HR Means Business 1 – Why Belonging and Purpose are So Important for HR

Hosted by

Mervyn Dinnen

Analyst, Author, Commentator & Influencer

About this episode

HR Means Business 1 – Why Belonging and Purpose are So Important for HR

Host: Mervyn Dinnen

Guest: Robert Ordever, Managing Director at OC Tanner Europe

What are the challenges for HR professionals who work in very public facing organisations, that carry high customer and community expectations, in creating engaging cultures? In this episode Mervyn Dinnen talks to Robert Ordever about how he has been able to foster cultures of purpose led engagement and belonging in organisations that are very much in the public eye. They also discuss the best ways to create a thriving, connected and winning workplace culture.


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Transcript follows:

Mervyn Dinnen 0:13
Hello, everybody, welcome to the HR Means Business podcast. My name is Mervyn Dinnen, I’m an author, analyst, influencer around the world of HR talent and work tech trends. And it’s an absolute pleasure today to be interviewing Robert Ordever. Robert, would you like to introduce yourself?

Robert Ordever 0:30
Sure. Thank you, Mervyn and thanks for having me join you. So I’m the Managing Director of OC Tanner in Europe. I’ve been been with OC Tanner about eight years. My history is HR 20, oh, gosh, I probably shouldn’t work this out, make me feel too old, probably somewhere like 25 years of HR experience. And now, obviously working for a business that helps other HR professionals. So yeah, that’s me.

Mervyn Dinnen 1:00
I’m pleased to hear it. You’ve been HR head of people, people director in three very different types of sectors. You’re in technology now. You’re your earliest days were in retail, very high end very be very public read retail. And you’ve also had one of those dream jobs as being head of HR head of people for a Premier League football site. So very different types of organizations. And I’m quite keen to talk to you today about, particularly, as we hear so much at the moment around engagement of people aligning with purpose, this is the way to stop the great resignation, stop quiet quitting and get people aligned. But you’ve obviously worked in very different types of businesses where that’s not so easy. So it’s your experience I’d like to draw on. So how easy first, I suppose my first question is, how easy Did you find it to adapt going from high end retail to a professional sports team to take?

Robert Ordever 2:03
Yeah, I mean, all three very different businesses. I think the common thread perhaps through all of them is they were all, if you like it that at the top of their industry, right. And that that obviously carries with it sort of a very similar theme, similar needs in terms of, you know, needing to attract the best talent needing to retain people needing to you know, have a highly kind of engaged workforce. So they had some similarities, but clearly, as industries, really very different, right, I mean, the other thing is even within those industries, right, so even within retail, I spent years on the shop floor, and that had a very different feel to those years that I spent in the warehousing and kind of the distribution that were unionized elements. So I’ve definitely had some some variation throughout my career, I think the common thread through all is probably they all had, what what I what I took to is really interesting and engaging purposes, has probably the why I ended up ended up being at each of those a white sort of chose to stay at each of those. So you kind of had, as you rightly sort of said high end retail at Harrods and that was, you know, it was about retail theater, rather than selling at a Premier League football club, you know, it was about being custodian of a very historic old London, traditional football club and now in technology, you know, being able to improve the working lives of people around the world. So they all had kind of very engaging purposes, if you like, but yeah, as industry is really quite different. You know, my retail days were pretty corporate, fairly fairly old school corporate football was, well, a roller coaster and adrenaline rush. Plenty of imagine plenty of madness, but good stuff. And now I find myself in in the technology world, but actually in a in a way the world of work is really different to the way it was before you know, it’s fast paced with 95 years old, but behave like a startup. So they definitely as industry is very different. But all three had threads of break kind of what I would think is very engaging purposes.

Mervyn Dinnen 4:27
Definitely. I suppose starting with the first one at Harrods as you called it retailed Theater, which is, which is it is because people go into Harrods for an experience. People from all over the world come to London and go to Harrods for different things to buy things to get the experience. They have a perception. We know that obviously employees come to work sometimes they’re not necessarily in their best frame of mind. Sometimes they have outside pressures. There’s a lot of research being done at the moment elsewhere around kind of people turning up to work when their mental health maybe isn’t so good, or they have other pressures externally. How difficult was it to kind of get people performing? They’re not trained actors. They’re not. But here they are working. And yet, in some respects, it is part theater and part service.

Robert Ordever 5:18
Yeah, I think it’s interesting. I mean, times have definitely moved. Right. So my experience is now somewhat dated. And I think back then we didn’t, you know, we weren’t talking employee engagement, right. When there was no open discussion about the employee experience, there was a if you like, perhaps a naive thought that actually if we are such a big brand, and so aspirational, and it’s retail theater, and people around the world know us, then people will be really grateful to work here. And actually, what we were pretty good at, were weeding out those that were not good enough. When I look back, one of the things that we probably weren’t very good at was calling out those that were exceptional performance, right, those that were making a difference and truly engaging them. So I don’t think at the time I was there, at least, I don’t think we did a particularly strong job at that. I know that things have got a lot better as the world of workers has moved on. I know a number of people still work there. And it’s a very, very kind of positive work environment. But it’s hard, right? I mean, we used to talk about the curtain going up, you were on stage.

