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Talent management is key driver to Mintra’s global success

08 / 06 / 2021

Human resources: responsible for hiring and firing with the odd disciplinary hearing in between. Sadly, that outdated image of HR is one that continues to endure even though the function is now widely regarded as business-critical with the power to make or break commercial success.

Over the past two years, Mintra has evolved from a private company owned by global investment firm Riverside Group to a publicly listed company on the Euronext Growth Oslo stock market. That shift has also resulted in a transformation of our HR capabilities, bringing an end to third party outsourcing and the creation of an in-house function.

And rightly so. People, and their role in the organisation, is one of Mintra’s five core values. The company has evolved from having a transactional HR purpose – think contracts, salary queries and employment policies – to an HR department with a seat at the boardroom table, recognised as a strategic partner that helps to deliver success.

The transformation has taken place during a particularly challenging time. With the onset of Covid-19 Mintra’s workforce made a transition to a homeworking model and that alone, for many other organisations, would have stopped plans to evolve the HR function in its tracks until a return to normality was possible.

But instead of diminishing that focus, it brought HR even further up the agenda and playing an even more critical role in the success of the business. Mintra and its people have thrived during the pandemic, and that is largely down to the role played by the HR team in developing a people-first strategy focused on health, wellbeing, benefits and engagement.

Angela Stewart

Angela Stewart Chartered FICPD, group director of HR, took over Mintra’s HR function in 2019 and has transformed it from being the department that simply managed recruitment and the staff onboarding process to one that recognises talent management as a key driver for business growth.

Here, she joins Anne Schiettecatte, who sits on Mintra’s board of directors, in conversation about the company’s journey towards becoming a people-first organisation. Anne has more than 25 years’ experience of HR, training and development within the energy sector at BP, and now acts as an independent consultant and executive coach.

Both passionate about people development and aligning workforce performance with commercial performance, they plan to put even more emphasis on the role of HR as a meaningful business partner.

Anne Schiettecatte

Why was it necessary for Mintra to develop in-house HR?

Angela: Mintra didn’t have an in-house HR function as all HR was outsourced. It was very transactional: if someone needed a contract, we’d go and produce it; if someone needed a letter, we’d draft it. There was no forward planning, there was no thought to the engagement of our staff, and nobody was looking at the benefits.

We weren’t looking at how we could retain our employees, so it was really important that we started to look from the point of view that, if we want to grow our business, then we needed to retain our talent. So, it was important for us at that point to start developing a proper HR function.

Anne: When I first joined the board, I was curious to better understand the employee value proposition: curious to understand how Mintra was recruiting the best talent, and how they were being developed. At the time, the company was fairly small and the need from the HR function was primarily transactional.

But as the company is growing, with a couple of acquisitions and further growth plans, the time is right to have an internal HR function; to really understand the capabilities that are required in the organisation and to support the developing of those capabilities to deliver the strategy. And now as we move forward, we’ve got to the stage where HR needs to be that strategic partner at the leadership table.

And how do you see HR developing as a strategic partner for Mintra in future?

Angela: We have built the foundations now of an HR function so that we can do all the things that we need to do. There’s nothing worse if you have an employee that starts in the business and you don’t even have a proper induction in place because that sets out the message to begin with that we don’t care about or value our people. It’s about building up those foundations and I think we are there now.

My next step is to look at the ongoing engagement of our team and how we become an employer of choice. We have achieved Investors In People accreditation, which is absolutely brilliant, but we need to take things a step further so we are seen as a top employer for people.

When we’ve been looking for people within the last year or so, it’s been easier because people now want to come and work for us. The feedback we get from the recruiters we use is that people are interested, and they are keen to come and work for Mintra. We couldn’t do that before because the people focus wasn’t there. When we can show them the benefits, when we can explain how we are looking after wellbeing, and how we are engaging our staff, it attracts the talent that will help grow the business.

Anne: To achieve the growth targets of the company, HR has got to be fully aligned to the business strategy; understanding what capabilities are required to deliver that strategy and which are the critical organisational capabilities to grow to differentiate ourselves in the market.

To be able to develop them, you need to be able to understand what you have. Once you understand what you have, you can articulate any gaps. The gaps will inform both recruitment and development. To be able to attract the best talent, you’ve got to have what I refer to as an employee value proposition. What are the benefits; what are the reasons for people to want to join Mintra; how will they be looked after; how will they be challenged; how will they be supported; how will they be developed; how will they be motivated to support Mintra with its growth agenda?

How critical is HR across the wider function? For example, how important is it that we ensure our people are living our values or acting in ways that contribute to the profitability of the business?

Angela: I think it comes down to communication and getting directly involved. I think sometimes HR teams tend to be hidden away in a little office; they do all these things in the background, but they don’t go and speak to people and integrate with the wider business. My ethos is very much that we are part of the team, that we are out there talking to the people, we have discussions with them and get involved. People used to think that HR was purely based on recruiting people and dismissing them, but that’s only a very small part of HR. We can add value to the bottom line of the business. If we have created an engaged workforce, we reduce absence. Every time we recruit somebody it costs money, so we want to keep our staff turnover as low as possible. We don’t want to spend money unnecessarily replacing people because they are not the right person for the business.

