SME Growth Summit 2022 preview: Katrina Ritchie, Gripple

Posted on 9 Nov 2022 by Tom St John

We caught up with Katrina Richie, People and Culture Director at Gripple, who will be delivering a keynote presentation to kick off day one of SME Growth Summit (16th November) in Liverpool.

SME Growth Summit is the must-attend industry event for manufacturing professionals working at organisations with a turnover of up to £100m.

Katrina kicks off day one, but the combined two days will feature more than 150 experienced industry leaders, who will deliver keynote presentations, host discussion tables and take part in panel debates. In addition to sharing their experiences, growth sucesses and current plans, these individuals will also listen to the current challenges of SME manufactures, answer questions and perhaps even find some solutions in the process.

I talked to Katrina about her keynote, which will be explaining why her company Gripple, finalists in multiple The Manufacturer MX Awards categories this year, has no need for a HR department.

Katrina Ritchie, Gripple - keynote speaker at SME Growth Summit

Why has Gripple banned HR?

We banned it simply because we want our leaders to be responsible for our people, not another department. I think the key thing is because we’re employee owned, that forms the bedrock of our success. My role is to make sure we’ve got the right leaders in the business – they’re being developed so that they’re leading people properly.

That’s another reason we don’t need a HR department – if we hire the right people, we develop them. We’ve got a strong leadership, so there’s minimal need for HR in the traditional form. We’ve got very low rates in terms of performance management, disciplinaries and all that formal stuff usually dealt with by HR, because we’re bringing in the best people. We’re managing them properly; our leaders are managing them properly.

What cultural practices have been most impactful and led to growth at Gripple?

I’m a very strong believer in the idea that values drive culture, I don’t think you can identify or have a company culture unless you know what your values are. We’ve got really strong core values which we live and breathe, it’s what we call the Gripple spirit. It’s so important to us, we recruit people against the Gripple spirit, we manage performance against it and we score people annually against it. So, they’re truly embedded, that then drives the behaviours and the culture that were so proud of.

We don’t have job descriptions at Gripple, because we’ve got such strength in our core values. We’re bringing people in who’ve got a can-do attitude, they’re going to go above and beyond and support each other because it’s all part of the Gripple spirit. With no job descriptions, it’s of course critical to make sure people know what they’re responsible for by giving them clear objectives. That’s all driven through leadership.

Gripple factory shot - Gripple are featuring in this year's SME Growth Summit

We need to make sure we’ve got the right leaders in the company. They know what they’re doing, they’re setting the right objectives, making people understand what part they play in delivering the company strategy and goals. People just get on with it – having job descriptions would restrict people.

You would never hear someone here say, ‘I’m not doing that,’ or ‘That’s not my job.’ There’s been times when we’ve had huge orders, and there’s been a truck waiting to get this stuff off to Argentina or somewhere like that. Everybody in the offices, including the MD, have been on their hands and knees packing, because they want to get this truck on its way.

This cultural attitude gives us so much breadth. Someone may be responsible for health and safety, for example, but then they might be on a project team looking at the layout plans for a new factory. We’ve picked people up from different areas who will be involved in different projects – you’re not just doing your day job.

I understand that the People and Culture team at Gripple have really been given time and space to develop this strategy – how important has that been for growth?

It was crucial? I don’t think the business would be as successful as it is today because of that. I was given the opportunity to start the Gripple People and Culture from scratch. I was already in the business, there was a gap that needed to be filled, there were no HR department. I was passionate about the company culture and the business, so I was given the opportunity to start something up, I’m not trained in HR, I’ve got no qualifications. I’m not really interested in HR, I don’t like it, people in my team are they know what they’re doing.

Without that endorsement and support from the top, it wouldn’t have worked. I’m a strong believer that if senior leaders and the board aren’t supporting the growth of a people agenda, they shouldn’t be a director in the business and they shouldn’t be on the board. It’s so important to Gripple – you’ll hear this first hand if you speak to a leader within Gripple, the people agenda is front and centre of the whole business strategy.

Attracting and keeping good talent is obviously so important. How do you ensure that you’re not losing talent to bigger companies?

We’ve got McLaren and Rolls Royce in Sheffield. All the kids want to go and do their apprenticeships at those companies – they’re much sexier businesses than Gripple. We have got a real challenge in attracting particularly young talent because of this. One of the ways we addressed this is by going into schools. Part of developing our leaders and people in the business is getting them to give a talk in a school. It’s a good tool for their growth as well; they improve their presentation skills and confidence, they talk about the business and the kids would get to hear all about Gripple.

We’ve actually got some of our leaders who sit on school governing boards or trust boards as part of that development. We attend school careers events – we normally send an apprentice and a junior manager, they set up a stand and talk to kids about how exciting Gripple is.

A Gripple factory worker

The other key thing that will help attract and keep talent, and it’s a very simple man mantra, one that will feature heavily in our next five-year plan. You just need to treat people properly, manage them properly and pay them properly.

When it comes to paying people properly, we think about not just the salary, but the benefits package. We’ve always paid in excess of the minimum living wage, we’ve tried to be a trailblazer in Sheffield. It’s easier for us to do that in a way because we’re employee owned. We made a decision last year to take some of the profit out and invest it back in people. This year, we’re very proud that we’ve been able to offer a 22% pay increase to all our factory workers, given the cost of living crisis.

The year before we set a target that every employee, after one year, when they’re trained, would be on a minimum wage of £25k a year. If you want you want your employees to feel good when they wake up in the morning and look forward to coming to work, they will if they’re being paid well and treated properly.

SME Growth Summit would like to thank:

  • Co-organiser Autodesk;
  • Knowledge partner Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge;
  • Sponsors Michael PageMade SmarterDXC TechnologyEDGE Digital ManufacturingEpicorERA FoundationInnovate UK KTNInstitute for Export & International Trade, and Verve4Growth.

For more insights on Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit, listen back to the latest episode of The Manufacturer Podcast