Robert Ordever 6:29
And we’ve had other companies, you know, Disney talk about cast members instead of sort of theme park workers and that feeling that when you walk in, you can leave all of your your woes at the door and kind of put on that great smile. And people did that. Right. And we were good at that. And even if we had an office job, when we walked across the shop floor, we straightened out our ties, our jackets were on and we were we were create, you know, we were part of retail theater. But that takes its toll. You know, it was an exhausting industry to work in long hours, set, you know, became seven days a week, once Sunday trading became the norm. A very, very difficult work environment, in many respects, probably toughened me up, right taught taught me lots of how the real world but not a work environment that any of us would imagine would be successful now. I think, you know, what employees or what what success requires is quite a bit more engaging, more focus on well being and it’s just a bit more complex than than perhaps it was back then. And I was, you know, I was young, grateful to be there, I’m sure with a lot of my, my counterparts, but it I’m not sure that brought out the best in everyone.

Mervyn Dinnen 7:50
Okay. Which is interesting. And it’s kind of I suppose in some respects, it has changed, although I’m guessing that your customer expectations, in some respects have changed, but in others are even heightened, because it’s kind of you know, as the global perception accelerates. So I’m interested in then you made that move from high end retail to being head of HR for a professional football team, soccer team, for those listening in the US Premier League team fallen at the time, I’m guessing what under the same ownership as Harrods.

Robert Ordever 8:29
They were and honestly, moving. I didn’t, have a particularly love of football at that time. But there was something intriguing about this other business within the group. That just kind of sparked my interest. And it was, if I’m honest, it was a chance to lead an HR function, having having been a sort of a part of an HR function. And that was the draw. I didn’t know a lot about football. I was going to fall in love with football. I didn’t realize it was going to be as complex as mad that the highs were going to be as high and the lows were going to be as low as they were. So it was a bit of a roller coaster for me, but But yes, the connection and the reason that I applied was you know, it was a business that I’d heard lots about because we had shared ownership. I mean, it ran completely separately, but I had some insight into into the workings kind of before I before I put my CV.

Mervyn Dinnen 9:29
So I’m guessing you know, this is most people, certainly in the UK and Europe kind of obsessed with football, soccer. What was it like? You obviously didn’t necessarily have that obsession beforehand. But how was it different? So I mean, questions I’d ask you kind of you’ve got these. These are very well remunerated players who were put up on pedestals who are icons of the community you serve and I mean, are you responsible for them or are they different? You No, I mean, are you dealing through agents? And what’s the kind of size of the backroom operation behind all of this?

Robert Ordever 10:07
So the size of the club at the time, and obviously, it would have moved since probably grown since. But at that time, we’d been in the Premier League for probably something like eight years, maybe it maybe a little under, we were fairly well established, we had just over 200 permanent employees that were non playing staff, and about 1000 casual workers. So these, these were people that engaged to deliver coaching in the community, or deliver catering on a match day or safety stewards. So they would engage with us. You know, for some, it could be a couple of times a week. For others, it might be once or twice a month. But a fairly big pool of casual workers, which brought its own challenges in terms of engagement. These weren’t people we had day to day contact with, in terms of the responsibility, so as as people director, I guess, I guess the answer is you have accountability for everything. But the reality is that thanks, staffer, in many respects, much more straightforward. You know, the disciplinary processes for a soccer player, for example, are determined by the rules that are agreed with the players union, right. And they include sanctions without any kind of hearing, you know, in many respects, it has a simplicity that that regular kind of employment relationships don’t have.

Robert Ordever 11:32
You know, the most complicated piece of work to do with players is the money. And frankly, that’s between the agent and the chief executive I managed to swerve, swerve that responsibility quite nicely. But for everyone that is not playing, including the manager and the manager, staff, it is a almost normal employment relationships. I say almost because that, you know, unlike anywhere else, you work, the results by which you are measured our immediate, frequent, emotive and appear everywhere they’re in the press, they’re in there on the TV. You know, if we were, if we were on a bad run, every one of my friends, colleagues, peers, Twitter followers had an opinion on it. Yes, in normal employment relationship, but in a very strange and very public kind of environment. And as I said, huge highs and huge lows, when you walk into the training ground on a Monday morning, the morale of the the employee base, regardless of how great your benefits are, and what your well being program looks like, and all the rest of it, you can’t help but be impacted by the results of the weekend, what the papers are saying, what your peers and friends have to say about it at the pub the week, you know, all of that stuff. It’s a complicated environment. But when things are good, there’s literally no better place to be.

