Podcast | Joining A Fast-growing Scaleup As Director Of People – Valerie Mann

June 2, 2021
June 26, 2023

When you’re joining a fast-growing scaleup as the Director of People, where do you start? How do you shape the culture into something codified and scalable? How do you determine the priorities? And what steps can you take towards building a high-performance culture?

Valerie Mann joined us to talk about her journey at Elder, the UK-based live-in care & home care provider that uses ‘The Mum Test’ as part of their carer selection process. She explained what that involves, how Elder provided mental health and wellbeing support during the pandemic, and how they approach the situation of supporting both frontline staff and those based at the HQ.

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Running order

0:00 Introduction to Valerie and Elder.
2:53 Working out priority areas when joining a new company.
6:08 Is it a daunting challenge to codify and scale culture?
10:17 Moving from shaping values to manifesting them in behaviour.
13:07 Building a high-performance culture.
16:55 Managing frontline workers and desk-based staff.
20:48 How Elder might invest in carer learning beyond compliance.
23:45 What is the ‘Mum Test’ for selecting carers?
24:58 How Elder has approached and supported mental wellbeing.
33.53 What’s next for Elder and their people development plans.
37:00 Quickfire questions.

Lessons learnt from Valerie’s journey joining Elder as Director of People

Working out the priorities when joining a new company

As you might expect, Valerie started by speaking with the CEO to understand the business priorities before chatting with the team about the challenges they were facing. It’s something we’ve spoken about on the show before, but those consulting conversations really help understand the why behind what’s going on and make more informed decisions. Which aligns with Valerie’s next step of taking stock of what key things Elder already had in place and analysing what might be missing from a user perspective.

Having worked in large companies before, Nelson asked Valerie if anything surprised her when joining a fast-growing scaleup. Luckily for Valerie, it was that culture, values and some processes were already in place! They might not have been embedded or formally set, but they had certainly developed organically. And that’s a great reminder to pay attention to what’s happening naturally – especially from a company culture standpoint. It’s better to tap into that than to try swimming against the current.

Moving from shaping values to manifesting them in behaviour

Embed them into what you do on a daily basis. If you’ve got a value around being open and honest, include that into your reviews, peer-to-peer discussion and formal feedback processes. But it’s important to strike a balance, it shouldn’t become a cult where people are all doing the same thing. Remember that it’s about you as a community and what you can do together.

How do you build a high-performance culture?

Firstly, you’ve got to define what a high-performance culture looks like in your organisation. Get clarity on where you’re going as a business, establish the goals and strategies and then be transparent to make sure that information cascades down.

Collaboration is a big one, especially when you’re moving from startup to scaleup because people have been used to working in and building their function, but you’re now asking them to work together and across those functions. Informal collaboration that was happening naturally when the team was smaller now needs to become more formalised and aligned.

The challenge of catering to both frontline workers in the field and desk-based HQ staff

Currently, carer operations manage it for them and they’re technically self-employed but Elder’s values are communicated to them, their behaviour guidance is based around care delivery and that’s all made clear to carers.  They also have a Carer Of The Month award and that’s celebrated at the all-hands meeting and have set up carer hangout where people are sitting with them twice per week. In the future, when they’re moving into the regulated space and have carers in-house, it will be a different ball game where they can really bring those two groups together. Elder is focusing on becoming a great place for them to develop and build their career as a carer.

How Elder has approached mental health and wellbeing support

Life and work are very blended, a trend we’ve really seen over the past 12 months. Something Elder could tell from the energy within the company and the responses to their pulse survey was that people were struggling with productivity. So, internally they built a mental health team to support people and bring that conversation to the fore – making sure it’s not one of those things that doesn’t get spoken about. They also use Spill, an app that provides remote mental health support for employees.

Typically you might find some questions or push back about the ROI or measuring mental health support’s impact. In Valerie’s eyes, it’s all about preventing the impact rather than reacting to what happens when people are struggling. If you measure productivity or absenteeism and notice a real decline, it’s probably already too late…

How to connect

Find Valerie on LinkedIn

Find ElderHQ on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and over on their website.

Find Nelson on LinkedIn and Twitter

Find HowNow on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram.

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