In the day-to-day grind of countless emails, projects, and responsibilities, it can be easy to forget that at their heart, businesses are formed of people. This means that, on some level, every business is a people-focused business, or should be in order to be successful. What’s also important to understand is that these people are a collection of individuals, each with their own experience and needs, and none are interchangeable. Businesses with the happiest employees and therefore often the greatest productivity listen to their feedback and therefore make deliberate decisions about how things are run, respecting their opinions and conveying that respect even when they can’t deliver on every desire.
Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Sarah Taylor, People and Culture Director at Staffline Recruitment Ltd about the best ways to ensure that a business’ focus remains on its people.
My degree was in retail management. I started off working in retail as a trainee store manager and, while doing my year in industry placement, realised that I didn’t really like being told what to do from head office. Instead, I had a real passion for people—people development, people leadership, people service—so I changed my course and went into Human Resources (HR). I did a graduate program working for BAE Systems for six years over a variety of different locations across the UK, which is where I got my real grounding in HR. Then I really wanted to move back to Nottingham and got a role at Boots as an HR manager and quickly moved to a head of HR role for their logistics organisation. I loved that. We were going through significant change, so it was a real opportunity to re-create a culture into a more engaged organisation of employees. At that time, I won a Retail Week Rising Star Award, after which I was promoted to head of capability for support functions, so I had responsibility for all learning, development, and resourcing there. Then, two years later, there was a restructuring, meaning that role would no longer exist. I was given the option to go back into retail at Boots, which I did. I was an area manager for two years. After that, I again had those same feelings of wanting to shape strategy, so I moved to Carlsberg as a head of HR, working there for four years. Then in 2018, I got approached about the job at Staffline. It was their first-ever people director role and effectively its purpose was to reshape the function and focus on creating a high performance and culture organisation. I’ve been here for five years this week,
My position has changed considerably. I started off with a smaller HR function that was very reactive, and my role was about changing that to focus on worker experience and cultural change. Over the last five years, I’ve picked up more responsibility. Now I also look after payroll, worker experience, and how we drive retention through improving that, process systems and improvement, and brand and marketing. So if you take all of that and think about how brands and cultures are built from the inside out, it made a lot of sense to have that reflected in my job title, because our business is a people business. I’m very privileged in being able to have a voice, and influence over shaping our overall business rather than just the typical HR elements, so moving that to People and Culture is reflective of both what we’re doing as a brand as well as that our business is people. Every single thing we do ultimately impacts our workers, candidates, and clients.
The first thing is to be clear about why your organisation exists in the first place and acknowledge that any cultural change takes time. In September 2020 the senior leadership team came together and co-created and agreed upon our vision—which is enabling people into good work—and our core values. We decided that they had to be reflected in how we do business, speak to and engage with one another, and engage with each other. We started to build our performance expectations and communication around those values.
The next is recognising that every human being is an individual. That can be a real challenge when we deal with often high expectations and high requirements from clients to recruit 200 people for the next day, for example. But if you start with the premise of treating everyone as a person, that drives behaviour around inclusivity and belonging. It also requires you to look at everyone on an individual level and respond to their feedback when they’re not happy. We also raise awareness around every single element of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and belonging. We run three to four weeklong campaigns every year for specific topics and within each week, we’ll have a mix of employees telling their stories, external speakers providing their insight, and resources and training sessions. Gradually over time, it’s about how we bring this essence that we are a human business and every person is an individual. Then we allow that to shape the way in which we award, recognise, develop, and communicate with them.
I was in a development session once, getting feedback, and I was struggling because some of it didn’t sit well with me in terms of my values. And the coach said, “You have a choice about whether you take this feedback on board or not.” And I think that has been the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. We all have choices about what we do, who we see, and where we work. And when I acknowledged that, I was able to think about what I wanted, what mattered to me, and who I was. There are consequences to every decision we make but as long as I thought about my choices and was comfortable, I could feel free in knowing what felt right for me and what I wanted my journey to look like.