5 Minutes with Gabriela Hammond, Head of HR for VEKA UK

Having partnered VEKA UK in securing boardroom appointments Collingwood’s Head of Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, was intrigued to understand the rewarding change the business had been through over the past 18 months.  Driven by the businesses Head of HR, Gabriela Hammond, VEKA UK has been through a complete employer branding exercise.  Many businesses have been through similar, but it struck Mark how well the senior team had gained the buy in of all staff.  Additionally, he was impressed with how they effectively reinforced these behaviours with the 380 existing staff and used them when assessing suitability of new recruits.  Here’s what they discussed:

Mark:  As a group VEKA UK has an incredibly strong name and heritage within the industry.  What initiated the UK leadership team into reviewing your vision, mission and value proposition?

Gabriela: Businesses evolve over time we were a very different business than we were when the previous proposition had been developed.  We wanted to focus everyone on our plans for the future.

We knew we had great people doing great jobs; but we equally knew that we could add more value by ensuring that everyone was pulling in the same direction.

Often organisations struggle in ensuring their people and teams identify with the business plans, especially if they are ambitious or involve a change in direction.  Our 2015 people survey told us just that. Not all our people understood how we were going to achieve our aims and objectives and how what they did every day could impact and influence our end results.

Having a vision and mission that everyone identifies with is the foundation you need to start the buy in from your people.

Mark:  Many businesses, especially within the building products market, have gone through a similar exercise over recent times.  Talking with leadership teams, the problem is often how this is engrained into everyone and driven into the every day.  How have you tackled this at VEKA UK?

Gabriela: There is no point paying lip service to a values proposition, they have to be strategic and really link to the businesses culture.

Simply having some nice graphics on a wall won’t do it; they have to be lived by the business.

Building ownership is also key.  Imposing them on people won’t work either and this was something that we were mindful of.

Sometimes organisations that are part of a larger group of companies can have these areas dictated to them, but our parent company in Germany doesn’t operate like that. They were happy for us to ensure that our values were a fit to us here in the UK. Values need to match the culture of the business.

Our values came from our people, they told us what it was like to belong to VEKA and from that our SPIRIT Values were born.

But even this needs reinforcement.  Words on their own don’t mean anything, it’s the behaviours that go with them that really drive home to people what they stand for and in some cases encourage people to change what they do.

We asked our teams to tell us what behaviours they felt were important to them.  Each department have their own published set of behaviours that link into the main Company Values. This was vital in making them meaningful. You know it’s sustained when teams are holding each other accountable.

Mark: Clearly this has paid dividends with the existing team.  Since we recruited Dawn Stockell as Marketing Director you have both been working closely to drive SPIRIT.  I have placed a number of senior marketing roles and little value seems to be placed in their ability to drive employer branding.  What has particularly worked well whilst working with Dawn?

Gabriela: Our 2017 survey results showed us that it was working - our engagement levels were up 12%, which you could see being demonstrated in all areas of the business, so we know with confidence that we were on the right path.

The whole process only worked because we had joined up business thinking, especially between Marketing & HR - making it work.

Recruiting for us is about cultural fit just as much as skill based. It’s something that we operate at all levels of the business.

Having Dawn’s experience on building a brand both externally and internally was invaluable, but you’re right, so many people don’t connect the two. It makes commercial sense, having employees who understand the brand and who are engaged with the direction of the company means we have hundreds of brand ambassadors who care about the product. That can only be a good thing!

Mark:  In the autumn of 2017 you decided to abolish the appraisal system.  How have you replaced this? 

Gabriela: We changed the appraisal system into what we call a ‘SPIRIT Map’.  This is much more about setting individuals off on a development journey, ensuring our people see their roles as a career, not just a job.  Everyone’s development is unique to them and so I felt it should be more of an individual conversation, between the employee and their manager about their own development and creating a road map of how they get there.

The reviews are competency based with evidential examples to demonstrate what we want to see more of, or in some cases less off.

We built it into our existing 1-2-1’s which are now held every month/6 weeks.  Performance is something that takes time to progress, so it shouldn't just be a conversation that happens just once a year, it’s a fluid ongoing discussion.

Mark: Now fully established, I know first-hand, that you are working with VEKA UK’s suppliers in ensuring they too adhere to these values and drive them in their own work.  Where is this especially bearing fruit and how does VEKA UK expect to further drive this initiative?

Gabriela: We want to work with people and businesses that have the same ethos as us.  This is clearly where you can create some great relationships and long term partnerships. We are in the midst of revisiting our recruitment preferred supplier listing, which will focus on the impression that a recruiter is giving out about us. An agency is often the first contact a prospective employee has with a business, so it needs to be the right impression and demonstrate the right culture from the very start. If a recruiter treats a person badly this can affect the company brand in the eye of the job seeker.

It’s all about having our people, which for us in HR is our end customer, at the very heart of what we do.

Mark: Burnley is now officially classed as a full employment town. With VEKA UK continuing to invest and grow, how are you tackling this challenge?

Gabriela: The town has done really well in regenerating the area as somewhere businesses want to invest and grow, as a result the job market has become a challenge for companies trying to recruit. We had to look to set ourselves apart, and that is where CSR and employer branding come into their own.

We make sure that we proactively work with a number of organisations within the town in order to promote ourselves and foster links that help us and in turn the community.

Each one of our Directors work with key community partnerships and lead the initiatives internally.  For example we work with schools and employer enterprise networks raising aspirations of students into engineering; work with Burnley Football Club on their community improvement programmes.  We seek to work with and help the people who may be our employees of the future, growing our own talent in line with our SPIRIT Values.

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GABRIELLA HAMMOND

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