Cover Feature | Scaling HR from scratch

Scaling HR from scratch

Scaling HR from scratch

Lacoste PCL discuss the monumental task of creating a brand-new HR function from almost nothing

Words by Daniel Jones | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Daniel Jones

Design by Matt Bonnar

Joint ventures can be a tricky business. On one hand, sharing ownership and pooling resources can certainly help spur on the growth of a new enterprise; on the other, such ventures often prove a complex challenge for those in charge of people management. In the case of Lacoste and long-standing shoemaker Pentland Chaussures, the benefits of forming a single entity and shoring up their partnership were eventually deemed too good to turn down.

These two companies have shared a close relationship for over half a century, with Pentland taking the reins on the design and distribution of Lacoste footwear to a global market. The combined clout of a French style icon and the manufacturing power of Pentland, one of the UK’s leading fashion distributors, has proven very successful to say the least. So, when their licensing agreement came to an end in January last year it made sense to finally put pen to paper on a formal joint venture.

As expected, the merger created plenty of challenges from a HR perspective. The brand – Lacoste PCL – would be based in Pentland’s London headquarters. It would also require a complete overhaul of policies, practices and procedures, many of which had to be created from scratch. The task fell to Nicky Bliss, current Head of HR at Lacoste PCL. Having to establish a people management function from scratch, it was a major project.

“When the joint venture was agreed in January 2018, the big challenge was developing a human resources function to meet the needs of the business and the people who keep it running,” explains Nicky. “The majority of our staff are millennials with a creative slant, so we had to be open to new and sometimes off-the-wall ideas, but also respectful of different needs and approaches to getting the job done. At the end of the day, we want our people to bring their whole selves to work. That’s when we get the most out of them, and they get the most out of us.”

Getting the fabric right

Nicky and her team immediately got to work on recruitment, hiring a close-knit executive team and setting out a grade and salary banding structure with appropriate competencies for each level within the organisation.

“Our people must be able to see a career path in front of them,” adds Nicky, “Whether that’s vertically through their particular skill area or laterally by becoming a subject matter expert and individual contributor. We involved teams as much as we could, while also respecting the importance of their day jobs. That led to us setting up our Culture Club, where representatives of each department could share ideas and contribute to initiatives and brand values.

“These sessions were invaluable and really helped build our culture from the ground up. Our new brand values were a direct product of this, as was a consensus for a strong focus on employee health and wellbeing. In fact, we are now working with Shine Offline, who I heard about initially from a HR Grapevine article with the HRD at Ella’s Kitchen, as part of our wellbeing strategy.”

“Moving into a new office on the fifth floor of the Pentland building was also a big step for the brand. New décor, new equipment and standing desks were all welcome additions - many of which sprang from our feedback sessions. We also set up our Future Concepts lab, a space where our designers are free to create and innovate without distraction. If we want our people to break the mould, we have to provide the right working environment to do just that.”

Raw talent recognised

There’s clearly a strong focus on internal progression at Lacoste PCL. Nicky worked closely with new CEO Gianni Geordiades – former managing director at Ugg – to think about how the business was structured and how it could play to the strengths of incumbent employees. Those who had stayed the distance through necessary structural changes showed incredible potential in terms of output and creativity. It was deemed only right to recognise that talent through a new development programme.

“We reorganised and promoted a significant number of people into leadership positions because we wanted to invest in those who were clearly invested in developing the brand. We knew hiring externally wasn’t a strategy we wanted to deploy if we could help it. Some of our guys hadn’t necessarily held senior leadership roles before, but we knew we had some incredible raw talent to work with. That’s when the idea for the Learning Journeys programme was born.

“The first step was partnering with a learning consultant to look at the core competencies required in each defined role. We could then begin to build an 18-month journey around that, taking into consideration the time for practical application and one-to-one executive coaching. If the programme were to work, it was our job to support the unique development needs of each individual as they progressed to a senior level.

“Right now, we have four separate journeys underway, each linked to grade level in the organisation and each roughly a third of the way through the programme. One critical element is ensuring that each peer group works together for the duration. This helps form natural support networks between teams, something we then look to strengthen by providing opportunities for off-site socials. There’s no doubt this has led to a greater understanding of the many interdependencies spread across all teams and disciplines. In turn, we’re confident it will lead to strong engagement among our people and commercial gains for the business over the coming 12 months.”

Future-proofing the business

Investing in the next generation of designers and developers has always been a long-standing tradition at both Lacoste and Pentland Chaussures. As such, any joint venture between the two companies would be expected to continue this tradition. As Nicky explains, the importance of nurturing fresh talent at length, particularly the challenge of encouraging graduates to develop their skills in real work situations, is crucial.

“Before the joint venture, Pentland had a long and successful history of fostering British talent through graduate schemes, internships and entry-level design hires. Now, it’s our responsibility to continue that work through two-way partnerships with prestigious universities – Manchester Metropolitan, Loughborough and De Montfort all included. These institutions are leaders in their respective fields, design and beyond. Each partnership will ultimately result in new and exciting opportunities for students to develop their skills in a practical setting

“Of course, future-proofing the position of Lacoste PCL within the industry is also a big prerogative for us. Graduates fresh out of university are now incredibly well-equipped in terms of the latest technologies and research. That feeds directly into our own product development. Working with graduates isn’t just the right thing to do from a CSR angle; it enhances our research and gives us access to new ideas. We can then draw on every available piece of intel when making beautiful, high performance footwear for our customers. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.

“Having the courage to act on ambition, collaborate with experts and innovate with new ideas is what this new brand is all about. From our university affiliations to our wellbeing and leadership programmes, we are loyal to our principles across everything we do. All those little touches come together to form an identity we can call our own.”

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