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Star Interview
Star Interview

Miriam D’Souli,
HR Director, Jet2


This month, Miriam D’Souli, HR Director at Jet2, talks to myGrapevine magazine about the airline & package holiday firm’s approach to managing its 12,000+ colleagues, how she aims to avoid a “traditional box ticking” approach to her own HR style, and the importance Jet2 places on recognising and rewarding its employees...

Talent management is becoming an increasing priority for HR. A recent study from DocuSign showed that, alongside recruitment, talent management was the main priority for 56% of UK firms this year, and it’s not hard to see why. While rising costs are, of course, a pressing issue, there are so many challenges for firms that come from the underlying issue of the workforce itself. So, whether it’s acquisition and retention or performance and engagement, almost every challenge HR leaders currently face falls into at least one of the talent management subcategories.

Miriam's CV

Experience

Jet 2
HR Director
2021 – Present 

Jet 2
General Manager
2017 - 2021

Royal Mail
Head of HR
2015 - 2017

London Overground Rail Operations
Deputy HR Director
2014 - 2015

Heathrow
Senior HR Business Partner
2010 - 2014

Servisair
Reginal HR Manager
2005 - 2010
Miriam
How did you get into HR?

I did some temp work to fund myself through university and I got an assignment as a PA to the HR Director at Signet Group over the Easter break – they offered me the job at the end of the two weeks, but I politely declined.  Instead, I negotiated a sandwich year in that HR Department as part of my Business Studies degree and the rest is history.  I found it so challenging and interesting, and I just kept wanting to know more – it’s when I realised the real world and the theory are not always the same!

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"We have to be experts at reacting to change, and so far we have done that very well"

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What might a typical day look like as the Jet2 HRD? 

There is no such thing as a typical day in Jet2 but the consistent thing is I always start early – I like an hour before most of the team arrive and I can quietly reflect and catch up with myself!  Through the day I can be talking succession with the senior teams, keeping on top of the HR systems implementation project, talking about what developmental needs we have and brainstorming what to change or implement, always talking to the teams around the office and getting feedback. I can be attending colleague forums, aligning our recruitment strategy and reviewing new initiatives, but always talking and listening – everything revolves around that. The balance between reactive and proactive is one that shifts a lot!

What’s your favourite thing about working in HR?

You are always surprised! You cannot predict people and that is what keeps it interesting and challenging.

Also, at Jet2 the senior team is full of bright ideas which is great but keeping up sometimes can be a challenge – it’s up to the HR team to make a lot of things happen and we are an extremely fast-paced company and almost everything is people-centric. 

Things happen very quickly so we never stop but it’s certainly never boring!

 
Compass
What does talent management mean to Jet2, and how integral is it to driving better business outcomes?  

Talent management is integral to every company I am sure, but our business has always thrived on the knowledge and passion of our colleagues.  Effective talent management is key to our success and with 50% of our board being internally promoted, it shows how committed we are to identifying and growing our own leaders. It is just as important for us to continuously attract and develop the right talent, both internally and externally too.

I am very lucky at Jet2 that our colleagues are recognised as critical to everything we do.  There are places that will say that is true, but our Chief Executive and Board Directors are all aligned and our ethos of Colleague, Customer, Profit deliberately places our colleagues first.  This is something that drives every discussion we have because to us the colleagues are key to our success – there is just no doubt about that!

How has the issue of talent management changed in the past few years? 

There have been a lot of changes. Within the aviation and tourism industries last year there were huge recruitment issues as there were so many scale backs and a lot of companies had to make very difficult decisions in the face of adversity.  We were very lucky to have retained the vast majority of our colleagues and we did so deliberately. We looked after our colleagues and topped up their salaries throughout the pandemic, despite the fact that overseas travel was one of the first things to lockdown and the last to reopen.  Our colleagues appreciated this, and it gave us the chance to show our loyalty and compassion through difficult times.

Of course, many other companies did not retain their colleagues, or recruit quickly enough when international travel reopened. Unlike those companies, we were adequately resourced with passionate and motivated colleagues, meaning that we did not cancel a flight or a holiday due to staff shortages!

As well as doing the right thing for our customers, it was important in that we did not let our colleagues down. It showed that we believe in our colleagues, even when things were uncertain, and it paid off. That decision has helped enormously in terms of engagement, and it is a pleasure to look on LinkedIn or Instagram and see the reaction of our colleagues or even our customers or other companies praising our efforts.

That is one core thing to remember when it comes to talent management – having motivated colleagues telling others why they should work here through their own story.