Post-pandemic, how do you see HR changing? Do you think people are going to put much more emphasis on the employee experience when considering an employer?

Angela: In my previous role as a consultant flexible working was not something that was given much consideration. Businesses would get a request and it would be an outright ‘no’ because managers in the business had never seen this type of working before. People weren’t sure; they perhaps didn’t trust their employees enough. There’s been a change through the pandemic: we have had to learn to trust our staff and quickly.

Here at Mintra we haven’t had a reduction in productivity, we’ve had the opposite. We have implemented a remote working policy and the staff know that we trust them to get on with their work. The emphasis is placed on trusting the individual: they don’t have to be sat in an office to do their job. That is going to be key to growth too - getting the best people doesn’t mean that you are only looking in a very specific area.

Our focus has changed away from we are employing someone in Aberdeen or we are employing someone in Bergen, to we are employing somebody to do this job for us and it doesn’t matter where you are because we have the IT infrastructure in place that allows us to employ you - as long as you are the right person for our business and you are going to add value to our business.

I do think that these will be important factors when people are choosing an employer – flexibility and trust.

Anne: I don’t think it’s just the pandemic, though. The pandemic was a catalyst towards helping people understand what could be possible, what could be possible in relation to Angela’s point about recruiting the best talent required to deliver the strategy.

It’s a culmination of events. Mintra is now listed on the Euronext Growth market in Norway and we are looking to go to the main Norwegian market later this year. This means that we are now receiving a lot more attention from multiple shareholders on how we are going to deliver.

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the capability of the people and how to unlock that capability by placing trust in them. So, having no choice but to support them to work flexibly and demonstrating how that’s worked for the company has shifted people’s mindsets on what is possible, whilst also raising the need to look after people’s wellbeing to enable them to deliver effectively.

Mintra did an outstanding job in responding to the pandemic and getting everyone set up with their laptops quickly. I’ve seen other companies where people were working off phones for a while until they had the technology given to them to be able to work effectively.

What would you say are the biggest challenges, and conversely the biggest opportunities, for HR going forward?

Angela: I think one of the biggest challenges, and I think it’s the case in every company, is the buy-in from senior management of the value of HR. There can be a tendency still to think that HR is there to do all of the people-related things, for example, organise leaving gifts, but we are a function that can add value to the business and add to the bottom line. Therefore buy-in is key. Over the last two years, our senior management team has noticed the benefits of having an in-house HR team and our new CEO really values the HR function, so I think it’s a great opportunity for us going forward.

Anne: I think that a big challenge is having HR well positioned to support the capability and the diverse needs of the company. Ensuring that we are having the right levels of diverse representation when we are interviewing, for example, to ensure that we are able to get the best talent in and then hold onto that talent. The recruitment and the development are very much focused on the strategic needs of the business, so deeply understanding what we have will enable us to determine what we need to focus on.

Angela: We are just getting to the closing point now of creating a company-wide competency framework and getting that in place.

Within the framework we have behaviours that we expect from people in relation to our values – there are technical competencies but there’s also core functional competencies that we expect our team to demonstrate. Everything we do has to be in line with values and one thing we need to ensure is that we undertake competency-based interviews when recruiting in order to make sure that we are getting the right people. Some people will ask “what’s a competency-based interview” but basically it ensures we are asking questions at the interview so the candidate can demonstrate they adhere to our values. As a technical company, there can be a tendency at interview to focus on the technical aspect of the role, but we need to make sure we have people working in our team with the right behaviours that support our values.

Anne: As Angela says, you absolutely need the technical capability, but it has to come with the right set of behavioural competencies that align to Mintra’s values.

Is Mintra a people-first organisation or do we still have some way to go?

Angela: I think we are getting there, but there is still some work to do. However, whatever organisation you are in there is always a little bit of work to do. Within any commercial organisation the main aim is revenue, profit and EBITDA but you don’t get there unless you have the right people in the right place at the right time. And that’s what we need to focus on: we need to make sure that we have got the right people and that we are looking after our people. The wellbeing piece has been and will continue to be a major focus for us, but I genuinely believe we have become much better at this. We are focused on people’s mental health, on their physical wellbeing, checking in with them and making them feel valued by our company. It is a huge part of what HR at Mintra does.

Anne: We are a business – a profit-making business – and we have shareholders that are looking to get a return, but as Angela put it very well, this only comes with having an engaged, motivated workforce with the right skills in the right place at the right time. You focus on the people and the returns will come. No business is perfect – there is always, always something to be working on – and that’s the nature of working with people.

Angela: I read an article recently where somebody was commenting on the pandemic and the impact that it has had on HR professionals and how many HR people are thinking about leaving the profession because it has been so difficult. But I have really enjoyed it. I think we have thrived during this period. I think the team has really pulled together and all the things that we have done to support the team have worked well. I think the team are closer now and is a much better performing team than before we went into the pandemic.

Anne: The entire Mintra group agreed to take a salary reduction to prevent any furloughs or redundancies. My view is that this has been fabulous for the team, for the organisation and for HR who have been able to focus on motivation, wellbeing and engagement. My sense is that for many companies, the furloughs and redundancies have been really hardwearing for all those involved. Mintra has really emerged quite energised.