Why HR is a dirty word at Gripple

Posted on 13 Jan 2023 by The Manufacturer

Banning HR at Gripple, Manufacturer of the Year 2022, has empowered managers to lead and take responsibility for their own people. It has also given the People & Culture team the time and space to execute the company’s people strategy. The Manufacturer’s Lanna Deamer delved deeper with the company’s Special Projects Manager, Gordon Macrae.

Why was the decision taken to ban HR at Gripple?

Through his previous experiences, our chairman, Hugh Facey, had come to understand that HR was more about procedures than people and in fact, stopped the development of the individual. As Gripple grew, his focus was very much on developing people and culture. By focusing on the acquisition, retention and development of people, it means we have created an inviting workplace, where people are inspired to give their best. I’m very clear on not being restricted by petty rules. An interesting element of our strategy is we don’t have job descriptions, we have job roles. Again, that focuses on the individual; we look at the skills an individual has, their attitudes and where they believe they can contribute to the business. People buy into that approach and go the extra mile.

What does the people strategy look like at Gripple and how has the banning of HR shaped this?

Our people strategy has developed over the years as we’ve grown. Twenty years ago we had around 150 employees. Today, we’ve got over 1,300 globally. So, there’s been significant growth, and we’ve had to develop our people culture to reflect that. What we call the ‘Gripple Spirit’ is a set of basic, fundamental values around some interesting concepts – fun, passion, innovation, team working and caring. Those make up the essence of what our business is all about. As a team, with that set of values, people look out for each other.

And that’s not shallow talk, it really happens. If someone gets into difficulty (and people do), they’re supported, not only by the people and culture team, but also by the broader employee community within Gripple. That’s made a huge difference. Secondly, what underpins our people and culture strategy is employee ownership. Everyone in the business is a shareholder. That’s not just about having share options, it means everyone has a voice, and we like being challenged.

That doesn’t happen very often in business. We have a great set of policies in place around the acquisition of talent. We have some of the most amazing apprentice and graduate schemes. And in fact, a number of our graduates are currently deployed around the world on sustainable development projects – it’s a novel way of learning, but they get hands-on experience of leading teams in an unusual environment.

Shot of Gripple - Why the company banned HR

What’s the correlation between empowering managers, increased morale and productivity?

The best way of describing that is through, what we call, the Net Promoter Score. That’s a measure of how your customers perceive you and what percentage would recommend you to someone else. In addition, there’s a number of other surveys that have come out of the US which say that employee-owned businesses probably perform between five and ten percent better than a traditional business.

Couple that with a focus on innovation and you can get another five to ten percent. So, potentially, the benefits of our approach is around a 20% improvement over a competing business. The Gripple Spirit is the thing that drives and empowers all our staff and it’s how we recruit people. Skills are key, but what’s more important to us is having individuals that buy into that spirit and we try and acquire talent using the Gripple Spirit framework.

Is this a model that should be rolled out across other manufacturers?

Employee ownership is something that we’re really passionate about. And the government has an aspiration of having between 10-15% of businesses that are employee owned. A successful business is not necessarily built on digital or innovation; the building blocks have to be your people and culture. Too many businesses today still talk around the subject without actually delivering on a people strategy. I was struck by a comment from one TMMX judge this year, who said we were possibly the first company they’d seen who not only talk the talk but were actually putting it into action. I think if we’re to be a successful manufacturing nation, the building blocks need to focus on people and culture; with strategies around digital and innovation embedded above that. And if we can do that then the future for manufacturing in the UK will be very rosy.

Shot of speakers on stage at SME Growth Summit

What does the future hold?

It’s fair to say that the framework that we use is continually evolving. We’ve tried things that have not always worked, but we’re a learning organisation, so we take that knowledge and build on it. It’s our aspiration to double the business over the next five years, from £100m to £200m. That will probably mean onboarding another 800-900 people. So, the challenge is to maintain the culture that we’ve got and embed it deeper, in our international operations in particular. So, we’ll try to have the same culture, delivered slightly differently with a local nuance, right across the world. But that won’t be easy.

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