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Innocent Drinks: developing HR capability to support a growth agenda

My experience of rapid growth at Innocent Drinks has seen a number of trigger points in the organisation’s development that have demanded action.

Some organisation life cycle theories call these 'crisis points' - moments in time when the old way of doing things no longer cut it and new ways of doing business have to emerge, or the business will at best plateau, and at worst fail.

Two of these trigger points stand out for me over the last five years. Firstly, the exponential growth we experienced in 2006 - a period where we simply couldn’t hire people quickly enough. The pressure to build capable teams to avoid the wheels falling off our business was palpable. The second point followed shortly after – with all these new people it became abundantly clear that we needed to put some structure around the way we managed people, we needed to support and up-skill those people who had suddenly found themselves leading a team.

The dilemma, from an HR perspective, is how we choose to respond to these trigger points. Do we deal with the symptoms or do we seek to find the causes that lie beneath? Do we look for a quick fix when the pressure’s on, or do we take the time to develop lasting solutions? And I think the answer is both.

So what does this mean in terms of HR capability?

In our experience, it meant that we needed to be tactical and strategic; we needed to stem the flow and to lay the foundations for continued growth – or as a colleague of mine says, “we needed to be able to change the engine mid flight.” Frankly, it wasn’t easy.

These moments required us to answer two searching questions. Firstly, what is the real problem we need to solve right now to stay afloat? For example, amidst the rapid growth and recruitment phase, we needed to be clear whether the problem we were trying to solve was bringing more people into the recruitment process quicker or whether it was making recruitment decisions faster? These two problems clearly require different tactics and so getting to the nub of the real problem was key.

The second question was a deeper, more strategic one. How do we need to do business differently? We needed to find new ways of organising ourselves, leading teams, managing performance, making decisions, having conversations, now we were a bigger organisation.

Though demanding, these moments were gold dust, because they presented an opening for deep and lasting change and we were shamelessly opportunistic.

As an example, I’ll go back to our recruitment crisis point. Yes we needed to bring great people in and do it quickly but a “bums on seats” approach was never going to work for us. And so we used this growth spurt as an opportunity to codify the behaviours and capabilities that would help us both raise our game now and in the future; that would enable innocent to develop into a better version of itself over time. We redesigned our recruitment process to test the things that really mattered, training every manager in distinguishing between “good” and “great” as well as spotting our values in our candidates. When people ask me how we have retained our culture and values as we have grown, this is where my answer begins.

And so as I step back and ask myself about the HR capability needed to support a demanding growth agenda, four things stand out from my experience:

1. We must be asking the right questions to get to the problem we need to solve now as well as spot the opportunities for lasting change

2. The answers to these questions will be context specific and so we need to let the context and our vision for how we want to do business differently guide us, rather than starting our thinking with what “best practice” suggests may be the way forward

3. At the tactical level, the ability to make decisions and act quickly to create breathing space becomes important when the trigger points bite

4. And importantly we need sharp critical thinking skills to develop meaningful insights and strategies that lay the foundations for the future.

Karen Callaghan, people director at Innocent drinks and independent coach and consultant. She will present a case study session on these themes at the upcoming Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) annual Conference and Exhibition, 8-10 November in Manchester. www.cipd.co.uk/cande/annual