Tales from the Wendy House

I was transferring some old photos from DVD to my laptop the other day. Despite having to buy a DVD player for the job (how times have changed), I went on a trip down memory lane of my wonderful time at ANC Express Ltd – Now FedEx UK.

It was 2001. I’d just been promoted to HR Director. Several months before this , the company had been in a very difficult financial situation. Well, for a brief period of time, it had gone bust. We were rescued and a new board had been formed. Our new CEO sat me down had told me that he wanted to create new core values. Ones that people would eat, sleep and breathe. Ones that reflect our “soul” as a business and ones that would form part of our employee recognition scheme for the future. He wanted me to help with this. I remember thinking “good luck with that”.

I did, however, realise that this was a great opportunity. I had worked for the company for for 11 years and had bumbled along in my HR Manager role, sorting out interviews and coordinating other HR stuff. This was a chance to do something different.

Over the next 5 years we worked hard – very hard – in changing the culture of the business. We called our programme “Delivering Peace of Mind” or DPOM for short. We recognised our people for demonstrating core values, long service and loyalty and most of all for helping us change the fortunes of the business. This led to us being attractive enough for FedEx to buy us in 2006 for £125m.

We did things differently – we worked on the theory that if our people were happy, our customers would be happy. A lot of companies work on the customer being happy first. This in my view is the wrong we round. We worked together because the programme was about us all delivering for each other. It wasn’t easy but it worked.

I am extremely proud of this time in my career. None more proud than in this photo. It was the first time I’d compered an event. The first time I’d stood up in front of 200 people. The first time I’d written my own script. I was the last time I’d do it for ANC. How fond I am of that memory.

I have, throughout my consulting career compered numerous events – particularly for culture change, women in leadership and the employee engagement field. I love it. The faces of the people coming towards you on the stage when they’ve been recognised is priceless and one of the best feelings in the world.

The key lesson I learned at ANC was that if you do the best you can by people, it is returned in bucketloads. Sometimes as HR Director I had to tell the unions and the DPOM Champions that we couldn’t do certain things. When we could, I would always try to ensure that we delivered. That built up trust.

Whilst working from home has it’s advantages. Being together in a room celebrating success and sharing those stories of how we’d done things together can’t be beaten.

Roll on 13 years, I set up an ANC Reunion Facebook page as I missed that feeling. I wasn’t sure if anyone still had the feelings that I did. How wrong could I be? It’s got 300 members currently. People regularly post photos of their old truck or an ANC fleece with one of the many logos on it. Randomly, people find items that are special to them and share. It keeps that feeling alive.

We had a reunion before lockdown and people turned up from each and every area of the business who’d worked for ANC. It was such a great night. We shared our memories. We’ve got another reunion set up for April. There is a lot of buzz and excitement about it. People matter.

When ANC sold, the era came to an end for some of us. Change is inevitable because without change, you fall behind. We were lucky. We were ahead of our time. We were a success. ANC was my friend because it gave me experience that not many have and it has stood me in good stead ever since.

If you’re thinking of setting up your own culture change or engagement journey. Here are my top five tips of creating success.

  1. Set up a network of Champions. Train them and give them the time to spread the word. Let them feed back to you honestly and do what you say you’ll do for them.
  2. Empower yourself to change the way things are. If you keep referring back to the senior leadership team, you will never get results because everyone has an opinion. Make sure that you have their overall vision and just get on with it.
  3. Stick to your ideas. It’s so easy to try something new and if it isn’t an instant success, give up. Keep going, if your gut tells you it’s right, it probably is!
  4. Don’t get side tracked by niggly issues. In my experience it’s always the toilets that people moan about. Fix the toilets and move on. When you’re not discussing toilets, you’ve cracked it.
  5. Celebrate success. For the Finance leaders reading this, yes that does mean finding the budget to celebrate. Will it add to the bottom line? Yes it will. Your employee turnover will reduce, absence will improve, waste will reduce, efficiencies will emerge and happy people work harder. I worked out recently that if a company could reduce it’s attrition rate by a certain amount, it would add a seven figure sum to the profits. Now that’s success!

Fix the toilets and move on!

I could carry on down nostalgia lane, but the purpose of this post is to say that a happy career isn’t handed to you on a plate. You have to be different. You have to turn left instead of right and you have to do what’s right for your culture – not what someone else is doing.

If you’re looking for some guidance on how to take that next step, get in touch, I’m happy to help!

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