Workplace Leaders
Jigsaw Homes
Operations Director of People

Michelle Grundy

In order to have an effective inclusion and belonging strategy, organisations must have several different strategies, because all employees are different and everyone is pressed for time. It can be hard to see the immediate impact of these strategies, but ultimately, everything adds up to make employees more comfortable to be themselves in their workplace, which leads to better work. 

Michelle Grundy, Operations Director of People at Jigsaw Homes, sat down with Co-host of The Interview Luke James to discuss her different initiatives, the importance of belonging, and her career to date. 

Michelle's Journey

Luke: Can we start with an introduction to your current role and organisation?

I work for Jigsaw Homes and I’m responsible for everything within the people function. Weirdly, that includes health and safety and facilities management. It’s a bit unusual, but now that I’m used to it, I love it. 

Luke: What did your career journey look like?

I have probably quite an unusual story; I have worked for the same company for over 21 years. I actually started as an apprentice within the business and then worked for the executive team before we even had a people function and only had 150 staff. We now have 1,400. So over the years, as the business grew, and I took more qualifications and moved into the HR field, whenever I was ready for the next step, the business was ready for me to move into it internally. We have had three mergers, so I have progressed through the HR team. It feels like I have worked for three different companies, even though it has only been one. 

Luke: When it comes to bringing different cultures together, you need to create a cohesive work environment. What do you think is the most important thing to get right?

If only I knew the answer to that one! It’s really difficult. People can perceive mergers in different ways. Our chief executive took up the lead role, so others thought that it was a genuine merger versus a takeover. You need to be empathetic towards how the other side will feel. 

I will speak honestly about what’s happening. There will be changes, new things will happen, it’s about forming something new. It doesn’t make it easy at the start, but it definitely helps to be honest. If people know the direction you’re heading in, then conversations are easier because people know I have acted as fairly as possible, whilst knowing that we are a business that needs to move forward. We treat people as individuals and bring them along with us. 

Luke: What are the main learnings you took leading your colleagues through Covid?

I do deal with health and safety. One thing we did that really stood out is our communication was the best it’s ever been. People would ask questions, and we answered them weekly. It really speaks to how important it is to get a message across to a wider organisation instantly. We have tried to carry this on since. 

Covid was a strange time and one of the hardest of my career, but you need to get your head down and keep going. An ongoing change is that we’re now more often sitting at home when we work, which would never have been possible before. Getting that balance right has brought massive engagement. 

Luke: You said your team was recognised in a few awards. It can be a struggle to get people together, working behind the scenes. When it comes to creating a sense of inclusion and belonging, how do you go about that?

Those two words were both in the people strategy we created about 18 months ago. I thought belonging was a strange word at the time. But it is hard for our business, where some colleagues work from home, some from the office, or some out in our homes, like our electricians. One of the things we have tried to concentrate on is that everyone is an individual, and everyone brings something to the table.

During Covid we adopted our equality policy, called Equality Street. We got involved with local initiatives, like cleaning money from a fountain in the central shopping mall. It was all about engaging with people. But we couldn’t do that during Covid, so we turned to ‘Time to Talk’ sessions, where people could share topics on certain experiences. It showed that there is more to people than just who they are at work. We have had people from all kinds of backgrounds and made it into an opportunity to connect. We are now trying to move to a hybrid of online talk sessions as well as in-person ones. 

Luke: Workers often struggle to find time to join in on sessions like these. How do you get everyone across an organisation involved in topics like these?

I’m not going to lie, it’s difficult. You can’t get everyone to come to everything. We encourage everyone who joins in on sessions to talk to others about what they’ve learned, so it has a bigger impact. I think you need lots of different kinds of sessions that allow many different people to engage. With senior management, we make it mandatory to attend two sessions of their choice every year. It is always eye-opening and results in positive conversations. Sometimes, mandatory requirements are useful. 

Luke: It can sometimes be difficult to draw the link between inclusion and belonging and the organisation’s higher-level commercial objectives. How do you do that?

Something that works well for us is our board. These topics are always high on the agenda for them, which has a top-down effect of prioritising it for everyone else. The other thing is sharing positive stories of what can be achieved from these things. The strongest story I have heard about it is we have an employee who came to us and said they had been diagnosed with HIV and had never told an employer about it because they never felt comfortable. But then after all the work we’d done, they felt about to come to us and take the support we could offer. I get emotional about it—for someone to say that all of our work cumulated to make them feel comfortable enough to do that is incredibly moving. 

Luke: What is your top piece of advice for someone looking to work on similar challenges to yourself?

I have always been inquisitive. I like learning new things. Working with our senior management team when I started gave me a wider view from the beginning, so being inquisitive is great. I also think that working hard and being passionate about what you do. Challenge things that you think need to be challenged if it’s important to you. 

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Luke James
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