Wonderful workplaces in planning: Optimis Consulting

Written by: Jennifer Jackson
Published on: 18 Sep 2018

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Matt Fraser, team manager - planning, at Penguin Recruitment, spoke to Justin Wickersham, managing director of Optimis Consulting, about what makes a wonderful workplace and top career tips for planning professionals.


Optimis won the RTPI award for planning excellence in 2017, what are the key attributes of a top planning consultancy, in your opinion?  

One of the most important aspects of any planning consultancy to be successful is to create a strong and enthusiastic team. At Optimis we believe that people with charisma and an open mind make the best planners, and as such we aim to nurture these interests. Through this we have a dynamic, enthusiastic and multi-disciplinary team who are skilled in a whole range of planning matters, providing both an engaging work environment and a positive client experience. 

"We want to create a company that employees are proud to be part of and others proud to be associated with." 

Employer branding and culture has been a hot topic for some time, when did you start thinking about it and why is it important?

From the beginning!  It has been important for us to stay true to our vision and values and we have created a company culture that we are proud to be part of.  Branding also plays a key role and it is continually being developed as the company grows, whether it is promoting our business by supporting our local community or entering awards. We want to create a company that employees are proud to be part of and others proud to be associated with.  

How do you communicate your company culture to current and future employees?

We have recently created an employee benefits brochure, which details all the perks that employees are entitled to, socially, professionally and health-related. We also interview potential employees multiple times and organise a social with them so they can meet the team prior to starting work.

What makes a wonderful workplace in your eyes and what are you doing at Optimis to create this?

We believe that having fun is important for any workplace. We organise and fund a number of social days and activities throughout the year, as well as regular celebrations in the office for professional achievements. We hope that this will incentivise our employees to progress in their projects and careers. It is also important that a growing team is able to spend time together socially to strengthen their working relationships. We also offer flexible working to allow the team to manage work and social commitments.  


What kind of people make a great fit in your organisation?

We look for individuals who are charismatic, passionate and enthusiastic about the industry and our company values. They do not have to have a planning-related degree, but must want to learn about planning, and have the drive to do this, to add value to the business, and become successful within the industry.  

How can planning candidates identify if a company's culture will suit them?

A recruitment agency, like Penguin, is a fantastic source of information about a company’s values and ethos. We also recommend looking at the company’s website, social media and blog posts.  Finally, the interview process shouldn’t just work one way, it is an opportunity for the interviewee to ask questions – I am always pleased when potential candidates ask me lots of questions as it demonstrates their enthusiasm and passion for the role.

"All staff at Optimis are encouraged to pursue their own professional interests, meaning that many of our employees have particular subjects that they are particularly skilled in." 

How do you develop your staff?

All staff at Optimis are encouraged to pursue their own professional interests, meaning that many of our employees have particular subjects that they are particularly skilled in. This includes CPD and other relevant training as well as hand picked projects to gain experience. We also provide funding towards external courses. We have recently become an RTPI Learning Partner and are committed to developing staff at all levels.

What do you think are the key challenges facing planning consultancies?

An ever changing planning system can bring opportunity but also resistance from local planning authorities. It is now more difficult to build relationships with officers at councils who are increasingly under pressure from workload and shifting planning policy. Managing the expectations of clients is more difficult when set against this background. 

What would your advice be to someone starting out?

  • Take notes and read, listen, and learn: This will enable you to look back when you have a similar example in the future, and allow you to further your knowledge. 
  • Be organised: It is common practice to be working on a number of projects at a given time, so it is vital to keep your workload in order.
  • Establish and maintain good relationships: Both within your organisation and externally. 
  • Get involved with different projects: This demonstrates your willingness to learn, progress and become a rounded planner. Planning is inherently diverse and wide-ranging, so it is useful to gain an insight into as many aspects as possible. 
  • Be prepared to make mistakes: And be better prepared to resolve them.

In what ways does Optimis help foster employee wellbeing and work/life balance?

Optimis is a keen advocate of the work/life balance. We offer a number of benefits to encourage and support personal wellbeing and healthy lifestyles, such as office physiotherapy sessions, gym discounts, regular office walks and generous leave benefits including some paid holiday to undertake charity volunteering. Employees are encouraged to take part in team building activities, social days and we often have staff lunches and champagne celebrations, all of which the company funds. We also have an early Friday finish to take some time relaxing together in the pub, whilst celebrating those who strive for success through a regular financial bonus scheme. 


What are your top 10 career tips for planning professionals?

  1. Adaptability and flexibility: Planning is a constantly evolving profession, so it is crucial you are up to date
  2. Manage your time efficiently and effectively 
  3. Honesty: It is paramount that you act with the client’s best interest in mind. Act ethically, with integrity, and adhere to the RTPI code of conduct
  4. Establish and maintain good relationships 
  5. Maintain good working habits
  6. Do not be afraid to voice your opinion or ask questions. Your involvement in a project as a planner is to advise and justify
  7. Be a team player: Share ideas and creative thinking whilst learning from each other
  8. Planning offers diversity: Embrace this diversity and use opportunities to explore and be exposed to different sectors or parts of planning that will broaden your knowledge to become a rounded planner
  9. Understand the different needs that require balancing 
  10. Most of all, enjoy working and come to work because you want to! 

Explore the latest planning jobs from Penguin Recruitment

Planning Jobs is running an initiative called 'Wonderful Workplaces' to get planning consultancies and local authorities enthused about showcasing their employer brand. For more information please email russ.joy@haymarket.com / wonderfulworkplaces@haymarket.com and visit the website: www.wonderfulworkplaces.co.uk