Genuinely care about employees to support change

A panel at the SD Worx European Conference discussed how to best support a constant state of organisational change

Understanding what needs to stay the same and genuinely caring about employees’ lives are both key to successful organisational change, according to Kathryn Pritchard, group chief people officer for Odeon.

Speaking in a panel debate at the SD Worx European Conference 2017, about Odeon’s recent change of ownership, Pritchard described change as a “paradox". “Businesses need to understand what needs to stay the same so that people are able to change the things that will add the most value,” she said. “That’s something HR can help the business to understand.”

She added: “If you want employees to be engaged with you and the change, you reap what you sow. So managers need to be genuinely interested in their colleagues, to think about what’s going on in their lives and why they come to work.

“A third of our workforce are studying or are also carers,” she said. “We’ve embraced that and said ‘brilliant, we love that because you’re getting something out of that and so are we'. So we’ve gotten really curious about our people. We’ve set some clear psychological principles about caring for the workforce and listening with intent and being very serious about that.”

Also speaking on the panel was Carole Pearson, head of shared services for M&S. She detailed her team’s work supporting pay and pension changes. “It’s very important to inform people and take them with you,” she said, reporting that "99.9%" of employees signed the new contract. “They did that because they were involved, they felt they influenced the end game.”

Group HRD of Costain, Sally Austin spoke on the importance of truly understanding individuals' motivations and their sense of organisational purpose. “We’re focusing heavily on the ‘why’ first not the ‘what’ or the ‘how',” she said. “People have to have the emotional linkage of why do people come to work… line managers should know exactly what brings people to work… Because ultimately customers buy emotions and belief not the ‘what'.”

For Austin this sense of purpose was about tackling the “permafrost” or “blancmange layer” of senior and middle management roles. “That layer is really where we [in HR] have not got it right. We at Costain now spend a lot of time focusing on the emotional part of leadership,” she said, reporting this can be difficult, but is even more important, where working with an employee base of engineers.

Pritchard spoke on the importance of HR changing itself to better support change. “When I moved into HR 12/13 years ago I was a cynic around HR,” she said. “I noticed a master-servant orientation between the business and HR.”

Regarding business partnering, she added: “I’m not sure 'partnering' is a helpful term. I think we are more than partners. We should have a set of expertise around organisational performance, around commercial value… that we can confidently bring to the table.”

Head of HR shared knowledge and operations EMEA at UCB, Bram de Pooter, described the importance of automating certain HR tasks to enable strategic HR. “My team has automated all admin – then we can really make the difference… the difference we can make is that personal touch.”

Pritchard said she couldn’t see HR activities ever being completely automated in a leisure and hospitality business like Odeon. “What we want is customers to feel the warmth of our people when they walk through the doors, and if you don’t start [with a personal touch in HR] we don’t think customers will get that,” she said.