High-trust culture in action: lessons from Bellroy

Samantha Huddle

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Samantha Huddle

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Bellroy’s product launch could not have been more poorly timed.

The Melbourne-based wallets and handbags designer had prepared an entirely new range of cabin bags, luggage and travel accessories planned for launch in April 2020, just as the COVID pandemic was grounding airlines and closing borders.

But it is in times of crisis that values come to the fore, and Bellroy, ranked the number one small company on Australia’s Best Workplaces™ 2021, leant into its hard-won high-trust culture to find a way through.

“We make products that help people move around the world. COVID was a direct headwind. It was brutal,” Bellroy CEO Andy Fallshaw tells the fourth and final Great Place to Work® CEO Masterclass.

But it was also a great test of values.

“We saw many competitors stand staff down. We saw many panic, batten down the hatches and put people on the unemployment heap.

“We didn’t want to do that.

“One of the things we’ve always done is value the resilient business and organisation.

“So, we decided to keep the team together and trust their ability to innovate our way out of it.”

The result was a rapid pivot to accessories and technology to support remote working and working from home.

“Sure enough, quickly we found the green shoots, we moved resources, we updated plans.

“We backed them, and our staff have done just a remarkable job of bringing us back into growth,” he says.

Fallshaw says Bellroy uses a metaphor of choosing between the elevator and the staircase to success: the elevator is quicker but someone else is in control.

“We try to take the stairs,” he says. “As you take the stairs, you’re building muscle, you’re able to go up or down a few stairs at a time. You’re more in control of it.”

Lina Calabria, Bellroy’s chief operating officer, says the culture of trusting in staff is embedded into the day-to-day decisions of the organisation.

“We like to say that the Bellroy culture is full of smart people with good intentions who get shit done,” she says.

“When you know that they’re the people that you’re working with, and you know that that’s what we’re recruiting for, it’s the beginning of being able to feel comfortable that you can trust each other to have at least those things.

“We think a lot about decision-making proxies”

“Who could you trust to make a decision for you?”

“We say to our managers, rather than you having to make every decision could you think about the three people who could align together to make this decision for you and then you don’t have to be involved in it?”

This kind of high trust culture relies on an acceptance that mistakes are made and a commitment not to blame. In fact, 100% of Bellroy staff surveyed by Great Place to Work agreed that Bellroy’s management accepts mistakes are simply a part of doing business.

“There’s a real difference between whether a decision was the right decision or not given the information we had and whether a person did the wrong thing,” says Calabria.

“Whether a person did the right thing or not is never the question — what was the information we had at hand? How did we convert that information to a decision? And what could we have done differently next time?

Calabria says the high trust culture is also coming to the fore as the company deals with the global supply chain challenges and shortages.

“This is another gift that COVID has given many businesses around the world,” she says.

“What we’re seeing in supply chains is that materials are difficult to source, freight is difficult to procure and organise and we’ve all seen lots of images of ships waiting out at sea to dock and unload.

“This creates tension for a company like Bellroy who is sourcing materials, producing products and then trying to get them to customers.

“Some of our products are air freightable and some are sea freightable.

“Sea freight is slow and challenging … but you can get some air freight pockets.

“So, for us what that means is bringing our teams together and saying ‘how do we pivot our campaigns so that we’re bringing in the products that are light enough go on air freight?

“We have teams of people, and they are always thinking about the ways that we could respond to a particular situation

“We are both forever grateful for their brilliant ideas.”

 

 

This was the last of our 2021 CEO Masterclass Series. The four 20-minute sessions hosted by Sean Aylmer, one of Australia’s most experienced and respected journalists, interviewed CEOs from the companies that ranked #1 in the Best Workplace™ Australia 2021 Lists in the large, medium, small and micro company categories. These companies truly made it their mission to foster a Purpose Driven, People First approach to workplace culture.

The Masterclasses are available to watch free online. Click here to watch the recordings and read our event Blogs.

Samantha Huddle

Samantha Huddle is the General Manager of Great Place To Work® in Australia and NZ. Sam has more than two decades of experience from the grassroots to the C-suite and helps businesses build high-trust, inclusive cultures that deliver tangible results. With experience across the government, philanthropic and corporate sectors, Sam brings a collaborative, values-driven approach and a passion for achieving social impact through business. 

