A holistic HR strategy has played a critical role in the business turnaround of boutique hair product business ghd with significant increases in both operating income and employee engagement, according to ghd’s people manager for Australia and New Zealand, Symeon Leslie.
Prior to 2016, there was no HR presence within the company, and it was suffering from all-time high turnover rates, low employee engagement, low productivity and a lack of policies and procedures.
“This was costing the business thousands of dollars,” said Leslie.
“It was clear that there was a lot of work to be done, from the basics like policies, procedures and position descriptions, to ensuring we had the right people in the right places.”
ghd (Good Hair Day) employs around 65 people and makes a range of hair products that are sold to around 4200 regular salon customers, and in August 2016 it conducted the first of its annual engagement surveys.
This survey clearly highlighted employee concerns with recognition, communication, culture and opportunities for promotional and L&D opportunities within the business, Leslie explained.
“This was a turning point for ghd, prompting a much-needed period of change involving all employees, but most importantly, a re-established and reinvigorated HR function,” she said.
Key elements of ghd’s HR strategy
Attracting and retaining a high-performing team is a key part of the business’ global values for success, according to Leslie, who said that the HR team has every responsibility to deliver on this promise.
“When creating our local HR strategy, we asked our team to first create a clear vision that they were excited and motivated by, ensuring that it aligned with the global vision and could be supported with measurable results,” she said.
The strategic goals were split into 3 key pillars: (1) attract and retain, (2) engage and (3) train – each of which contain solid, defined, ‘SMART’ goals which are measured frequently.
Leslie explained that one of the key strategic elements that sits within the engagement pillar is “ghd life” which is the company’s holistic health and wellbeing program.
“It was clear that there was a lot of work to be done, from the basics like policies, procedures and position descriptions, to ensuring we had the right people in the right places”
Introduced in January 2018 following the previous year’s engagement survey, this engagement program was “created by ghd employees, for ghd employees” and has four pillars: live, grow, drive and feel; “each containing initiatives designed to support our team in all facets of life”, said Leslie.
The “live” pillar promotes healthy living and encompasses initiatives that are focused on teams’ mental, physical and nutritional wellbeing, and ensuring all team members are able to achieve work-life balance.
The “grow” pillar places a focus on teams’ personal professional learning and development and includes initiatives around technical and soft skills training, leadership training, onboarding, competency and succession planning.
The “drive” pillar ensures employees have a clear purpose and are rewarded and recognised for their achievements, explained Leslie, who said the final pillar “feel” helps to improve the way we people coming to work every day.
“We know how employees feel about work and those around them has a huge impact on their state of mind and happiness,” said Leslie, “so initiatives for this pillar include community and charity involvement, team building, employee benefits and providing platforms for our team to have a voice and have an impact on how we do things.
“ghd life represents the way we care for and treat our employees, both personally and professionally.
“By helping our team to become healthier and happier versions of themselves and offering opportunities for continuous self-development, we can be confident in providing an environment where they can reach their goals, our goals, and enjoy themselves along the way.”
Adoption and implementation of strategy
One of the keys of success to any people-related strategy or initiative is to provide a level of consultation with all team members, Leslie said.
Prior to the creation of the HR strategy and ghd life, input from the entire team was sought through the annual engagement survey and ongoing pulse checks.
“We quickly adopted our communication to highlight that everyone was responsible for driving cultural change – it was a two-way street”
These short monthly surveys are designed to gain a quick snapshot of how employees are currently feeling at work and provides them with a platform to deliver feedback and have their say on a variety of topics.
Key themes include understanding what is important to the team, their values and where they feel improvements could be made.
“There was no point in creating something that our teams did not care about, so we used the results of these surveys to shape the ghd life program we have today,” said Leslie.
Adopting and communicating new initiatives and or processes to all levels of the business has been relatively easy for us with the introduction of an online hub and mobile app called “ghd world” which serves as the home for e-learning, policies, workshop bookings, communications, weekly newsletters, how-to-videos, forums, frequently used documents, photo uploads and more.
“It’s frequently updated, and even more so alongside the launch of new initiatives to ensure all levels of the business have new and engaging content available and kept informed throughout their journey at ghd,” said Leslie.
Challenges and lessons learned
Along with the typical challenges around budgets for new initiatives, Leslie said the most prominent challenges were around HR-led activities and a large proportion of the company’s broader team which are based in the field.
“When we started shaking things up a little and introducing initiatives such as ghd life, there was definitely a mindset among our team that it was the newfound HR team’s job to improve engagement and culture alone,” she said.
“We quickly adopted our communication to highlight that everyone was responsible for driving cultural change – it was a two-way street.
“We could launch initiative after initiative but unless our teams were getting involved ‘you spoke, we listened’ and placing an onus back onto the team, no-one would get anything out of it, and we certainly wouldn’t get the engagement we needed to reach our goals.”
Having a geographically dispersed team bring other challenges, and one-third of ghd’s employees work remotely across Australia and New Zealand, “so we were challenged in thinking of innovative ideas that could engage these team members as well,” said Leslie.
“I can tell you now: it’s a lot easier to drive engagement when your team is all within the same four walls, rather than spread across two countries and five different time zones.”
Not all strategies would have the same effect on the field team as they would on office-based team members, so to counter this ghd world is utilised as much as possible for communications and competitions, while team members are flown in numerous times a year for teambuilding and training sessions are offered in virtual formats.
“I can tell you now: it’s a lot easier to drive engagement when your team is all within the same four walls, rather than spread across two countries and five different time zones”
Results and outcomes
There have been some notable outcomes from both a business and HR perspective over the past 12 months, according to Leslie.
On a business level, operating income is up by 72 per cent while it is also attracting 4.5 per cent more candidates this year compared to last year.
Staff turnover has reduced by 11 per cent for the same period while there has also been an 80 per cent increase in tenure among employees with 2-5 years’ service.
Overall engagement score is sitting at 90 per cent (which is right on the company target), said Leslie, who noted that there has been a 16 per cent improvement in the overall ghd team engagement score over the past year alone.
Results from employee pulse checks show a 7 per cent increase in “promoters” internally and a 5 per cent decrease in detractors.
In terms of training, two-thirds of employees are involved in some form of non-mandatory training and 87 per cent are satisfied with the amount of L&D offered (a 12 per cent increase on the previous year) and 95 per cent of employees are participating in at least one elective activity through ghd life.
“We are also seeing results due to the focus we place on L&D through internal promotions and advancement,” said Leslie, who added that there has been an 18.5 per cent increase in promotion or advancement opportunities in the business (a 7 per cent increase on the previous year).
Over the same period, ghd has been named finalists as an ‘Employer of Choice,’ ‘Australian HR team of the year’ and ‘Best Learning & Development Program’ in the Australian HR Awards.
“We are really proud of the work we are doing here at ghd and of the results we are seeing – we always have room for improvement, and we are excited at the prospect of some of the initiatives we have planned for the future to do so,” said Leslie.