Star Interview

Mike Dawson, Group HR and Corporate Services Director, Dale Farm


This senior HR leader exclusively shares his passion for people development with myGrapevine magazine, sharing how it lays the foundation for business success…

Words by Dan Cave

The CIPD's view on good work is that it is a quality job that offers fair reward, that allows for a secure living, offers work-life balance, gives employees a voice in what they do, and, amongst other things, gives opportunities for development.

In fact, so important are development opportunities for employees that one recent US study – conducted by Instructure and The Harris Poll – found that 70% of workers would leave their current role for one that has a better reputation for investing in staff learning.

For the employers who do offer decent development programmes, they get a business upswing too. Staff are more productive and the organisation is more likely to be enjoying higher profit. With such clear benefits, it makes sense that Mike Dawson, Group HR and Corporate Services Director at Dale Farm, a UK & Ireland farmers co-operative, is so proud of his own work in this area.

To find out why he is so proud of his own work in people development – and why this is important in this current era of change – myGrapevine magazine caught up him to find out about his HR career, how he rose, and what his agenda looks like.

CV of
Mike Dawson

Experience

Group HR and Corporate Services Director / Group Company Secretary

June 2013 – Present

Head of Human Resources, Glen Dimplex

May 2011 – May 2013

HR Manager, Schrader Electronics

Jan 2004 – April 2011

Education

University of Liverpool

LLB Law

The Open University

MBA

Queens University, Belfast

Postgraduate Diploma in Human Resources

Q

Why did you get into HR?


A

Like many HR professionals, I fell into the profession by chance. I studied law at university, but following a short stint working with an automotive company on their HR management systems, I decided that it was an area where I could have a positive impact and rewarding career. Thankfully, that has panned out, and I haven’t looked back since.

Q

Have you always had a passion for people development?


A

The part of my role that has always given me the greatest sense of satisfaction is seeing people come into the business and supporting their growth and development: their evolution, their stories and journeys. It is always great to see its positive impact on people, their families and the wider business.

“The part of my role that has always given me the greatest sense of satisfaction is seeing people come into the business and supporting their growth and development”

Q

What about firm and culture development?


A

Our business has been undergoing a significant change in our strategy and in our culture. The people agenda needed to change to be fit for a more modern workspace. For us, people are the prime enabler to deliver our business strategy. New ways of working require a culture to match that. There has been a general openness to change on the technological, talent and commercial fronts. We have built a strong team, robust systems and promote excellent communication to help to meet the change management challenge.

Q

I know you’ve taken on a new project to develop Dale Farm’s culture, could you tell us a little bit more about that?


A

To support the next stage of our business development we wanted to ensure that Dale Farm is an attractive organisation to work at for current employees and appeal to candidates as an employer of choice to our future talent pool. However, we felt that to help achieve these goals we needed to develop a group culture rather than operate as site-specific micro-cultures.

As part of this drive to improve culture, we implemented Culture Amp, to help us develop a better understanding and insight as to how our employees felt about the business and current culture. Subsequently, we were able to identify actions which could be implemented which would enhance the employee experience.

Headshot Becky

A bit about Mike...


How did you get into HR?

Like many HR professionals, I fell into the profession by chance.

What part of your HR role gives you the greatest satisfaction?

Seeing people come into the business and supporting their growth and development: their evolution, their stories and journeys.

What’s your proudest HR moment?

One that stands out in particular concerns a scheme supplying free butter, cheese and milk to those working on our manufacturing sites during the height of the pandemic.

Next HR challenge?

[To] ensure that the evolving culture places people front and centre.

Q

How did you go about getting information to develop Dale Farm’s culture?


A

We carried out our first engagement survey in 2019 and there was a 43% response rate. The initial findings showed that internal communication was an area for improvement. We subsequently launched a new internal communications app and a series of videos providing updates on business performance, current activities and future plans.

When we repeated the survey in 2020 the response rate had increased to 63%. Not only does this suggest a greater sense of buy-in to the process but it also shows that Dale Farm has managed to engage with its workforce who hadn’t previously responded, such as those based on the factory floor or working off-site.

Q

Is there a project you’re proud of – why?


A

We’re proud of many projects but one that stands out in particular concerns a scheme supplying free butter, cheese and milk to those working on our manufacturing sites during the height of the pandemic. This meant that, at a time when the supermarket shelves were often running out of kitchen staples, our people wouldn’t have to worry about trying to shop for dairy produce at the end of their shifts. Culture Amp’s employee engagement data showed just how much this initiative was valued by the recipients. It’s good to know that we were genuinely helping people out at such a difficult time.

“The people agenda needed to change to be fit for a more modern workspace”

Q

How will this benefit communication at your firm? 


A

We’ve demonstrated that we’re listening to our employees, are taking action to address their concerns and have their best interests at heart. As a result, more people are buying-in to the engagement process which in turn will help put more measures in place to enhance company culture further.

Q

What’s next for you and your firm?


A

The last four years have been about enabling business transformation through an exceptional people strategy. The team here have bought into the vision and played a crucial role in delivering it. The near-term challenge is to ensure that the evolving culture that places people front and centre is maintained. It can be all too easy to slip back into old-fashioned ways of working, so we need to be vigilant to keep what we have achieved.

Useful Resources


5 key things to consider when offering career transition options to employees
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5 key things to consider when offering career transition options to employees

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Workforce Resilience in action
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Workforce Resilience in action

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