How Bernard Powell Made Premier Group the Best Place to Work in NZ


“Everyone’s ultimate goal in life is to be happier.” 

You can ask anyone what their goal is. It could be to lose weight, to make more money, to have another child, but the underlining point to all of the above… to be happier.

Premier Group International founder and ambassador, Bernard Powell, is dedicated to making sure everyone who works with him is on the right path to achieving that ultimate goal.

Overall Winner at the IBM Kenexa Best Workplaces Awards, Premier Group places a high importance on workplace culture. “We are a ‘culture first’ company,” says Bernard. “You know if everyone’s goal in life is to be happier then why don’t we make it (Premier Group) the happiest place to work and play?”

When people are happier in their jobs, not only does their mental state improve, but they become more creative and productive in the workplace – it’s a win-win situation.

Work is life – that is reality
Integrating work and life to Bernard means celebrating every aspect of his co-workers’ existence. Their website is a collaboration of achievements from their work and personal life.

“Everyone talks about work/life separation and balance. Well work is life – people need to get that, so at Premier we talk about work/life integration.”

With knowledge comes understanding so knowing more about someone’s life and their individuality is going to make creating good relationships a lot easier. “We share lots about our culture and who we are as people,” says Bernard, and one look at their website proves just how valued each individual at Premier is.

Celebrating creativity 
What better way to express your individuality than decorating your workspace in whatever way your heart desires – nothing is off limits.

The thought of painting a $25,000 forklift bright pink would make most grown men cry, but when a team member decided he wanted to do just that, there was no objection.

“There’s a $25,000 forklift painted pink, do we care? No, if it makes them happy, sweet as,” laughs Bernard.

Personalising your workspace, in his eyes, gives people a sense of ownership and now one team member is the proud owner of a $25,000 pink panther.

“We encourage everyone to take ownership and act like owners or act like shareholders and we treat them like they are. They don’t need to ask permission to decorate their space, if their team is happy we are happy.”

No secrets here 
If co-workers are going to be treated like owners then they need to know the ins and outs of the business. There are absolutely no secrets within Premier Group.

“We share all of our financial information; there are no secrets, everyone understands the vision and the values,” says Bernard.

Every team member at Premier not only knows all 10 of the core values, but they directly align themselves with them.

Bernard explains even when it comes to hiring someone, there isn’t just one person at Premier Group who takes ownership of the process. It’s the co-workers who get the final say “after all they are the ones working with them”.

To ensure their workplace culture is upheld, even if someone has all the skills needed for the job, if they don’t align with Premier’s core values, they will not make the cut and they are very strict on that; to create the perfect workspace though you have to be.

The mission
“Science has proven that the longest lasting form of happiness is to be connected to something bigger than yourself.”

Bernard refers to John F Kennedy’s simple statement but huge vision of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. “It was a simple statement but a really really exciting vision.”

To Bernard that means there has to be an ultimate goal and that goal has to be exciting. “You have to paint a picture that everyone can visualize and get excited about, it’s all about connecting everyone with a higher purpose.”

He says if people have a purpose they come to work with a smile, the workplace will be full of laughter and fun and they’ll hopefully take that home with them to their children, their husbands or their wives and it makes the world a better place to live.

Every success along the path of reaching that higher purpose is acknowledged and rewarded.

Every three months they get together for a team barbecue, to Bernard this is crucial. It keeps everyone connected and the red carpet is literally rolled out for those who do well.

“We hang medals around their necks we give away awards like the ‘Raving Fan Award’ and the ‘Delivering Happiness Award’.

It’s a huge deal to get those awards in front of 50 of your team mates who are cheering and clapping for you, we really celebrate and recognise those achievements.”




Making that change
There wasn’t a single “eureka moment” to create a better working culture within Premier and it certainly didn’t happen overnight.

Bernard always knew that as a growing company to be successful and sustainable it needed to be a happy place to work.

Staff are the biggest asset to any workplace and they will be the difference between success and failure, keeping them happy is paramount.

“We came up with some suggestions initially with how to make the workplace happier and we just let the team go from there.”

There is a lot of communication among the group and any crazy new ideas are encouraged rather than shunned.

Communication is key to keeping the culture alive across the board. Bernard says if a department has only two people in it they will still have a meeting every morning to discuss their goals and purpose.

Another step in the right direction was to change the “hierarchy chart to a more circular chart”. Premier doesn’t have the “boss and servant” culture that is prevalent in a lot of workplaces and actively work against it, “we are passionate about destroying that hierarchy because it’s demeaning”.

If staff are to be treated like owners and shareholders it is important they act like that’s what they are.

One change Bernard has noticed with the overhaul in hierarchy is that if someone does something damaging towards the company, it’s not just the managers who will set them straight, but all of their team mates as well.

Everyone at Premier holds a real sense of pride towards their company and they strive to make it better because their company is striving to make them better as people – it’s true you get what you give.

The customers 
With a large emphasis on having fun in the work place and creating a space that reflects your characteristics it’s possible for people looking in, including clients, to assume you’re all fun and no work.

You do run the risk of not being taken seriously. Evidently this was a concern for Bernard – his concerns however, were unnecessary.

“Everybody is human, we put the focus on actually humanising our business, we believe it’s important in today’s world because at the end of the day people do business with people.”

Bernard understands it was a big risk and he feared they would come across as “idiots”, but the result has proven to be the complete opposite.

Rather than turning customers away it has actually got them more engaged into sharing Premier’s mission, so much so, they want to duplicate Premier’s culture throughout their own workplace.

Premier Group, because of this, has begun offering culture tours to suppliers and customers. They want to spread the knowledge and in time hope that most of New Zealand will understand the importance of workplace culture, making it a happier country to live in. “Well that would be the ultimate goal anyway,” says Bernard.

The best place to work
Last year 210 organisations from private and public sectors surveyed their employees on various aspects of the workplace from leadership to well-being and enablement.

The organisations were then ranked based on the scores and the leaders were later interviewed before deciding on a winner, Premier Group International was a cut above the rest.

At the beginning of the year Bernard and his team set what they like to call ‘BHAGS’ – “big hairy audacious goals” everyone takes pride in achieving.

One of their BHAGS for 2016 was “do something radical and drastic and become the most sought after company in New Zealand to join” says Bernard.

“After some googleing we actually saw that the Kenexa challenge had been running for the last 17 years, I don’t know how we missed it for so long, we must have been living under a rock or something.

“We knew we had something pretty special in terms of our culture and a happy, engaged and empowered workforce, but we didn’t expect to take out the top spot first time around.”

With their mission statement being ‘deliver happiness, create raving fans, and beautify our world’ it’s obvious that Premier is out to make a difference.

By providing culture tours to other businesses Bernard’s passion and vision for making New Zealand the best place to be is slowly becoming a reality. His previous goal of Premier becoming the most sought after place to work will never change, but if he wishes to take out the award next year, Bernard knows he will have to step up his game.

“We are going to have to lift the bar again because everyone is going to be chasing our tails now and because we give away these culture tours everyone is getting an insight into how we do what we do.”

But he is far from complaining, in fact, he thinks it’s a pretty good problem to have.


By Natalia Rietveld 

Author: magazinestoday

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