INTERVIEW: CHRIS HARRIES, WHITE LABEL’S CULTURE CHAMPION
Please describe what your role as White Label’s Culture Champion entails?
The overall aim of my role is to drive a high-performance culture in the business; this is done through a number of different activities, from training sessions to one to one conversations with the team.
My role as Culture Champion developed organically when a few team members went on maternity leave, I started running internal training sessions to support the team and realised the impact the sessions had. As this developed, I pulled together a structured training programme and put a bigger emphasis on the follow-up actions rather than just the delivery of specific sessions. The role grew and became more than just training when I started to consider all of the elements that affect training, performance and overall wellbeing.
Aligning the team’s progression to the company values and strategy is a critical part of the role; however, as a team, we soon realised that our personal goals and values matched White Labels.
Why is workplace culture important for Engineering and Manufacturing sectors?
It’s important for every sector, but I think specifically in engineering and manufacturing, you need to make sure everyone is pulling in the same direction. It makes dealing with change, responding to your customers and also dealing with suppliers much more straightforward. If everyone in the business, especially across different functions and different locations, has the same values and ways of working, then you get a much more consistent product and hopefully stronger and happier customers.
What makes for good workplace culture in these sectors?
Firstly, I think it’s helpful to come up with a definition of culture. My favourite definition is the one that defines it as ‘the behaviours, customs and values that define the group and bind everyone together’.
The great thing about behaviours, customs and values are that you get to choose them and they can be adapted over time. In my opinion, this gives everyone a voice, shaping these three elements is key and they should represent what you want to do as a business.
What key behaviours reinforce a positive working culture?
There are a number of behaviours that can have a positive effect on the people around you.
For me, the most important thing is to decide how you want to be motivated and how you want the team to be motivated. One of the best lessons I had came from my A-level PE teacher who talked about two types of motivation – the need to achieve (NA) and the need to avoid failure (NF). As humans, we are motivated by both, but in the sporting world and in business, the need to achieve has many more positive effects on both performance and on mental health. To put it another way, imagine what it would be like if you spent the whole time trying to avoid failure – what would happen to your confidence levels?
You can then build on this by highlighting positive performance, always trying to take constructive lessons from failure and focusing more on process than end result.
What role does culture play in terms of retaining staff within an organisation?
Culture plays a huge part in staff retention and should be considered a priority by both employers and employees. If you have worked in more than one organisation, you may have noticed that you had a sense of belonging in one team, and perhaps a more disjointed experience in another. It’s not always easy to put your finger on what factors make the difference here, and sometimes it can just be a feeling. But, my belief is that all decisions, actions and communication go a long way towards either fostering that feeling of belonging, or pull it apart.
What impact has negative culture had on your clients from your experience?
As with many things, you can’t always say that workplace culture is the sole reason for a business to fail, but it is often a contributing factor. I can think of businesses that have struggled to retain staff, have a constant change, lost big customers and even had to close sites because they couldn’t form a clear strategy and the culture suffered as a result.
More recently, I can think of one business where the board of directors had personal differences between each other which resulted in conflicting directions for the middle managers and staff, which resulted in chaos.
What steps can be taken to change workplace culture within the Engineering and Manufacturing sectors?
The first step for me is to determine the direction that you want to take the business in. Whatever we say about culture, you must have a sound business strategy so that you know that your business can generate a profit. After this, the culture is part of the process of bringing the strategy to life. Around three years ago we (White Label) had a really productive AGM and drew out what our vision and values are. By looking deeply at our values and understanding what needed to happen on a practical level, day by day, we changed and developed our culture. The process in manufacturing can be exactly the same.
To give you an example, our vision is to become the best engineering and manufacturing recruitment company in our region.
Our values are Development, Determination, Enthusiasm, Excellent and Trust.
Let’s take one of these values as an example – trust. We recently had a group discussion about what our ‘standards’ should be. As part of the management team, we gave the power to the team to discuss and set their rules and they came up with a great set of guidelines and standards that we all stick to and that generates the results that we all want.
Implementing your core values shouldn’t be a complicated process; you just need to be creative.
Do you have any words of advice for your Engineering and Manufacturing clients who might be looking to develop or improve culture in the workplace?
I’ve worked in recruitment for 16 years and have exceptional knowledge of the sectors; I can certainly say that the vast majority of businesses take huge care and attention to selecting new staff. Your staff are your biggest resource, so this is exactly what I expect to see.
But this isn’t the case for all. So, if you don’t know where to start, start by looking within and asking your staff what their opinions are. You will probably uncover some absolute gems!
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