UK: Interview: Mat Davies
Last Updated: 28 May 2019

We talk to the HR Director at Addison Lee Group about organisational values and the impact that technology has

With a fleet of over 5,000 vehicles – including courier cars, motorcycles and vans – Addison Lee Group is Europe's largest ground transport service. The business delivers over 30,000 people and parcels each day, with owned operations in over ten cities and a network of operations across Europe, the US and Asia.

Mat Davies, HR Director at the organisation has responsibility for all aspects of HR for a team of over 1,600 employees and 4,500 partner drivers. Having over 15 years proven experience up to board level in international and world-class organisations, Mat believes that diversity and inclusion are driving forces in business. "I don't think this is about simply meeting either a legislative requirement or ticking a proverbial box; it's about going much further to build purposeful organisations that celebrate the value of diversity; organisations that support and enable people to be their true authentic selves; organisations that provide psychological safety for people to do their very best work; to become organisations that you can be justifiably proud of" he says.

Employee engagement is something that Mat is passionate about as "connected and committed employees typically drive better outcomes". Nurturing and retaining this talent is a key driver for Addison Lee with Mat stating "my job as HR Director, is to create the conditions to enable our talent to thrive, progress and do brilliant work each and every day".

How important is it for organisations to create a proper engagement strategy in order to retain employees and how does it impact the company? How is Addison Lee attracting and retaining talent? 

The reality is that candidates are making many more active choices; the challenge for many organisations is that candidates very often aren't choosing those organisations who are not moving with the times. Candidates are much more willing and able to take their skills, talents and energies elsewhere if they are not getting the experiences and opportunities at one particular employer.

For us at Addison Lee Group, we are acutely aware that we are a talent organisation – not just how we attract but how we retain; our job as leaders in our business, and my job as HR Director, is to create the conditions to enable our talent to thrive, progress and do brilliant work each and every day. I don't know whether I would call this an engagement strategy but if we aren't doing some of the basics well enough – leadership, a great working environment, opportunity for growth – then we should not be surprised if candidates then decide to look elsewhere. This is not just an issue for my team, it's an issue for all leaders in our business. This is a daily, weekly and monthly task that we have to apply ourselves to.

In February of this year, Addison Lee launched five organisational values as part of a wider strategy to reinvigorate benefits and rewards for its 1,600 global employees in a bid to shape the culture of the company. How have the values been received thus far and how is Addison Lee shaping its culture to improve interaction with employees? Was the 'Vision and Values' campaign successful?

We delayed the launch of our values until this month, largely because of the sheer volume of change and transformation taking place across the organisation. Over the past month, we have spent some important time sharing the vision and values with colleagues. I am hopeful that our approach is going to pay significant dividends. This is not just what we are doing for 2019. It is what we will be doing in 2020, 2021 and beyond. Our approach has been not to just shout about the vision and values (although we are doing a lot of that), it's about overhauling many of our processes and ways of working that align to our values. From how we present ourselves in the labour market; how we enable line managers to do great hiring; how we welcome candidates to the business; how we recognise team work and individual behaviours; how we manage performance and encourage attainment – pretty much every aspect of how we work with our employees is changing. And for the better.

At this stage, I would say that there is a cautious optimism that we can make our business a better place to grow and thrive but we need to ally that to real changes too – whether that is through our standards, our working environment or our organisational capability. Great candidates typically want to be part of positive change and we believe that we are taking the right steps to make that change a real and meaningful reality.

Why did Addison Lee decide to create the new organisational values? What purpose was it looking to fulfil?

Our values underpin our mission as a business which is about creating exceptional experiences for our passengers and our people.

Our core values guide our strategic objectives and our individual actions. At a very simple level we introduced the values so we could hold ourselves accountable as leaders to ensure that we do what we say we will and to bring those exceptional experiences to life.

This is a long-term way of being, not a short-term, HR led initiative. Our values inform daily interactions; operational and strategic decisions making; recognising and acknowledging value-based behaviours and outputs and inspiring confidence that we are all moving forward together and in harmony.

What are some of the next generation tools for employee engagement?

I'm optimistic about some of the real time feedback tools that are being rolled out across many organisations and AI looks like it could really take off if introduced in a coherent and meaningful way, but it needs to be part of a broader approach to building out an employee experience and not just this year's gimmick.

I'm keen on asking people questions and making change that resonates for them personally – I suspect that we are going to move towards a decentralised, individual employee experience and I see that as no bad thing.

The important thing here is about consistency of experience, not uniformity of experience.

