How I see HR: Brian Thomson, managing director EMEA, Rackspace

We see ourselves as a service company within the technology sector, and as an extension of our customers, so it’s crucial that we invest in people. Our HR director, Alison Grace, is always present at important meetings.

Until last year we were growing at 60% a year, and increasing headcount by at least the same rate. Trying to keep up can be difficult. Our culture is very flat, so HR has a lot of internal customers, and we tend to exhaust the team. But in fast-growing businesses there’s no room for excuses. We are working on finding ways to push them to do more.

HR at Rackspace is very committed to performance management. For a young organisation, getting solid processes around consistent management doesn’t happen automatically. When you grow as we do, with a lot of internal promotions, you get brand new managers. So the training and development of our people is big. It’s also a key part of our retention strategy.

Living our values

HR and I are always mindful that we need people who believe in our vision, so Alison and I spend quite a bit of time discussing whether we are living our values.

The biggest hurdle for Rackspace is finding talent. We can only grow if we can find new people. We don’t want just talented people. We have hired some people with great CVs, but they haven’t made great rackers, as we refer to our staff. I don’t necessarily want people who we need to motivate.

I want people for whom great customer service is intuitive. HR’s job is to find the right people. It’s so expensive when you get it wrong, and you lose a lot of momentum if you are constantly having to rehire. There couldn’t be a more important task.

Fast-moving company

Alison’s best piece of advice to me was to listen. We are a fast-moving company, and since she impressed on me how important it is to be a good listener, I’ve begun spending time with our key areas of operations. For instance I’ll spend half a day in sales twice a month, trying to really understand what’s happening, listening to rackers and potentially solving problems on the spot.

A good HR director will combine sound commercial acumen with the ability to act as an advocate for employees. They have to be able to spot, nurture, develop, retain and motivate talent. At the same time, it’s a director’s role, so they need to be collaborative.

They need to be good leaders and willing to coach other people. They need to be honest and courageous. Alison is a trusted advisor – that’s the most I could hope for. That means that she’s going to tell me the truth.

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