Star Interview

HR faces the music


Focusrite’s HR Director sees an intrinsic link between the passion of his people and their wellbeing...

Words by Kieran Howells | Design by Matt Bonnar

Wellbeing is a broad term. When discussing the physical and mental wellbeing of employees, there is no one thing that HR can point to as the key source of positive experiences. Largely, wellbeing depends on the individual and their needs. Therefore, one of HR’s biggest challenges will always be implementing effective strategies that not only work for the collective, but also that celebrate the individuality of its employees. However, there are some universally intrinsic components to any good wellbeing strategy that form the basis of any good offering. For example, ensuring that workers have a good work-life balance is essential, whilst ensuring that staff have access to career progression and clear goals to achieve prevents disillusionment.

According to Gallup research, one element that plays a massive part in the mental wellbeing of staff is clear purpose. Those companies who score in the top 20% in worker purpose see a 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less turnover. Harvard Business Review research found that nine in 10 employees are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. In fact, out of 2,000 respondents, the vast majority of workers said they’d be willing to forego 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that they considered to be meaningful.

Of course, no one can force their employees to care about the work that their doing, but all HR leaders can empower their staff to feel like they are doing important work and foster the passion that grows therein. This is a view strongly held by Daniel Burleigh, Head of People at Focusrite Audio Engineering – one of the leading companies in the pro audio space around the world. Starting from a small operation based in High Wycombe, UK, the company has steadily acquired other brands under its umbrella including Novation, Martin Audio and Amplify Music which has boosted its employee base into the hundreds. However as Burleigh explains, passion is still at the heart of Focusrite’s operations.

“We have a very dynamic and passion driven culture where people can truly be themselves and express their passion in what they do. I often walk through the kitchen and there are people on guitars (until coronavirus that was). We have built that passion into our mission and purpose - specifically around 'removing barriers to creativity' and 'enriching lives through music' which is at the heart of who we are,” he says.

 

We wanted to make it perfectly clear that [employees] were in control of their own progression, and that we’d support them 100%

Burleigh didn’t start his career with the intention of getting into the HR space. Starting out in operational roles and sales positions with DHL , he worked his way up to becoming HR Business Partner at Arqiva, before making the jump to HR Director at TalkTalk – a position he held for two years before arriving at Focusrite. Whilst HR wasn’t his original goal, his values were firmly rooted within its remit.

“One of the main experiences that I’ve been developing in those roles is trying to become a strong leader of people,” he tells HR Grapevine. “My own personal values are that if you work with very strong passionate leaders and managers who support their people, then that is the key to being able to enjoy a positive working environment. I pride myself on that.”

We have a very dynamic and passion driven culture where people can truly be themselves and express their passion in what they do

 

Burleigh believes that his passion for the wellbeing of his staff stems from his own experiences with leadership at DHL, which he says contributed to him seeing roles such as HR as less transactional and more people focussed. He says: “When I joined Focusrite, I saw it as an opportunity to utilise some of the skills and experiences that I’d gained over the years to support those who may not have had the same experiences or education in looking after others. When I was at DHL, they had a fantastic management leadership development programme, and I’ll always be thankful for the insight I gained from that. Organisations are recognising that, rather than just being taskmasters, focusing on engaging with their people gets far better results, and this is something that I want to contribute to. It’s very much a passion thing for me.”

And whilst Burleigh recognises the passion within Focusrite immediately, his goal for his time within the company has been to ensure that passion and support go hand in hand. “The amount of passion within this company is immense. I’ve never worked anywhere before where the people have such a deep and strong connection with the product that they're making. Most of our people are users of our products. They’re creating things that they’re going to be using. You’re not just dealing with run-of-the-mill 9-to-5 employees who do the job, go home and forget about it. So, ensuring that we’re doing whatever we can to fuel that fire and keep our people motivated and support their passion is essential to ensuring that they actually want to continue coming back and doing what they do every day,” he says.

When discussing how this has been implemented, he highlights the company’s performance management process. Before his appointment such processes were performed by simply sending out a 10 point questionnaire, mainly focussing on managers, which he admits had a lack of consistency. Upon deciding that this held little value for the employees, Burleigh set about redesigning from the ground up, starting by going to the employees and discovering what they truly valued – and what would make this an advantageous tool.

“The main outcome of that was our ‘my focus’ process, which puts performance and development into the hands of the individual. We wanted to make it perfectly clear that they were in control of their own progression, and that we’d support them 100%. As a result, we’ve built a far more intrinsic link between the employees and the company values, and supported the creativity that already exists.”

Yet whilst his sights are well and truly on the present, especially given the challenges that coronavirus brings to all businesses, he’s already considering how the pandemic will affect the wellbeing of his staff going forward. “The COVID situation, whilst horrendous for so many people across the world, is going to create a change to the workforce of the future - it will change how we think about how we work, where we work and how we interact with each other. I have always been a fan of flexible working, so I see this is an opportunity,” he concludes.


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