Making work better: Steven Bartlett on leadership best practice

Written by Investors in People

Article Summary

The name Steven Bartlett will be familiar to anyone keen to succeed in business. He was just twenty-two when he set up his social media marketing agency, The Social Chain; five years later, it was valued at over £300 million. He’s the youngest ever ‘Dragon’ on BBC 1’s hit show, Dragon’s Den; his book Happy, Sexy Millionaire was a Sunday Times bestseller and his podcast, The Diary of CEO, in which he interviews some of the most successful people of our time, is listened to by millions.

He is clearly someone a lot of people want to hear from – and it’s why we’re delighted he’s going to be the keynote speaker at our first ever Make Work Better conference in September.

So, what are Steven’s views on leadership, how to create a great workplace culture and empowering employees? Read on to find out.


Make sure that everyone, particularly the potential apprentice, understands what’s involved.

The CEO should assemble the best top team they can and make sure they share the same vision for the company. Steven says when he starts a new business his process is always the same. “I employ the CEO, I create the culture and the vision and I try and get the values and the culture right so we can achieve the objective.” The leadership team is critical to the strength of that culture, he says, because leaders will hire people who embody the same values they do. “Culture is the thing that’s ultimately going to scale and it’s really hard to undo that when you’re at 100 or 200 people.”[1]


Values need to be meaningful to you and your organisation.

People are more likely to follow and believe in your values if they’re authentic. “Let your values guide you, not passing trends. The cultural landscape is constantly evolving, driven by new platforms, algorithm shifts and trends. You can’t let fads guide your decision-making. What’s important is that you stick to your values and be guided by data.”[2]


You want everyone to live your organisation’s values.

The best way to do this, Steven says, is to start at the recruitment phase, because people who naturally embody your values will fit in far more easily. “You should be able to say that is a Coca Cola person, that is a Gymshark person. It should be so unbelievably clear, even the vernacular, the way they speak, the way they conduct themselves, how nice they are to each other. There should be an element of them feeling like disciples of the company.”[3]

Do you always know best as a leader?

In an anticipated fireside chat, entrepreneur Steven Bartlett and Investors in People CEO Paul Devoy will delve into the future of HR to inspire leaders to become catalysts for change.


Roles should be designed to help the organisation achieve its objective.

In order to retain your skilled workforce, you also need to give thought to what will make a new role rewarding for the type of person you are trying to attract. “If my company was founded to create electric vehicles there’s a certain type of individual I’m going to try and hire. You then have to factor in what type of work would make that person most motivated, most effective and most happy at work. From my perspective these aren’t questions a CEO should hazard a guess at, they’re all engrained in the mission you’re trying to achieve in the world.”[4]


Leaders need to be open and transparent.

Ensure everyone understands your plan for growth or your reasoning for a difficult decision. “If you want people to come with you then explain why and, if it’s founded on good sense, then people are more likely to understand. Clarity and justification are how you inspire people.”[5]


Empower your employees to make decisions and bring about change within your organisation.

It’s important to not just ask staff for their views but to act on what they say. Here, Steve advocates using what’s known as the Kaizen methodology, a process of continually making small improvements which then have a big impact over time. It relies heavily on getting feedback from everyone in the organisation, from the CEO to the intern, and, crucially, the person giving the feedback also has to come up with and implement the change. What happens, he says, is that feedback becomes constructive, authentic and practical. “I think that’s really important. I think to avoid conflict you create those outlets. It’s all about empowerment.”[6]


Create a culture of learning.

Organisations need to be prepared for change and it was the pandemic which, according to Steven, showed all the CEOs he’s spoken to how important this was. Many companies already had the technology available to enable remote working, but it was only when we went into lockdown they realised how few of their staff knew how to use these platforms.  “If you want to stand your best possible chance of success as a business, you have to instil a culture of learning…The fact that we now live on the internet means that you have no choice.”[7]


Always be looking for ways to improve.

Steven says he is always guided by the principle, “how can I be 1% better today at the thing I’m doing?” When it came to the success of his podcast, he says he and his team “obsessively” studied the data and kept trying to make a 1% improvement every single day. “We knew then,” he says, “that we’d be number one based on our trajectory.”  Making tiny, incremental changes might seem unimportant, but he believes you can show their effects in one simple way: “go to Google and type ‘compounding interest calculator.’”[8]


Employee wellbeing is a business responsibility.

“Some organisations see work as getting the To Do list done – it’s transactional,” he says. “I think organisations that retain people the best, get the best out of their individuals, have the happiest individuals, provide much more than financial renumeration…they provide a supportive community.”[9] He explains that in one of his businesses they made the number of internal communities – book clubs or football teams for example – a Key Performance Indicator. They also had an opt-out system to mental health therapy, so that no one felt stigmatised for opting in. And everyone, including him, had to regularly see the therapist.  “Happier employees will work harder and serve our clients more,” he says. “And if they serve our clients more, our business will succeed.”[10]


Lead by example.

Inherent in all the examples above is Steven’s belief that leaders should lead by example. “You can’t tell anybody to work hard,” he says. “That doesn’t seem like a good approach to take. But [at Social Chain] there’s been a culture of trust and hard work and getting the work done. And that’s how Social Chain has always grown.”[11]

We can’t wait to hear more from Steven when he speaks at our Make Work Better conference on September 20, where he’ll be joined on the stage by our CEO, Paul Devoy. Together, they’ll delve into all the hot topics facing HR professionals right now, so sign up to bag your front row seat. We look forward to seeing you there. 

About Investors in People

Investors in People have been working with a huge range of big and small organisations from Public Sectors, SMEs, Charities, PLCs and anything in between for over 30 years. We have accredited more than 50,000 organisations and our  accreditation is recognised in 66 countries around the world, making it the global benchmark when it comes to people management. So we know we speak your language and can offer the specific kind of support and guidance your organisation needs.

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14th Nov 2023 | Old Billingsgate, London



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