Letter from America

Letter from America

It has certainly been a hectic three months. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, it’s hard to believe that I have been Stateside for five months.

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary experiences has been the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Professionally for me it has epitomised American culture and their ultimate ‘can do’ attitude.

Within hours of hearing the news, and absorbing the scale of tragedy, we had set up a command centre to reach our affected associates, and get them the assistance they so desperately needed.

It is difficult to convey the ingenuity, commitment, drive and teamwork that I experienced sitting in a room with every company decision-maker to mobilise everything from leaflet drops to diverting supply trucks with water and food, organising emergency payments and getting them to people with no homes and dropping satellite phones to our teams on the ground in the affected areas.

This was all within hours of Katrina hitting. I took tremendous pride in working with colleagues to set up an Employment Assistance Centre. Our objective was to reach employees whose accounts had been destroyed and redeploy them to other locations.

Within four hours, the IT team had built a tracking and matching system to enable us to place associates.

Yes, it’s true – this Brit girl has been caught by the American bug. Large doses of enthusiasm, optimism and drive absolutely get me out of bed in the morning – that and the sunshine: we’ve had a November with the temperature in the mid-70s so far.

October had been a month of strategy and extensive travel. With a large team spanning seven functions and a retail board to sit on, I have had to ensure clarity of vision, a framework for accountability and that the team are motivated and up for the challenge.

My current premise is to ensure that the company has the necessary skills and manpower to deliver the business plan. My recruitment team needs to find 339,000 employees in the next three years. It is from there that you simplify processes, ensure resources are geared toward delivering the objective and set stretching but clear key performance indicators.

Culturally I find the US an interesting blend in this regard. Process plays a big part in the business mix but we are not paralysed by it. Results are everything and aiming high – particularly when the goal is seemingly impossible – is almost a given.

I can’t recall a single occasion in five months when one of my team has said they can’t deliver something, however stretching the target or deadline.

So how is the relocation going? There is a clue in the fact that this article has not focused on relocation headaches. Five months in and we are settled. The kids love school, we have made American friends, we know where to buy my daughter’s beloved Heinz Baked Beans and I happily waste my dollars on imported English breakfast tea.

I’ve travelled to San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, San Antonio and Atlanta. I have an English friend who lives in New York who said to me: “Hey Amanda, doesn’t it beat Chertsey, Uxbridge and Toddington?”

You know what? It’s not that relevant to me – it’s about the job you do, the life you create for yourself and the people you meet.

And finally, a “small world” story. When my original article appeared in Personnel Today, a woman who had also relocated to Charlotte e-mailed me and suggested we meet up to compare experiences. A couple of weeks later, I was at a party and met the couple who live across the road, and it was the same woman who sent me the e-mail.

Two Personnel Today readers in one North Carolina neighbourhood – now that is a small world!

Amanda Leonard is HR vice-president, organisational development, Compass USA, based in Charlotte, North Carolina

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