What drew you to the role of the HR Director?

Honestly, someone took a chance on me. It's an opportunity that I'm appreciative of as it's a role that I really enjoy. I love the variety, the complexity and the ambiguity but, at its heart, I love being able to help people build a career as they help build a business.

What are the core aspects you are responsible for as the HR Director?

I'm pretty much responsible for all people aspects across the company, from how we attract, retain and develop our colleagues from the day they start until they day they leave us. I look after payroll, recruitment, employee relations, leadership and organisation development, reward and recognition and, from time to time, I act as the company's social secretary.

Do you believe diversity and employee representation are key components of an organisation?

Diversity and inclusion are central to business success. Valuing everyone in an organisation as an individual is at the heart of what all organisations should be driving for.

I don't think this is about simply meeting either a legislative requirement or ticking a proverbial box; it's about going much further to build purposeful organisations that celebrate the value of diversity; organisations that support and enable people to be their true authentic selves; organisations that provide psychological safety for people to do their very best work; to become organisations that you can be justifiably proud of. This seems to me to be something really worth aspiring to.

Moving on to the theme of the Annual Conference, in your opinion, what does the future board look like?

The key watchword is agility. It's being able to manage risk, to adapt successfully to increasing technological changes, to provide transparent, authentic and compelling leadership; to enhance corporate reputation through effective risk management and coherent decision making; responding to climate change and societal challenges. All of these aspects will continue to be significant underpinnings of a future board.

Addison Lee has been growing for over forty years across the UK and globally. How has governance in the industry changed over this time?

Remarkably so. Effective governance is essential to ensuring that we deliver safe and secure journeys for passengers that they can rely on.

As technology continues to develop and disrupt our industry so the challenges around how we govern ourselves and how we are regulated are likely to similarly change and evolve.

How is technology impacting the board room, and in particular, how is it impacting the HR sector?

We are living through extraordinary times. Businesses are learning to manage the impact of technology and to embrace it for their enduring success as enterprises.

As an example, the use of smart phones has made it easy to shop, obtain services and pay for items in a fast and secure way.

Technology lets businesses gather data in real-time, making it possible to react to customer trends and new habits immediately.

Hard to believe I know but I can remember the days when customers and businesses interacted primarily in person or over the phone, and no-one ever thought this would change.

Now, social media, texting, and apps let businesses interact with their customers in real-time, sharing everything from coupons and product announcements to video and feedback loops. Customers can access the services they want no matter where they are, while businesses share information and promotions at any time.

The need to be agile and the need to embrace change has probably never been as pronounced.

For HR, technology is rapidly impacting what we do each and every day. Technology already has a huge impacts, from the way HR departments contact employees, stores data and files and analyses performance. Technology can make HR practices more efficient.

When used poorly, it can get in the way of optimising your best resources so the watchwords for me are agility and discernment in how technology is applied.

Technology is going to underpin how we use evidence based HR (rather than anecdotal HR) and how we apply insight and foresight to business decisions, both at a strategic and operational level.

At the Annual Conference you will be speaking about 'improving employee engagement'. Do you think employee engagement plays a bigger role than it has in previous years? What do you think the shift comes down to?

I very much hope that businesses are waking up to the reality that when you say that 'people are our most important asset' you do actually have to demonstrate this in a real and visible way, otherwise employees are going to vote with their feet. And quite right too. It will not surprise anyone that an engaged workforce will outperform a disengaged workforce and it is pretty obvious that employees who are not engaged will typically move around employers until they find somewhere that fits with their own sense of purpose and where they can do brilliant work. Happy employees can lead to increased productivity and improved morale is not new news.

Perhaps less well understood are the indirect impacts of engaged workforces: through greater communications, collaboration and innovation. Connected and committed employees typically drive better outcomes.

I think this shift is down to a very simple fact: people are tired of being taken for granted. Employees are more aware of their own value in the market place than ever before and are, I think rightly, not happy to put up with poor leadership, management and an overall employment experience.

The responsibility for employers to build organisations that have purpose and that create supportive and authentic environments for people to do their very best work has never been greater.

What is the vision for Addison Lee moving forward?

Our vision is about journeys that matter. This applies equally to the passenger that takes a ride with us, to the driver who works with us and to the colleague who has a career with us.

This is pretty easy to say in an interview; it is much harder to do in reality but it's the cornerstone that drives everyone who works at ALG each and every day. 

Interview by Sonia Sharma, Editor of Governance and Compliance

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