Mervyn Dinnen 13:06
And I suppose one of the interesting things is that that I hadn’t really thought about is that you will have a people working for you in the back room, who actually support other teams. So you have this this strange, there’s this strange scenario where you’ve got very loyal employees who actually want their employee to do badly, because they don’t, they don’t, they don’t want. They don’t want the employee to keep winning every week, because it might have an impact on their team, it’s kind of It must be really strange.

Robert Ordever 13:39
I’m not sure that’s what you get. There’s something that really focuses the mind when the team that you work for is actually the one that’s going to pay your mortgage. Right, that’s mine. So I don’t ever think we had anyone working for us who wanted us to lose, because that really the impact of the team winning or losing on all of us, was huge, right? From a job security perspective. From a remuneration perspective, everything the amount we’re able to invest, and on and on. So don’t think that that happens. I think the question is, how can you turn someone who is passive about the team they work for? Because it’s not their team is just their employer into someone who is passionate about the team that they work for? And actually, on the other side of the scale, you have people who are lifelong fans, and that also brings challenges, how, how detached can they be when they’re making decisions, you know, how they kind of pull themselves away and look at it from a from a more holistic perspective. So you do have all of that and I think we, we managed and we made some, some changes, you know, my kind of journey in terms of understanding the employee experience a bit more and that the power of engagement happened while I was at football. And we, you know, at the start of my time there we We were very much like my retail days. You know, people should be grateful to work here. And we’re a fairly harsh kind of working environment tough, fair, but tough. And as we started to pull some of those those levers, we were able to really connect people to a deeper purpose.

Robert Ordever 15:17
So you might be an Arsenal fan, for example. But can I connect you to the purpose of being, you know, the custodian of this great community club? can I connect you to the kids who are coming to their first football match and the the service and experience you give them might determine their connection with the club for generations to come? Those are the things I think we were, we became much better able to connecting people to purpose. I was actually I was on a panel for another piece of work I was doing with Graham Gilmore, who’s now the chief executive at the London stadium, but at the time, we work together at Fulham. And he’s an Arsenal fan. And he talks about how proud he was to wear the kind of the stadium jacket in the winter on his way to work. And he’d be stood on the platform at Barnet, with it with his with his film crest on. And he said, you know, although it wasn’t his team, he felt very proud to wear the crest, not because of his connection to the footballing side necessarily, but what it meant to be Fulham right, what that meant in terms of good values, good community club, we had a reputation for doing the right thing for encouraging young fans. You know, we were focused on future sustainable growth of our fan base in a way that Arsenal weren’t, frankly, right, there were kids discounts, and we were doing kids for a quid because it was important for us to reach out to the community. So he felt proud of that, Chris, in a different way to He feels proud of his football team. No, change your football team, right? But people talk about you, you can change your spouse, you change your house, you change your car, you never change your football team. But right, right, when you work for a football club, have a second love, right and have a commitment and and when when there was a game that really mattered to Fulham, when it really mattered. And Phil and we’re playing arsenal, I know where his heart was, because it some there’s something just a bit deeper about that community that you’re a part of, that is hard to explain that kind of put your finger on.

Mervyn Dinnen 17:27
So it sounds to me like, you know, we talk about employing, rather, aligning employees with with the purpose of the business, but I suppose I’m looking at a different word here. It’s not so much aligning with purpose. It’s aligning it with the passion of the business. And would you say that’s a thread on the particularly with Harrods as well? Is it kind of you might not align with the overall purpose. But there’s a passion for this business you need.

Robert Ordever 17:55
Yeah, I think, but you know, I think you have to align with the purpose, I suppose the question is whether or not you can identify that purpose. Right. And when I think about my time, let’s take my retail day. So I think about my time at Harrods when I was abroad on holiday and someone asked me what I did for work, I thought very proud to tell them that I worked for Harrods, because the connotations that that gave was high levels of service reach a theater, it was about a you know more than just a shop. And because I connected with that I had an accountability, it was my job to ensure that that reputation was justifies it was my job, when I moved into HR to make sure that others in my team understood that purpose and, and felt and accountability to, to again a quite a historic kind of great British institution. So I think I think purpose is is important is when you combine it with belonging. So you know, you have your purpose, and you understand your place in that in that organization, what it means to the purpose. And then you can sense belonging. So I matter my contributions matter towards that purpose. I understand that I’m part of something bigger than just me. That’s when it starts to become I think really powerful. And of course at football clubs.

