As the world grapples with the pressing reality of climate change, businesses are being called upon to not just adapt, but to lead the charge towards a carbon-negative future. But no business can succeed in this goal without its people, who are ultimately responsible for making this target a reality. No one understands this more than Simon Clements, HR Talent Director at Drax Group, one of the UK’s most forward-thinking power generation enterprises.
Simon sat down with Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss issues ranging from the need to foster a culture of inclusion and growth to the challenges of keeping a business on the path to net zero.
I’m the Talent Director for Drax Group. One of the things that attracted me to Drax was the opportunity to oversee an integrated talent function, including our resourcing, people development, DEI, and employee engagement teams. I’m responsible for attracting, developing and retaining talent across all of our businesses and locations.
Drax is a fascinating organisation. If you go back ten or fifteen years, our business was based around a coal-burning power station in Selby, North Yorkshire. From there, we transitioned to biomass, and our ambition is to become carbon-negative by 2030. We’re aiming to become a global leader in carbon removals — we’re developing a technology called Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which takes CO2 out of the atmosphere and stores it underground. We can’t completely transition to green renewables like wind, solar and hydro overnight, so this is a key step on the road to a carbon-neutral future.
I’ve had quite a squiggly career — I didn’t take the traditional path here. My mindset has always been about identifying key skills for the future and developing them. After university, I went into recruitment and spent the best part of a decade in that field. I was fortunate to travel and work throughout APAC, EMEA and the Americas, which exposed me to different cultures and business environments. From there, I moved into HR outsourcing, working with clients to implement outsourcing solutions. Then, I was offered a role at IBM, where I was working within HR and talent in their outsourcing and consulting business. Moving to a large corporation from SMEs was a huge learning curve, but working at a technology company was a huge learning opportunity. Then, at the start of 2022, Drax reached out to me, and I was attracted by their purpose, people and values.
There are two key things for me. The first is around leadership mindset and buy-in. If your senior leaders don’t believe in the importance of company values, then you are fighting a losing battle. Here at Drax, we’re fortunate to have a supportive CEO and Executive Committee. The second key piece is ensuring that our key metrics are business-aligned. In terms of talent, we often think about things like cost-per-hire, attrition, and leadership pipelines. But we also need to think about how they convert to achieving the business strategy. If we reduce our cost-per-hire, how will that help us become the global leader in carbon removals? You need to translate the people and culture language into business language so everyone can understand and buy into its importance.
I can’t take too much credit - we’re fortunate to have an excellent DEI team led by Jess Peacock, who worked incredibly hard to deliver this. Our DEI strategy has three pillars: data, talent, and culture. That’s also underpinned by foundations, such as inclusive facilities, accessibility and workwear for everybody. In terms of data, we have developed a campaign called Count Me In, which encourages self-identification to get people comfortable with sharing their protected characteristics. Our talent strategy is based on equitable systems processes and practices from recruitment to development to promotion. Finally, our culture strategy encompasses a range of initiatives including learning & development. awareness, colleague resource groups and more.
To promote engagement, we prioritise stakeholder buy-in and tailoring DEI plans to the differing business and locations we operate in.
In the last few years, there has been huge transformation across the business world, change is the new normal and there’s still a lot of uncertainty. To create progress, you need good role models and advocates for whatever you’re trying to achieve. If something is important, it needs to be high on the agenda, and leaders need to show that they care. How included our colleagues feel (measured via our inclusion index) forms part of our bonus scorecard so we’re incentivising the behaviours we expect to be role modelled too.
That’s something most organisations are still grappling with. For me, it’s about having a clear purpose and strategy. Everyone needs to know how the work they do on a daily basis fits into the bigger picture. That clarity of purpose needs to run like a thread through the organisation, supported by culture, managers, and leaders.
I’m also involved with the Employ Autism programme at the awesome charity, Ambitious About Autism, which helps bridge the gap between education and employment for young autistic people in the UK. On a personal note, I have family members with neurodivergent conditions, my lived experiences ignited a passion in me to do what I can to create inclusive workplaces and I’m privileged to be able to influence this as part of my daily work.
Breadth of experience is important. Some people are subject matter experts, and that’s fantastic, but you also need to cast your net wide. As a leader, you need to work across fields and knit it all together to make a real business impact.
Balance is everything. We all need to juggle work, self care, our well-being, relationships with our friends and loved ones and any service or charity work that fulfils us. If you get that balance right, or at least keep focused on trying to, you’ll not only thrive at work but in your personal life too.