What are the main functions of your role?
In a nutshell, I see my role as the enablement of employees’ success at B-North, creating the right organisational environment, for people to be successful. Creating the right environment means defining and executing on a disciplined hiring practice, partnering with the CEO & ExCo team on a focused goal methodology to align the organisation, articulating high standards, translating the company values into everyday work, helping managers hold people accountable, and most importantly, making it safe for employees to voice their opinions.
At B-North, a really important part of my role is as the person that helps to make sure we retain those special elements of a start up culture as we grow. Whether through mapping values that support that, attracting people that will support and strengthen our culture, assessing culture fit during recruitment, inducting and immersing our people in the culture through ongoing development and engagement or ensuring leadership and leadership behaviours consistently reflect our culture.
Beyond this, in a fast-growing young business, it is important to work on practicalities, we are building a HR function from scratch, so the focus is on building robust but adaptable foundations that can grow with us. In a bank, that is really important - our people are key, they represent our values and values represent not only the uniqueness of B-North’s personality but also our commitment to operating in an ethical and responsible way with our customers. We have to build robust processes and approaches to HR solutions that can support us as we grow, but we don't have to follow the established structures. I am passionate that HR are partners to the business, not merely support or administration, but trusted partners and advisers that work hand in hand with the business and add real value.
How important to a business’s success is instilling a good culture?
Creating a sustainable culture cannot be designed or dictated, it has to be something that happens organically through the way we do things, a true belief that everyone shares. We often look at the likes of Google, Zappos, Netflix and try to replicate these cultures and practices through design, and organisations can take learnings and adopt them - but unless it is authentic, it is unlikely to stick.
Role models at the top of a business are really important. A powerful example of a culture change I can give is one I experienced in a previous organisation. Office life was a traditional 9-5, suited and booted, hierarchical affair, but we had an aspiration to modernise our culture to a more flexible and open environment. We decided on ‘dress for your day’ policy. The CEO was completely on board and asked HR to hold fire on the policy and give him time to influence change through his behaviour. He turned up to the office initially without a jacket, then without a tie, returning to the suit in important external meetings, but day to day dressed for his day. The CEO also ran some meetings online and worked from home occasionally. In a matter of weeks, I started to see some of the other execs follow and dress down, work more flexibly and eventually this started to play out in their teams. Within the space of 6 months, we were doing it - without a policy or any kind of directive. The power of role modelling from the top the most powerful way of shifting cultural norms and for it to stick!
What makes B-North’s culture different from a more established financial services firm?
B-North’s culture is hugely different from the cultures I have experienced at more established financial services firms - or any sort of firm I've worked at really! Some of that is due to being a start-up, we have the opportunity to build something special, focus on the special elements of the culture and explore why and how and build from that solutions and approaches to retain and evolve that culture. As we grow, we want to keep some of those special elements of our start-up mindset. Our people feel part of the whole story and therefore feel a real connection and commitment to B-North and to each other. We don't do hierarchy, everyone has a voice and everyone is accessible. We are in this together and all focussed on building and launching the bank so will do what it takes to deliver – whether it is part of our job or not – there are no egos. Everyone is passionate about our proposition, and what that means for customers - we all feel excited and proud. All we have to do is keep nurturing this, through leading by example, ongoing reinforcement and clever hiring as we grow.
HR plays a vital role in recruitment, retention, and training, but how is this role being challenged by remote working?
A large part of what HR do involves human contact and engagement but we have seen over this last year or so with COVID; remote engagement for activities like recruitment and training can be executed successfully remotely. Engagement activities that facilitate retention have also continued remotely. All that said, I do believe that you can pick up so much in-person through body language etc. When you can see a person, and read not just their words but their body language it can be more straightforward to spot problems, gauge fit and deliver a message. Remotely, you have to work harder to pick up the signs of any problems, gauge fit and land communication effectively. From an employee wellbeing perspective, remote working can be challenging and issues harder to spot; now more than ever, managers have a key role to play in talking to their teams regularly, checking in with them, being aware of the signs and then responding to any signs of stress.
Every business knows that their greatest resources are their people, what top tips would you give to SMEs to make sure their staff are always at the top of their game?
This won't be of any surprise - but truly engaged employees are committed employees and will always go over and above. An engaged workforce means increased productivity, lower absenteeism, higher retention, and better customer service. Focusing on employee engagement; measuring it, responding to it and monitoring it will help inform the evolving HR plan. If our people are undermotivated, there are lots of possible remedies, anything from more social interactions, more tailored benefits, rewards, development opportunities, more communication, and constructive leadership interaction. So a focus on and a commitment to employee engagement and all that goes with it is important.
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your spare time?
I have twin girls who are 20; one studying Fashion Design and one Business Studies - so no home-schooling for me but plenty of coaching and support on why their life is not over because they can't go out and party right now! We live on a smallholding in a tiny village with lots of animals - something always needs feeding or fixing. Horse riding has been a part of my life since I was a child, and my girls also got the bug, which is why we moved to where we live, as it has land and stables – we thought if we got them a pony – the boy thing wouldn’t happen – didn’t work! I've been a runner for about 15 years now, and I have numerous 10k challenges under my belt; half a dozen half marathons and a marathon. Last year I discovered and fell in love with yoga, now I do some kind of yoga practice every day. Work life balance is important to me and balancing body and mind helps me do that.