to the next task. We call it agile management - but it’s anything other than corporate.

Life on our planet offers more variety and freedom. We believe that the type of people we hire won’t want (or need) to be managed in the traditional way. In fact, they’ll thrive in rapidly changing environments. So, how do we hire?

Recruiting for culture fit, not skills fit

Anyone who has ever tried to manage behaviour will know that it’s a tall order to change a person’s attitude and character. In fact, it’s nigh on impossible. But you can learn a new skill - agile management encourages it. That’s why Pure Planet is more interested in recruiting the right characters for our business - our way of life. If they have the right skills, too - so much the better. But, character, creativity, and therefore a best-fit compatibility with our culture, always carries more weight.

We’re a start-up, so a flexible approach with initiative and drive is what we look for - and that could have been developed in any number of ways. We are aiming to use our business for good, so we are more interested in what gets people up in the morning and how they’ve made - and aim to make - a difference to our world. The people we hire shape our culture, so a match with our values and a fit with our purpose are the essentials. That’s why we say that it’s our people that keep our planet spinning.

Author: Richard Roberts
Posted on: Wednesday 6th December 2017

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