Moving away from traditional policy-driven HR initiatives and into developing frameworks that prioritise positive workplace culture while helping employees thrive is instrumental in retention and inclusion practices.
Owen Butler, Partner and HR Director at Blick Rothenberg, sat down with Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss how the firm retains top talent by keeping employee wellbeing and engagement at the forefront.
I am the partner and HR director of Blick Rothenberg. We have a long history and have been around since the end of the Second World War, so we have seen a lot of change as we’ve grown. I joined around fifteen months ago, so I’m relatively new here and a part of a new leadership team which is very exciting.
My working life began as a recruitment consultant, which I enjoyed parts of, but it wasn’t really for me. After four years of that, I decided I wanted to do something different, so I went and worked for the BBC for a year doing something completely different, which was a lot of fun. After that, I went into in-house recruitment at Deloitte for a brief period before spending seven years in a law firm, initially as a recruitment manager.
When the financial crisis hit, I broadened out and was lucky to have a great sponsor in my HR Director at the time, who put me through my CIPD and moved me into an HR manager role which led to a business partner role. I’ve done that for twelve years now in various organisations. I joined Blick Rothenberg because I wanted to be in a role where I was fully accountable for the people and culture agenda in a business.
I was very keen to take some of the things we got better at during the pandemic and implement them into normal working life, such as flexibility, inclusion and well-being, as well as redefining what our culture is as a bigger business. We were looking at how to take the best parts of the businesses we acquired before the pandemic and reinvent ourselves coming out of Covid.
We've moved away from policy-driven HR, where you have many rules to frameworks that give people more freedom to make their own decisions. This is about not basing your policies on the worst 5% of your people but having frameworks that allow your best people to flourish.
I'm a big believer that there are many ways to create culture. Many programmes can feel like a gimmick which I don’t like. For me, it’s about asking what our people need to feel included and what makes people thrive. We have great clients, but so do other businesses; what makes us different? Do we share good practices? In a business that has been grown quickly through acquisition, how do we take the things that work well in one part of the business and apply them elsewhere? We want to have a proper business partnering approach.
From an inclusion point of view, it’s about employee networks in part but inclusion has to be addressed through everything we do as a business. How do we promote the interests of the people within those networks, and become less corporate in our style and more collaborative, asking what people need rather than telling them? All employees have different priorities and experiences, and work shouldn't feel as hierarchical as it sometimes can — if we are grappling with something, we let our people know and find solutions together.
We are about to launch a new leadership advisory group that will take a more diverse group of people and have their perspectives in the mix as well as ours, asking their opinions on things that we are thinking of doing, before decisions are made. I don’t believe a handful of people at the top can decide what our organisation is going to be like and just expect that everyone experience that. Culture is owned by everyone who works here.
We definitely haven't cracked it yet. We are making progress, especially around diversity and inclusion, and appointed a Head of Diversity and Inclusion around eighteen months ago who has done amazing work working with employee networks and ensuring they reach a broader audience and refining their strategies for what they want to achieve. What we need is more people helping to drive that agenda forward.
We are running an inclusive leadership programme with our partners which launches this month, trying to raise awareness and urgency within leadership groups so that we start talking about this more. We need to stop thinking about diversity and inclusion as something on the side of the business, and start to see how it makes the business more sustainable and a better place for people to work.
I don’t think those things can be separated. The truth is that the economy has good and bad times, but in our sector our ability to grow the business has been more determined by our ability to keep and engage people than our ability to attract work (which we have always excelled at). We want to attract and retain the widest possible group of talent; that is what determines growth and success for us. How inclusive and diverse we are determines the talent we will retain, and that work is never finished — it’s ongoing.
It’s about distinguishing between learning and training. Learning for me is about changing behaviours, and that isn’t something training alone can often achieve. If you are trying to grow people, you must change that mindset around learning. Learning is continuous, and many people are involved in learning, not just the person delivering information to you. The responsibility of learning sits first and foremost with the individual, and the mindset that no matter what you achieve in your career, learning is never complete. It continues.