During COVID, practically all of us were isolated, working separately from our homes. One of the main lessons that came from that is how important it was at that time for people to find a connection with their co-workers, as well as to feel as if the company was truly hearing them.
Co-Host of The Interview, Luke James, spoke to Pauline Hogg, Human Resources (HR) Director at Arla Foods, about how their organisation handled the challenges of the pandemic. Specifically, they discussed how democratising their people agenda encouraged people to directly engage with one another during that difficult time and how that continues to manifest in the business today.
I’ve worked in the food retail industry for my entire career, starting as a graduate at Sainsbury’s, cutting my teeth on the shop floor. That’s where I learned about supply and demand and how to deal with people, including customers and employees. From general management, I then went on to Human Resources (HR) in stores before leaving to join Carlsberg for three years. I have spent the majority of my career to date at Unilever, a fantastic organisation where I was able to work in several different guises in various local, European and global roles. That eventually brought me to Arla, where I’ve been since 2016.
The food industry has always been around, making quality products and selling them through retailers, and those fundamentals haven’t changed. And people haven’t changed. However, some of the roles are certainly very different from what they were in the past due to things such as the explosion of e-commerce. We have roles that we would never have invented five years ago. Much of the science behind it now looks at automation and digitalisation, and how you organise around efficiencies. Businesses have consolidated activities, outsourced, and insourced, but fundamentally, people are people, and their underpinning needs around great leadership never go away.
Fortunately, well before the pandemic, we’d started on a culture of inclusion and co-invention, which centred on democratising our people agenda. We wanted to involve our people in helping co-create it and feel part of it. Initially, we created a Learning Week. We put together a syllabus and asked our people to come in and host hour-long sessions which could be on their part of the business, an interest of theirs, their careers to date, etc. It was a ‘for-colleagues, by-colleagues’ concept. We honed in on learning what people wanted to do and also used it as a way to engage and develop them. Now, we’ve used that model for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), health, and well-being right through the pandemic, so we have a lot of people who now just come forward to get involved. We have a Learning Week annually now, as well as a weekly session on Teams called “Wednesdays@1”. We have people talk about nutrition, their health and well-being journey, sustainability networks, etc.
When the pandemic hit, we created our Health and Well-Being Framework, which included “#Movestronger, #Eatstronger, #Feelstronger and #Workstronger”. To do that, we needed to keep people buoyant. We enlisted a network of well-being champions on all of our sites and gave them a framework as well as the licence to operate. They’ve created a “well-being room” on every one of our sites. They can decorate it and put all of the resources there, so people can go there to have some downtime and support. That then inspired some sites to create well-being gardens. Getting people on board has been our secret sauce. Democratising a lot of our initiatives, and people have come forwards on many topics.
There’s always a core of people who want to step forward and get involved, so you’ve got to capitalise on that. The secret then is, who are the people after that? So one of the big things we did during the pandemic was leverage our ‘Change Leaders Forum’. This is a group of about 80 mid-to-senior leaders — including sustainability people, site directors — who can see up to the leadership team but also have the full view right through to people on the frontline. Their role is to act as amplifiers, to bring and initiate change.
We used to do things face-to-face before the pandemic. During lockdown, of course, we had to move to virtual. What we were nervous about was that, separated into online teams, people would stop behaving as a cross-functional ecosystem. So we made a concerted effort to mix leaders up and encourage them to share knowledge with each other. This also really helped us in integrating new staff into the organisation. We also set up an internal social media platform, and that’s been a real success. The leaders went first and put themselves out there, doing little videos and reinforcing the behaviour. That’s given other people the licence to put their own videos there. We’re now at a point where in the fourth quarter of last year, we had 172,000 interactions from an employee base of 4,000. So lots of small things have added up to being a success.
Put a value on it, and make it personal. It’s amazing what people know and want to share, and if you appeal to their sense of pride, ego, knowledge, and expertise and you value that, they will come forwards.