 
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"The most powerful thing that drives our decisions is what the colleagues are telling us or how they are feeling. I hope that never changes"

 
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What are some of the key areas of talent management that Jet2 is focusing on?

Apprenticeships are something that we are really keen to do more of, as we see them as critical to our ongoing success.  We have more than 100 apprentices in the business, and we also encourage internal apprenticeships at many levels, which are proving to be popular.

We are constantly reviewing how we develop colleagues at all levels of the organisation from the top down.  Our culture regardless of the level is really important to us.  As the UK’s largest tour operator and third largest airline, we have more than 12,000 colleagues but have managed to maintain a family feel because our values are embedded, and they run through everything we do.

In terms of benefits and rewards and ensuring we are competitive, we consider the economy and the market and last year we decided to do two salary reviews because after we awarded one, it was apparent the costs of living were increasing and so we gave an 8% salary increase last year. As we worked through a very challenging summer, we decided that we also wanted to say a massive thank you to all of our colleagues who had to work exceptionally hard and so every colleague received a £1,000 bonus. We also gave five extra days leave last year so colleagues could get some time off at the right time. 

This year we have awarded a 9% pay rise across the business to help support everyone.  We also offer superb bonus awards and profit share entitlements because we have performed well and we want to give back to our colleagues.  We also introduced a Sharesave scheme last year for the first time which was extremely popular, and we were really proud to win awards for the scheme and the communications that we did in the UK and overseas.

How do you identify what areas of talent management to prioritise? Is staff feedback utilised, for example?

Colleague forums are something we have in every area of the business, and we hold regular meetings and calls as well as ad hoc ones if we feel we need to send messages out to the colleagues or want to ask if there is anything we can do to help. I will attend these forums as will the Chief Executive and sometimes our Executive Chairman.  We are very lucky to have a very open culture and all of the senior leaders regularly talk to colleagues and act on the feedback.  This is something all of our colleagues know – it’s not unusual for emails to come from colleagues letting us know what can be improved or thanking us or simply giving suggestions. We love this and we encourage it. The most powerful thing that drives our decisions is what the colleagues are telling us or how they are feeling.  I hope that never changes because I think this is what makes Jet2 a great place to work.

Of course, people leave sometimes and that can be for many reasons, but it is important that we look at why and we regularly analyse the attrition levels across different areas of the business and why they are telling us they are leaving.  This is key to understanding what we can change or improve but also ensuring that we are constantly listening to feedback.  We also introduced stay interviews in key areas where the market was buoyant – we do still have to compete with some great brands out in the market who want the best IT and Marketing talent and it’s not just within the industry that we need to remain competitive and it’s not just in the UK. We are now the UK’s biggest Tour Operator and we have some of the best colleagues and understandably that means other companies target our people and we are very aware of that! But, when all is said and done – 20 years ago when Jet2 started there were just 80 colleagues working for the business. And half of them still work for us today – so that’s some retention rate!

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"We are constantly reviewing how we develop colleagues at all levels of the organisation from the top down"

 
Compass
Are there any successes, or challenges that have been overcome, that Jet2 would like to highlight? 

Jet2 has been around for 20 years now, so there have been so many challenges and so many successes.  We have to be experts at reacting to change and so far we have done that very well.  People work in this industry because it never sleeps, you never know what will be coming your way but it’s exciting and challenging in a good way!  We have to celebrate the tiny successes every day as well as the bigger achievements.

We have won so many awards over the years and our colleagues are genuinely our biggest success. They really demonstrate our values and give the best service which is why our customers come back time and again.  They drive our success, and because our values are so simple but effective it means colleagues adopt them easily.  So, I guess one of our biggest successes is embedding values that everyone can demonstrate naturally.

We have colleagues in every destination that we have holidays – that’s more than 65 destinations and 20 countries across Europe, that brings many cultural and legislative challenges for me and the HR team.  As a HR professional keeping up with that is the biggest challenge!

Finally, if you could give HR leaders one piece of advice for improving their talent management, what would it be? 

Don’t just do the traditional box grids, annual appraisals and formal processes.  Think beyond that and adapt.  Make it easy for those that don’t work well with formality and keep changing and keep listening to your people.  Just because something is not how you traditionally do things, it doesn’t mean it can’t be – don’t be scared to try new things and if it doesn’t work, try again! Don’t be scared of trying something new and then deciding it wasn’t right – people respect that you can say "actually that wasn’t what I thought it would be – let’s try again!"

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