At The TOM Co, flexibility is for everyone, not just mums

By Stephanie Reuss

Brooke Franklin is General Manager of The TOM Co — and lives in coastal Victoria with her family, including her daughter and son. Sound like a progressive company? Wait til you hear about it…

Right now, Brooke is leading a huge growth strategy at TOM (the home of TOM Organic and tooshies by TOM) while maintaining the authenticity and passion that are core to the brand. Even better, she sees flexibility as a key way to deliver on that growth, by helping employees be their best at work and life.

The TOM Co has been a big supporter of Beam from the get-go, with three Beamers on staff supplying their team with part-time power.

Brooke, is it possible to achieve enormous growth and provide your team with a healthy, sustainable work environment?

Yes! We are seeing it play out with the happiest team I’ve seen. Our way of working is “perform at your best”. We support people to be at their best without the constraints of traditional work models.

Aimee and Brooke from The TOM CoTOM founder Aimee Marks and Brooke

How does this actually work though, when some people want part-time and some people want full-time?

Actually, our whole team wants the freedom to figure out their best work rhythm. We do have some wonderful managers in our leadership team who work part-time because they are parents — but we’ve consciously moved flexibility away from being a mum thing. This is a culture shift for everyone.

[Beam note: We LOVE this approach. It’s incredibly hard to introduce part-time roles in workplaces where there’s only flexibility for some, creating an us and them mentality. Flexibility absolutely should be for everyone.]

What are the keys to making this flexible approach work?

There are 3 things we’ve found to be pretty critical:

Flex work needs guidelines. Our core hours are from 10am to 3pm. These hours can be worked from anywhere, as long as it doesn’t disrupt your performance. Other hours (if you have them) can be done how it suits you best.

For me, I get up at 4am because I do my best deep work then — this means I can play with the kids before school and drop them off, and maybe even sneak in a quick gym session, before I start my team hours from 10.

Make flexibility available to everyone. As I mentioned, flexibility is an integral and important part of TOM. We make it a point to integrate goals and understand the whole person. What do they want to do with their time…Is it a yoga class mid-afternoon? Is it working from elsewhere? For instance, for one of our people, they do great deep work in cafes, where chatter is white noise that helps them really focus and work through problems.

Focus on performance. Be clear about business goals and realistic that we all need to work hard and stretch ourselves to get there. Have a real focus on outcomes. How does this play out? More conversations, more often. Setting goals for the short and longer term.

Measuring outcomes can be really hard though for a lot of roles! How do you do this?

Yep this is hard. We’ve approached it from a few angles, which are really helping:

Behaviour setting. We have worked hard to operationalise our values into behaviours — what does each behaviour look like? For instance, one of our values is to Forge Bravely. Behaviours look like: thinking innovatively, setting a fast pace, etc.

Being really specific about what outcomes look like. When do you want something and what does it look like? Eg. a report (looking like what, in what depth) or a meeting (what the format is, who’ll be there).

Set expectations of pace and performance for the business overall, and lead by example. Keep providing feedback to help people find the balance between detail and speed. Give a high level of accountability with clear mandates.

So would you say it’s all about trust then? Ie. assuming you can trust someone and only adapting flexibility (for example, working from anywhere) if people aren’t performing?

Yes, absolutely, but this is just the start.

The way we view success needs to change. We don’t reward long hours as success. And we need to role model that from the very top. Aimee our founder is the true north for TOM. She’s in the office every Tuesday, for the highest impact conversations we need to have with her. We get the best of her.

Do you have any tips for other leaders who want to role model and change their work culture?

I know I’m not going to be able to bring the creativity, ideas and motivation needed to reach our huge growth goals over the next five years without spending time with my family and at the gym, every day.

The only way I’ll get the very best of my team is if they each perform at their best — and that’s different for every person. We love TOM. This is the way work is meant to be.