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Recently, C7EVEN’s Co-founding Director Sara Crowe had the pleasure of sharing some of her journey so far, with an inspirational group of businesswomen from across the New England region at The Exchange event. During her time on stage she felt honoured to share how her life, study, career experiences and mentors have helped her to shape C7EVEN and the work we do to recruit and retain the incredible talent we are so lucky to have as part of the team.

Here is an extract of that presentation:

If someone told me ten years ago that I would be living and working in Tamworth let alone standing here speaking with you about my own business, I would have told them they were dreaming.

A destiny, many years in the making that starts with a young girl who grew up in the small town of Cooma NSW. Where only 7,999 other people lived. This girl was a hard-working entrepreneur from a very young age. As a 10-year-old she would rally the neighbourhood for regular games nights, that she hosted. At 12 she started a ‘hippy club’ that had a full membership prospectus and charged people to become members. At 15 she had three jobs, after school. Two days a week at the local chemist serving customers and developing photos. Four nights a week as a kitchen hand at a large motel that catered mostly to senior tours during the warmer months and international tourists during the ski season and on the weekends, as a waitress at a local café. At 17 she finished her last HSC exam and moved out of home to start work full-time saving to travel the world. By 19 she was backpacking around Europe with her best friend and by 21 she landed herself, a dream job working for the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet in Canberra.

You’ve no doubt guessed that this girl is me, and what I have realised now, is that people have been at the centre of all these experiences. Both the people I was with, and the people I was serving. And by far my time at PM&C was the most formidable and formative of these experiences.

The reason I say this, was because not only did I work on some of the nation’s most significant events and visits to Australia by the likes of Her Majesty the Queen, President Obama, and many many more, but because I experienced what ‘work’ was like when your colleagues and your superiors were friends and where work was a place I wanted to be and enjoyed spending time.

My boss at the time, Lindsay, was a man who I have such a great deal of respect for. He was a culture champion. He always had my back and he had a profound influence on my career. When I asked him, why me, his answer was because he liked me and thought we would work well together and because he could see my potential. That has stuck with me throughout my career and it is how I have treated recruitment ever sense because after working for him and in the teams he built, I have realised the value a good culture creates. And how an accountable and committed team, can achieve anything.

During my time at PM&C I learned a lot. I learned that building a culture of safety, where everyone felt safe to be themselves, to take risks, to critique, to question, to drive, to act, knowing there was a foundation of support behind them was key to success.
Being vulnerable with each other was also important. Lindsay created an environment where we could be vulnerable without reproach. Even though more often than not he was the most experienced, intelligent person in the room, he was never afraid to ask for help or to jump in and support one of us.

I recall during one event, things were not going as planned and he turned to me and said: “tell me what you need and I will help you.” That’s the moment when I knew that is the type of leader I wanted to be. Not the one to come in and take over because you’re the boss, not the one who takes all the credit but does no work, but the one who supports those doing the job they are there to do, the one who coaches, and guides and mentors but can also do the work if needed. So that’s what I set out to be.

Darcy Kelly

Sara Crowe at The Exchange event

When I think about C7EVEN and where we started back in 2015, and look at where we are now, the thing I’m most proud of is the culture we have built.

It’s hard to describe, but I did ask the team recently, what it is about C7EVEN they enjoyed the most, and the overwhelming response was “the team” and I cannot tell you how happy this makes me, not only as an employer but as a person. At C7EVEN we really are more than colleagues, we are friends, and we have each other’s back. We like each other, we respect each other and want to see each other succeed. There is trust there that has created a culture of security, safety, and vulnerability and what has guided us to this point in fact what underpins all of this is the seven core values upon which the agency was built. When Adam and I first set out to start C7EVEN we talked about our experiences, our connection to regional Australia me having been born and raised in Cooma and Adam with his family connection in Walcha and Gloucester, about our values as people and what we wanted our agency values to be.