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Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Australia 2024 Evaluation Methodology

Great Place To Work determines the list using our proprietary For All methodology. To determine the Best Workplaces in Technology list, Great Place To Work analyses the survey responses of tens of thousands of employees from Great Place To Work Certified™ companies in the technology industry.

Our survey enables employees to share confidential quantitative and qualitative feedback about their organization’s culture by responding to 60 statements on a 5-point scale and answering two open-ended questions. Collectively, these statements describe a great employee experience, defined by high levels of trust, respect, credibility, fairness, pride, and camaraderie. In addition, companies provide organizational data like size, location, industry, demographics, roles, and levels. Great Place To Work measures the differences in survey responses across demographic groups and roles within each organization to assess both the quality and consistency of the employee experience.

Statements are weighted according to their relevance in describing the most important aspects of an equitable workplace. Survey data analysis and company-provided datapoints are then factored into a combined score to compare and rank the companies that create the most consistently positive experience for all employees in this industry.

To be considered for the list, companies must be Great Place To Work Certified™ and nominate as a company in the technology industry.

We require statistically significant survey results, review anomalies in responses, news, and financial performance, and investigate any employee reports of company incompliance with strict surveying rules to validate the integrity of the results and findings. 

Categories

These organisations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Micro 10-29 Employees
  • Small 30-99 Employees
  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Australia 2023 Evaluation Methodology

Great Place To Work determines the list using our proprietary For All methodology. To determine the Best Workplaces in Technology list, Great Place To Work analyses the survey responses of tens of thousands of employees from Great Place To Work Certified™ companies in the technology industry.

Our survey enables employees to share confidential quantitative and qualitative feedback about their organization’s culture by responding to 60 statements on a 5-point scale and answering two open-ended questions. Collectively, these statements describe a great employee experience, defined by high levels of trust, respect, credibility, fairness, pride, and camaraderie. In addition, companies provide organizational data like size, location, industry, demographics, roles, and levels. Great Place To Work measures the differences in survey responses across demographic groups and roles within each organization to assess both the quality and consistency of the employee experience.

Statements are weighted according to their relevance in describing the most important aspects of an equitable workplace. Survey data analysis and company-provided datapoints are then factored into a combined score to compare and rank the companies that create the most consistently positive experience for all employees in this industry.

To be considered for the list, companies must be Great Place To Work Certified™ and nominate as a company in the technology industry.

We require statistically significant survey results, review anomalies in responses, news, and financial performance, and investigate any employee reports of company incompliance with strict surveying rules to validate the integrity of the results and findings. 

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces for Women™ List Methodology

The Best Workplaces for Women™list is determined using Great Place To Work’sFor All™methodology to evaluate hundreds of Certified™Great Place To Work®organisations across Australia.   

Data is based on over 40,000 employee survey responses from women in Great Place To Work® Certified™ organisations across Australia. 

The survey 

The survey enables employees to share confidential quantitative and qualitative feedback about their organisation’s culture by responding to 60 statements on a 5-point scale and answering two open-ended questions. 

Collectively, these statements describe a great employee experience, defined by high levels of trust, respect, credibility, fairness, pride, and camaraderie. In addition, companies provide organisational data like size, location, industry, and the number of women in the workforce and management positions. 

Considerations 

Great Place To Work analysed the gender balance of each workplace, how it compares to each company’s industry, and patterns in representation as women rise from front-line positions to executive/C-suite roles. 
Survey data analysis and women’s representation figures are then factored into a combined score to compare and rank the companies that create the most consistently positive experience and opportunities for all women, regardless of their role or demographic background.   

Eligibility   

To be considered for the list, companies must be Great Place To Work Certified™. Companies must also employ at least 50 women. We require statistically significant survey results, review anomalies in responses, and investigate any employee reports of company in compliance with strict surveying rules to validate the integrity of the results and findings. 

Please note this list is NOT ranked. 

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Australia 2023 Evaluation Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Best Workplaces™ Australia 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of almost 50,000 employees across Australia.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organisation creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organisation, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyse these experiences relative to each organisation’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organisation to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

 

Categories

These organisations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

For larger organisations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organisations to share with us their practices, policies and programs to creating a great workplace For All™ and evaluating the approach they take.

Why do you say in one place your national list scoring is based on 85%/15% and in another place that it is 75%/25%?

We are explaining two different things:

1.  The criteria we evaluate

2.  Where the data comes from