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Winning Hearts and Minds

05 July 2024

Malcolm Condon, HR People Partner at PP Control & Automation

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Malcolm Condon HR People Partner at PP Control & Automation (PP C&A)

Winning Hearts and Minds

Malcolm Condon, HR People Partner at PP Control & Automation (PP C&A), explores the importance of listening to staff when building your workforce culture.

At the risk of using a sporting analogy, if you want to develop and retain a strong pipeline of talent – who all buy into the way you do things – you need to make sure the messaging is simple, consistent and reinforced by the behaviour of key people in the business. In other words get your culture right.

Swap footballs, cones and nets with production cells, inspection stations and prototyping and you kind of understand the challenge we are experiencing in modern-day British industry.

It’s a similar situation that was facing The Football Association before they invested in continuity and St George’s Park. Now I’m not suggesting we build a multi-million campus for manufacturing (although it may not be a bad idea), but there are some ‘easy wins’ we could all employ to make sure we create the right workplace culture for both the business and the employee.

Investing in the talent

Attracting staff is one part of our employment challenge at PP Control & Automation, but once you have managed to recruit it is vital that you retain the talent in the business. 

With the growth we have experienced in recent years, we are now topping more than 230 people at our world class facility in Cheslyn Hay, each one of them an important cog in how we continually meet the daily requirements of 20+ of the world’s largest machinery builders.

But how do we retain these skills with the volatility of the labour market and competition from major employers nearby, such as JLR, JCB and Collins Aerospace?

We always prefer a proactive approach to difficult situations, and this is no different. Rather than hope for the best like so many firms do, we have one of industry’s most progressive cultures that places personal development, wellbeing and creativity at its heart.

Just this year, we have seen investment in staff training pass the £5m mark since our current Chief Executive Tony Hague took over in 2003. 

He’s a firm believer in getting the most out of people and always refers to one of his favourite sayings when asked if some of the money is wasted when employees leave. The stock response is ‘well what happens if we didn’t train them and they stayed?’.

It certainly makes sense the more you think about it and perhaps explains why so much importance is placed on Bright Sparks, our in-house training school.

This is designed to ignite the flames of curiosity and empower people to embrace lifelong learning by developing technical expertise and leadership skills through a combination of online learning, external courses and on-the-job shadowing.

We didn’t stop there, quickly introducing Bright Sparks University that champions diverse learning pathways, technical excellence, leadership and continuous improvement. 

There’s no point trying to pretend you know all the answers as a management team, so, in order to understand what matters to our colleagues and where to focus our efforts each year, we run a full engagement survey in February.

This asks our people what they think is going well and where we could improve, and this is followed up by a series of ‘Voice’ forums in which we share the results of the survey and work with each of our teams to identify how we can improve. In October, we revisit the survey through a ‘Pulse’, and this helps us to identify if we are heading in the right direction or not.

Risk and, importantly, Rewards

PP C&A is more than just a business; it’s a community. We want our employees to feel a strong sense of belonging and to be part of a culture that is bigger than just themselves.

We aim to create a working environment that is both a fun place to work and one in which employees feel empowered to make a difference, are recognised for their individuality and their contribution. This is where ‘Switched-on’ comes into its own.

Any of our employees can fill in a Nomination Form each month, with everyone nominated receiving a customised badge and small gift – this could be a bottle of wine or chocolates. Our team of Wellbeing Champions then collectively decide if anyone has gone the extra mile and deserves to be given a more substantial reward in the form of vouchers, a personalised gift or employee of the month title.

To put it simply, ‘Switched On’ is all about celebrating and recognising the contribution of our colleagues and thanking them for a job well done – it’s the little things that can make all the difference when you are looking to attract and retain your staff.

Building the culture

We want to be the best in the world in what we do and to achieve this we have had to put in place a culture that encourages, nurtures and gives our staff the tools to help us achieve that. If we are successful, and we are well on the way to achieving this aim, then the benefits for them individually will be huge, not just in monetary terms but in the skills they have developed.

However, you can’t just make the culture up in the boardroom and hope everyone agrees with how you think it should be. We have listened, encouraging staff to have their say and, when they have spoken, we’ve implemented a lot of the measures they’re suggested. Many have been some of the best initiatives we’ve ever put in place.

It’s not a case of you and them, it’s very much a collective ‘us’…every step of the way.

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