And that’s when we came up with the seven values of connect, collaborate, create, challenge, courage, curiosity and captivate. Coincidentally they all started with the letter C and that’s where the name C7EVEN comes from. We use these values to guide behaviour in the agency, to reward staff, and to steer our client work. It is also a nice touch that in communications theory, there’s seven core pillars to effective communication and there’s research supporting the notion that consumers need to see or hear something seven times before they consider purchasing it as well.

Over the next couple of years, we employed our first team members and engaged contractors to help bolster our internal offering. This is when we identified the need to create some programs around recruitment and retention to ensure we were recruiting people who were a good fit for us, not necessarily the most experienced, or qualified, but the best fit.

I am big believer that everyone should have a mentor, or like me their own personal boardroom. A safe space where you can be challenged, when needed and cheered on too. When I receive advice, or face any challenges, I run through my personal board room because I trust their input, and their radical candour because I know it comes from a place of care even if the message is not what I want to hear.

So, using our collective experiences and Court’s research, we created a talent acquisition and retention strategy that incorporates a reward and recognition program, an always on recruitment program, and a professional development and growth program.
Our approach to recruitment or as we call it talent acquisition has changed somewhat over the past couple of years, so our strategy has served us well given the current climate where it’s become harder to attract talent. Our strategy focusses on growth, not just filling vacancies. To do this, we have an always on recruitment campaign running on digital and social media. We use our social media to showcase who we are as a team and the type of work we do, to attract inbound inquiries, and we invest heavily in a strong onboarding process. Which we know, because research tells us, that employees are 69% more likely to stay with a company longer if they experience a great onboarding.

On the retention side, we have a robust reward and recognition program that incorporates both formal and informal recognition. Our formal recognition includes celebrating service and personal milestones. Our annual C7EVEN Captivation awards where team members can nominate themselves or each other for an award under three categories with the winners receiving cash bonus. Informal recognition includes our weekly teams time shout outs, taking the team out to dinners, attending development conferences, and events.

Off the back of this initial work and our commitment to retaining our full team during Covid, despite seeing reduction in marketing budgets from our clients, we won our first award for agency of the year in 2020 by the Public Relations Institute of Australia.
Since then, we have continued to invest time and effort into honing these programs. I have gone back to uni and am now almost finished a post graduate degree in Psychology, with a view that this will help to me to be a better leader and round out my skills in team development and communication. Adam has participated in Australian Rural Leadership Program and The Executive Connection. We have engaged an external HR Consultant, and Court has almost completed her HR Diploma.

In late 2021, all this work, experience and knowledge building culminated in the launch of C7EVEN’s Culture and Care program. A bold and innovative program which rethinks the traditional approach to work and highlights the ways C7EVEN is committed to creating a safe, diverse, welcoming, and inclusive agency and how we are actively working to ensure that every employee can feel valued, respected, and heard. The program supports employee health and wellbeing, work/life balance and morale and is a key pillar of our Talent Acquisition and Retention Strategy.

At C7EVEN we see great value in investing heavily in team bonding and learning and development opportunities. Our monthly lunch and learns, personalised professional development plans, quarterly staff workshops, end of year retreats, have become enviable and the team looks forward to each connection opportunity. Under this program, employees also receive a paid leave day on their birthday and two additional paid days mental health leave. Doing all of this has certainly paid off for us in more ways than one. Firstly, being recognised as Business NSW Employer of Choice in 2022, is something that we are so very proud of, and something we want to retain for as long as we can.

But more importantly, we see how our work has paid off when we look at the team of incredibly talented, strong, and dedicated professionals we have across the country. All who have a great sense of pride and belonging, and who work hard, but celebrate and have fun along the way. As Steve Jobs once said: “the only way to do great work, is to love what you do,” and what Adam and I have created with C7EVEN is by far my greatest work and I can’t wait to see what the next seven years and beyond brings.

Sara Crowe

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