Robert Ordever 19:18
That’s key because we’re at a football club like Fulham it’s absolutely key because there’s ups and downs, there’s tough times. And when Pete when when our employees felt both that purpose, but they felt belonging, you get much more resilient workforce in tough times you get more accountability when things aren’t going quite so well. And you get people who, frankly are willing to speak up for your values. Yeah, is a fast moving business. And it’s really important to have people in your workforce to say, Hang on a minute. We’re custodians, what does that mean for the future? We’ve committed to innovate. What does that mean for this decision? That kind of personal accountability for the values of the club. You know, we talked about belonging to a community of football club has a number of different communities, you’ve got the community of fans, you have the community, the local community. And that’s that, and that is not to be underestimated. You know, we don’t talk about that, perhaps enough. You’ve got the community that your charitable arm serve, and the difference you’re making to people’s lives, often very underprivileged. And then you’ve got the employee community. And of course, the key, the magic, I guess, is connecting as many of those as you as you possibly can. And I just think that’s a really powerful cocktail. You know, I, I, I still, I’ve left football for a number of years now, I’m still a season ticket holder, it’s still in my heart. I don’t think that will ever go. But I have no historic connection to the area of film. I’ve never been privileged enough to live in the area of film. But somehow that connection to what it means is deep within me. And it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve changed jobs, they will always be my team. I can’t quite put my finger on when that moment happened. But it was to do with purpose and belonging. I knew that what I was made a difference made a difference to a number of communities. And I was part of that. And that was magical.

Mervyn Dinnen 21:25
Yeah. That’s I mean, it’s interesting, because you talk obviously with Harrods being retail theater and and you know, a top class sporting team is similarly theater. And I suppose most HR people who hopefully will be listening to this podcast, might be working with businesses who don’t have that kind of high profile, it’s not so obvious for their employees, on a day to day, week by week business, you know, how the business is doing? I mean, presumably at high end retail, they know how it’s doing by the numbers of people coming in the shop and number of people buying things. And with a sports team, you can sell Yeah, how big are the crowds? How good are the performances? How good are the results? I suppose to kind of wrap us up because I think it’s quite interesting about about, you know, the purpose and belonging, which are words that we sometimes use when we talk in HR, but I mean it a lot of the conversations around engagement. So this kind of if if people, it’s not obvious, I suppose to employees, how well the business is doing, what I mean, what advice would you have, you know, what are your thoughts on how to keep that kind of purpose and belonging, where you’re not all on this emotional roller coaster, almost where all the employees can can see how well or badly I suppose their their their employers is doing at that time?

Robert Ordever 22:49
Yeah, I suppose my gut feel moment is that we should be connecting people to how the business is doing right, that that level of transparency, I think, is really important. And I think the days where we need to know basis are kind of disappeared, I think people are want to know, how things are going, how well they’re doing. I think it’s part of the good psychological contract, frankly, that you work hard, you work hard towards a goal, you should see how those goals are feeding back to the overall financial well being of the business, or the overall values of the business. Right? I think sometimes we put too much credence on numbers, but there’s a balance here. Right? There’s, there’s a balance if you looked at. And I’m sorry, I’m perhaps going off on a bit of a tangent now. But if you look, but when we, when we talk to performance management of an individual, we were 50% and no more than 50% Was their tangible measures. Right. So if you were the commercial director, what was the ticketing revenue that you generated. And then the other 50% Was your values and behaviors. So for example, one of our values was about being confident custodians, and growing, part of that was about growing future fan base. So if you were a commercial director that, for example, didn’t have discounts for kids, senior citizens, some tickets for underprivileged kids in the area, then you might well do your number, but you would fail miserably on the values and behaviors piece and the lower of those two grades became your great, I think, and I think that’s an important kind of balance to have in our business.

Robert Ordever 24:31
And my view is we should be as transparent with people as as we can, if we’re, we’re employing good, responsible, trustworthy adults. We need to treat them like that. And and you’re right, not every business did it. I think in my retail days, we didn’t do that. We talked about the health of the department we’re in right now, but very rarely did I ever hear anyone talk about margin or profitability? But I think we’ve asked think we’re in a different place now. Right? I mean, that was, gosh, I don’t know, 18 years ago, some of that 16 years ago, maybe I think we’re in a different place now where I don’t think I would work for an organization where I couldn’t see the direct correlation between my work, the deeper purpose and the tangible business outcomes. So I think in short, my advice is, be upfront with people, let them see them share that accountability. What are you hiding?

Mervyn Dinnen 25:33
That’s good question to leave it on. Robert, it’s been absolute pleasure to talk to you. I’m learning things that I didn’t actually know or think about in terms of being I suppose working in high end retail, and particularly working for a globally recognized professional sports team. Which I suppose I am part of your local community. And listen, it’s been great to talk and personally, I look forward to seeing you again soon. And thank you for your time.

Robert Ordever 26:09
Thank you, Mervyn. It’s been great to be with you.

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