A culture which embraces diversity and inclusion doesn’t simply appear by chance: instead, it requires a determined effort from people at all levels of an organisation. This understanding is at the heart of the work done by Hannah Cooper, Group HR Director of Leaders Romans Group, one of the UK’s leading property services groups.
In today’s edition of The Interview, Hannah sat down with Co-Host Max Webber to discuss her career path so far, the relationship between workplace culture and commercial success, and the importance of leading by example.
I’m the Group HR Director for the Leaders Romans Group. We are a property services business which operates in sectors under the property umbrella: from estate agents and mortgage advisors to surveyors and planners, we do a little bit of everything. My remit covers the core HR functions as well as training, recruitment, culture, wellbeing, and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance).
When I was at school, I always wanted to be a teacher. But when I went to try some work experience, I realised it wasn’t for me. My first introduction to HR was while I was working a couple of summer jobs, and it seemed like a good fit for me. So, I went away to university to study for a degree in Business and HR. From there, I took my first HR job working for a biotechnology company whilst studying for my postgraduate degree in HR. After that, I took up a position at Leaders as an HR Advisor, working my way up until I became HR Manager, until I was appointed HR Director in 2019. I’d just turned 31 at the time, which was quite a young age to take on a role managing 2,000 people. It was great to showcase to people joining our firm that there are opportunities to progress at LRG.
There’s always a lot going on! We’ve just completed our annual engagement survey, and we’re now reviewing the results. That will steer our approach for the next twelve months, and we’re sharing the results and our progress with the staff. We’re also doing some work around the gender pay gap, finding areas that need improvement and identifying barriers to progress. We’re pairing that with a program supporting women in business, holding breakfast round tables and setting up a mentoring program to encourage women to apply for senior roles. We’ve also launched a new fertility benefit & policy based on staff feedback, and the reception has been incredible. People are always glad to have those policies in place, even if they aren’t planning to use them personally.
As well as promoting Women in Business, we’re also looking at supporting people from different religious backgrounds. In the UK, our bank holidays have traditionally favoured certain religions, but we need to understand that not all our people celebrate Christmas or Easter. So when a holiday like Eid comes around, we make sure to recognise it. It’s important to be conscious that people have different beliefs and to be mindful of those differences. So, we hold a lot of awareness days, which are both educational and drive engagement. Whenever an event comes up on the calendar, we encourage our branches to mark it: for example, many of our branches celebrate Pride. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re still aware that there is more we can do.
For me, it’s about two things: being authentic, and spending time with your people. Every month, our executive team goes out into the branches. For every branch, we do something different, whether it’s a viewing or an informal chat. It’s important for leaders to get out there and get involved with the day-to-day reality of the business. As a people leader, it’s necessary to show your true self, and remember that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s also crucial to get to know your people and spend time with them. Above all, if you invest your time in someone, they will know that you truly care.
Fundamentally, our business is about people. We don’t sell a product. We’re in the service sector, and you can only deliver high-quality services if you have the right people. So it’s vital that we put people at the forefront of our culture. To support that, we need to give our employees a voice: so we’ve set up an employee feedback group which helps us keep our finger on the pulse. We also try to make sure our senior management team is approachable so that we are always open to feedback. By developing that people-focused internal culture, that will also extend to the way we operate externally. If we treat our people well, then they will pay it forward to our customers in turn.
I think the key is having a strong senior management team. If your leadership group works well together, then it creates a positive example which feeds all the way down the line.
You need to lead from the top. For example, whenever we introduce new training, our CEO always makes sure to do it straight away. That sets an example which encourages others to follow. You also need to make sure to pick people up when they stumble. Sometimes, you need to call things out, but if you respect each other, then it be a learning moment. Our values are passion, respect, bravery, and integrity: our staff created those values, and those four things underpin every aspect of our culture.
Early in my career, someone told me “Your team should always be better than you.” I didn’t really understand it at first, but I soon learned the value of those words. I have an amazing team around me, and they are all brilliant at what they do: by trusting in their abilities, I can deliver a better strategy for the business.