Workplace Leaders

Rhys Harris

Over the course of recent years, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, people’s relationship with and expectation from work has dramatically shifted. In order to keep up with the needs of workers today, employers have to be aware of this. They have to understand their people and their motivations in order to provide them with the best support. This, in turn, makes them more likely to remain engaged rather than seek opportunities elsewhere. 

GoodCourse spoke to Rhys Harris, Director/Head at Anderselite, about the best ways to keep your staff feeling happy and fulfilled at work, in order to both retain people and get the best performances out of them.

Rhys’s Journey

GoodCourse: What was the journey that brought you to your current role?

I think a lot of people fall into recruitment, and I’m no different. After graduating from university with a degree in business administration I joined a graduate training scheme with a company called Brown Brothers, an automotive spares distribution company. I really wanted to get into sales, so I moved to London with them and became a regional sales manager in Harrow. I didn’t really enjoy the field sales arena and didn’t see much future or progression for me in that company. I didn’t know what to do and when discussing this quandary and friend said, “Why don’t you go into recruitment? You like talking a lot, and you like selling.” Weirdly, it felt like a sign. That very week, there was an advert in the London Evening Standard for an open day at Hays Montrose in Harrow! Everything aligned. I went through quite a long interview process and five interviews later, I got the job as a trainee recruitment consultant.

I stayed there for a few years and then moved back to my roots in Manchester in 2000, still working for Hays. I worked my way up to being a northern regional manager and then decided to spread my wings and experience a different company in 2006. I moved to a recruitment agency called Beresford Blake Thomas, starting as a Northern Regional Director. They were then bought out by Randstad. I left there in 2008 and joined Adecco Group, where I moved into managed service provision work, but stayed within engineering. I eventually moved internally into their engineering brand called Roevin and headed up their managed solutions within aerospace and engineering. Seven years ago, I leapfrogged into Morson, and then two and a half years ago, I took over the leadership of Anderselite, which Morson acquired in 2019.

GoodCourse: What sort of traits, habits, and behaviours do the best people leaders exhibit?

Positivity is key. Never give up in the low periods. You have to accept your defeats, analyse what happened and improve next time around. Experience is something that cannot be underestimated – the best leaders analyse their failures and build up their defences for the next time. Great leaders accept the defeats, dust themselves down, and crack on. It’s also about acknowledging that attitude trumps aptitude and, if you’re willing to put the mileage in and work hard, you’ll get what you want. And I think that’s linked to focus. You need to be focused on your objectives and goals, or it can be difficult to channel your energy in the right place and create a vision for a business that is relevant for clients and employees alike - this is critical to building business and also creating and nurturing a culture that staff truly like and enjoy being a part of. Great leaders inspire their direct reports with how they act. Demonstrating care, commitment, and interest to someone’s role in the company is worth so much and it can be the catalyst for change in performance in an individual, a team or a company. 

GoodCourse: How do you create a sense of belonging and inclusion for your people?

People need to feel supported, included, and connected, so you need to keep that at the centre of what you’re doing. How? Make sure there’s an open communication network within your business, ensuring people can communicate and be heard at all levels of the company about what they want and what their expectations are of an employer along with the expectations of the business. Do they align? They need to where possible! Employee expectations can be significantly different, depending on the generation they have lived in, so awareness of that should be considered. What motivates me at my age and phase of my life probably doesn't motivate a 21-year-old coming into the industry looking for a career and effectively a life plan. They’re extremely different outlooks. Social engagement and how people view their work-life balance seems to have changed. I don’t think staying with one or two employers your whole life is something people choose to do as much today as they did in the 80’s and 90’s. Technology advancements and steps forward in AI are disrupting the landscape of employment. COVID was also a huge disruptor also - the different generations, I believe, have different perspectives on whether that was a good or a bad thing! As an employer, you must strive to be agile and listen to people’s desires, or you will lose them from your business. You must attempt to keep them engaged and supported, be flexible, and listen to how they want to work. If your objectives are sales and moving the business forward, you must remember who gets you there and that is the teams. People need to be comfortable and feel there’s a purpose within the business that matches their outlook and values. In order to do that, we need to understand, as a business and as an employer, what our cultural values are - we need to define them, live them and own them. 

Professional development is also important in creating a career pathway at all levels. Morson Group have always invested in staff development to help individuals grow from education not just experience. I was fortunate enough to undertake the MBA at Manchester Business School in 2021 and graduated with distinction in 2023…it’s never too late to learn new things!! The most effective leaders of this business, I believe, will hopefully come from within our ranks so we need to nurture that progression and listen to what employees want. We try to recognise people’s contributions to business, beyond just sales. In the old days it was all about who was top of the tree in terms of sales and placements, and that’s understandable. But it’s not the only critical driver to determine success. 

GoodCourse: How do you take the lead on engaging your staff on the topic of inclusion?

I think it’s mainly about listening and nurturing an environment where ‘challenging the strategy or the way we do things here is ok…we want our people to tell us how it makes them feel and what would make them feel better. We want them to drive change and innovation, so we want to ensure that the communication channel, the feedback loop, is always open. Employees who don’t feel like they have a voice and can’t effect change in an organisation, will quickly go somewhere that looks to have a more progressive and open door to ideas and suggestions on how to improve staff wellbeing. That is inclusion in its simplest form. It is important to acknowledge that it isn’t always possible to do what people may want an employer to do, but the transparency and accountability of telling them why is critical. We need to empower people to be authentic, to be themselves and not just follow the crowd. I will always be an advocate for change. If that change makes my company naturally more inclusive and widely seen as a great place to work, then I think I have done my job well. We have to recognise difference; we have to listen and we have to support our team members in achieving what really means something to them. 

GoodCourse: What is the best piece of advice that you have received over your career?

The higher up the ladder you get, you start to focus on different things in business. We can all focus on the standard: clients, managing the external environment pressures, improving our service delivery. All fine and understandable business practice for a business leader. But the most important ingredient that we must not forget are the people in the teams that get us there. Focus on your team’s happiness and fulfilment at work. If you can get that right, you’ve got a much better chance of succeeding at all your other goals. 

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