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What has HR ever done for...Kim Winser


<b>HR acts as a barometer of employees feelings, the CEO of Pringle tells Sheridan Winn</b>

The turnaround in the fortunes of Pringle of Scotland is one of the most inspirational stories in British business today. The company, once infamous for its cashmere golfing sweaters, is now better known as an international luxury fashion brand. It is both retailer and manufacturer, with its collections favoured by celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, David Beckham and Robbie Williams.

Responsibility for this transfor-mation lies with Pringles chief executive, Kim Winser. When Kenneth Fang purchased the company for 10 million from Dawson International in 2000, it was contingent upon Winser being at its helm.

She had fast-tracked her way at Marks & Spencer from management trainee, through various buying positions, before becoming divisional director for the womens wear group the youngest-ever appointee at this level at the store.

Under her leadership, flagship Pringle stores were opened in 2003 in Londons Sloane Street and Bond Street, as well as in Taiwan and Tokyo with New York and Milan in the pipeline this year. Theres also a boutique at Heathrows Terminal 3, and corners within department stores in the UK, Germany, US, Japan and Korea. Pringle is working also to develop other luxury retail outlets elsewhere in the world and a near doubling in turnover is expected in the first quarter of 2004. Looking after a workforce of 300 people (including design and international retail teams), is Pringles head of HR Sara Ward, who is based in London. Dorothy Grierson manages the manufacturing HR side at the companys Scottish factory.

How do you define HR?

HR is the barometer of the people. Its role is to keep the senior team informed of the feelings within the company the energy level, the motivational and inspirational issues. It crosses all the divisions and is an

intuitive role. It is very important that HR is trusted: people should be able to talk with HR and ask questions.

People are a fundamental part of the business, so we have a dedicated, experienced HR team. Talent and recruitment are essential to the way we structure and restructure. Pringle is a very complicated business a manufacturer and a wholesaler and we are about to start a big retail operation. We also have UK and international operations. HR helps drive the vision of the company, and facilitate each change. It works with senior executives to help ensure we make the right recruitment decisions.

I am a great believer in training and development that every person should achieve the best they possibly can. HR has a key role to play in this. Its about stretching people without making them feel uncomfortable, and providing an atmosphere in which they feel constantly nurtured.

Is HR represented on the Pringle board?

We dont have a structured board its a privately-owned company. HR is a senior management-level role.

What is the best example of a situation where you could not have achieved your aims without HR?

In three years, Pringle has changed from a factory into an international luxury brand. There has been a massive change in the type of workforce we need to achieve that goal.

We need people who like to work in a fast-moving, constantly changing environment. They are risk-takers we dont want someone who will debate something for a year before doing it. We want people who will get on with things, who will fit the spirit that is Pringle.

HR has been vital in finding this kind of talent and is fundamentally involved in the whole structural development of the company. The senior management team could not have achieved its goals without HR.

At the Scottish factory, we have changed the way that we pay our workforce and and weve introduced an incentive-driven system. This transition has required a lot of consultation and communication with our HR manager in Scotland.

Manufacturing requires a very different type of HR focused on finance, customer service and product development so we have a specific manufacturing HR manager.

What are the five most important HR tasks in an organisation?

Recruitment, talent, training and development, communication, and creative thinking.

What, in your view, is the role of an HR director?

There are three main aspects: talent and recruitment which enables us to structure and restructure the business; assistance in driving the vision of the company and facilitating each change; and training and development.

What are the essential HR skills?

Integrity is essential. Second, we look for a very high degree of creativity and imagination at Pringle throughout the company. Our future is founded on this and it is important HR reflects it. Third, HR must communicate well. People are such an important resource, and, although it is specifically an HR function, we believe every senior manager has responsibility for staff, particularly their own teams, as part of their role.

Is there a commercial benefit to developing a specific organisational culture?

The Pringle culture is fundamental to the way we deliver the business strategy. Its a dynamic culture of open communication and support. I am a great believer in training. But I dont think it always has to be structured training. Our culture is about providing an atmosphere in which people can freely ask questions, find out where the business is going, understand the thinking behind the managements decisions and learn to take responsibility for their own roles.

How do you measure HRs success?

To assess the effectiveness of our training we ask whether we are really stretching our people. We have constant appraisals. If we are not making progress, then we are not training and developing as well as we should be.

In terms of communication, people are requesting more and more information. Are they receiving and understanding it?

The creative aspect is the hardest to measure. You have to look back and ask what ideas were best communicated. Its about the quality, not the quantity of ideas.

The most important thing is that we manage our people well. How one person operates in one team will be different from the way another does. Are our people nurtured, developed, motivated and stretched but not working beyond their capability?

Describe the biggest HR cock-up youve seen in your career. What impact did it have on business performance?

I think it is vital that every senior manager takes responsibility for the people in their teams as part of their role. I have seen this done badly. The biggest mistake is when senior people dont see that they, too, play an HR role. They might be running big or small teams, but they must be aware of issues such as lack of motivation, of the solutions needed to drive their division in terms of structure and talent, or of how visionary and imaginative their people are. If all that is excluded from their role, then it has huge consequences.