Learning from the People Team at BBR Ltd
Learning from the People Team at BBR Ltd

Learning from the People Team at BBR Ltd

The Manchester United of the wine world.

Keen to further develop my HR knowledge and awareness, I have spent the second week of half-term with Rowena Prenderville (People Development Business Partner) and her team at Berry Bros and Rudd, Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant. It has been – an education. 

Following the People Teams’ morning team huddle, I was introduced to Alan. A second ‘new employee’ joined us. Biometrics complete, we head to the staff room where a knowledgeable and welcoming Alan tells us that “Berry” have been trading since 1698 and that if I ever get an invitation to visit the St James’s Street offices in London, where scenes of the movie Kingsman were shot, I should not miss the opportunity. 

Alan shares a heartfelt narrative about the ‘family’ that is Berry Bros & Rudd. He shares a sense of pride in the Berry “family business,” of history and provenance, of women on the board, of staff joining and progressing through the business and also hinting towards the businesses glocal scale within the global luxury market place.

Do we, do schools offer that level of on-boarding? Time to meet and learn about the school? I hope so. However, precious hours on the first INSET of the term are quickly assigned to “training tasks,” safeguarding, and in my experience, I have never not felt overwhelmed.

People Development Business Partner

Back at the office, Rowena positions the ‘People Team’ within the organisation, the roles and responsibilities assigned to each team member. Rowena shares and confirms a busy, yet flexible schedule of meetings, so that I can better understand HR operations as well as strategy.

Next, Rowena takes me through BRR’s “Our People Plan Journey” and “Uncorking Excellence” strategy. It is a very familiar reporting-to-the-board style, context, content and data. It grounds the historic deployment of the ‘five-year’ People Strategy (now in Year 4), the People Development teams day-to-day work, achievements and notable influence.

Rowena and I pause to discuss Alan’s observation of a strong sense of gender equality with the organisation and what that communicates to staff more widely.

After reviewing the comprehensive “People Update” (Get. Grow. Keep.) I recognise that the subheading of “Get – Grow – Keep” covers the very same priorities and opportunities, issues and constraints, I discuss in an education setting, only we know that education is failing on both retention and recruitment.

Rowena moves up a gear, explaining how the various People Development prioritises and ‘active‘ projects interwoven with the broader organisational aims. There is a very close synergy between the strategic aims and HR – it is very obvious and yet I can not recall a time when of I have heard from HR at a school leadership team meeting? I also know, that my HR knowledge, was the last strand of leadership knowledge to be addressed (after finance).

Meanwhile, ‘hybrid working’ means TEAMS is permanently on in the background of our conversation. I am very aware of the demands on Rowena’s time.

Rowena walked and talked me through how the People Strategy and the Business Strategy, (digital innovation and acquisitions) overlap. The People Strategy: staffing profiles, staff competencies, staff development*, recruitment, particularly the impact of skills shortages in the digital sector require solutions so that BBR’s appetite for innovation can be fulfilled. A second diversion, to discuss the difference between ‘professional training’ versus ‘professional learning’ and why both are important. Staff engagement is proving to be a crucial metric for the business and one that Rowena is clearly very committed to enhancing above an already high 91%.

On staff engagement, I had not heard of Net Promotor Scores before leading Hindhead Campus. I would suggest it is as important as your presentism scores. Both communicating a level or, or grade of. “shared responsibility,” to the business or school.

Lastly we looked at recruitment, the role of recruiters, shortlisting and interview processes and interview matrices – again all very familiar to the Education Sector. A colleague dials in, Rowena excuses herself to support. Questions answered Emily contributes a number of vital insights to our recruitment discussion. Together ‘We’ surface that recruitment, specifically the interviewing section of recruitment is largely assessment processes. Again, transferable skills from the Education Sector to HR. 

Day 1 complete. I found Rowena’s frequent references to ‘staff engagement’ the key learning point for the day. Her intense focus and commitment on staff health, well-being and ‘bringing people together,’ unshakeable. This role is far more than a ‘People Strategy,’ and amplifies the heartfelt sentiment Alan shared at the start of the day – amplifying the benefits of working for a ‘family business.’  

If staff were the bricks of the organisation, the People Team are the cement.

Nuts and bolts 

Full morning of conversation with the Senior Business Partner was invaluable professional learning. We covered the daily requirements of the role, the breadth and complexity of challenges encountered, common and uncommon employee relations issues, projects and campaigns, policies, de-risking strategies, how to improve work relationships and productivity, training, payroll…  

The key learning point surfaced at key moments, where years of experience and expertise were summarily crystalised by a thoughtful reflection.

The processes are the same. Every disciplinary is different. The processes are the same. Every case is different.

Her advice, equally summative. 

  • Know your processes. Know your policy. Inside and out.
  • Listen in the now, think more about what will happen if / when…
  • Remember, as HR you have to flex and adapt to the senior staff or senior line manager you are advising. – You are only advising. You only have deferred influence. 
  • Offer advice. Be clear as to why you are offering this advice. 

Given the sensitivities of the topics discussed, respectfully, that is all I feel comfortable covering. 

One final insight. The importance of self-care for you, the HR Business Partner. Given the trauma that you are exposed to and expected to process and handle – you must remember to draw on your employer to support yourself also.

Payroll, Compensation and Benefits

Finally, payroll, (which I learnt is often split between HR and finance), the importance of being statutory compliant, delivering payroll accurately and on time before moving onto Compensation and Benefits. 

We discussed traditional, hybrid and flexi models and the financial commitment these represented. Pay, holiday entitlement, critical illness, medical, will writing services and more. We discussed salary sacrifice, brokers and products (for example BUPA vs Vitality). 

We reviewed why businesses invest in Employee Assistance Programmes and the confidence such products offer employees (mental health, financial and legal) and employers (engagement, staff reassurance, to enable staff to be ‘present’ at work).

As employers, we need to listen, yes, and proactively provide support. Again, this draws us back to the insights surfaced in the staff survey.

A significant and data-informed conversation followed on employee relations and engagement.  Very familiar, more detailed and tied to the financial commitments of the employer. We reviewed the organisational insights this data provided and the opportunities it signposted.  

One final reminder, ‘Let’s not survey ‘our people’ out.’ To what extent do you agree?

It was an amazing experience and the first time I had worked outside of education. In these difficult employability times – education, schools must do better. Compensation, realistic work-life balance (yes, ‘our pupils only have one shot at getting an education,’ however it is not acceptable to amplify that narrative at the expense of staff, who also have to be available for the next cohort of pupils too, who also have only “one shot.”) Second, whether we like it or not, teaching as a profession is in competition with other profession, who are now more flexible, more hybrid than ever.

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