RedBalloon founder Naomi Simson says the experience of firing one of the company’s first employees transformed it from a “mum and dad shop” to the business it is today.
Speaking at Commonwealth Bank’s Wired for Wonder event in Sydney, Simson recalled RedBalloon’s early rounds of recruiting: a manager from Western Australia, and later, the manager’s friends.
“The first 5 years at RedBalloon did not go that well,” Simson said. “[The first recruit] was from Western Australia and before you know it she had 7 Western Australian mates working there and we’re all working really hard and loving what we’re doing because we’ve got a clear sense of purpose.
“7, all chaos, doing whatever they were doing. But the 7th one who arrived was not living our values, not playing the game that we set out that needed to be played.
“If there’s one thing I knew about my job as the leader, is that it was about vision, values and alignment. So when somebody’s not living your values, you’ve got to have a conversation.”
After several such talks, Simson decided to fire the employee, who responded: “You can’t fire me. Everyone likes me, and if I go, I’ll take everyone with me.”
After that showdown, Simson found herself alone with her dog in the office, while her 7 staff went to lunch.
RedBalloon was operating out of Simson’s home in Balmain at the time.
“It was all very confronting, especially when [one staff member] had left her mobile phone on and I could hear some of the conversation,” Simson said.
“The next day, 6 came back and 1 didn’t. And in that moment, we switched from chaos to: ‘This is what we’ve said, and this is how it’s going to be. We’re no longer a mum-and-dad shop’.”
Simson boasted that RedBalloon gone from a 64% staff turnover rate to being on BRW’s Best Places To Work list for the past five years.
She credited the company’s employee experience manager Megan Bromley for delivering the details that helped turn RedBalloon’s culture around.
The company now has 60 employees and operates from an office in Pyrmont.
“It takes something for a leader to look in a mirror and say, ‘What are our non-strengths as well as our strengths’, and then find the people to do that,” Simson said.
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