Crunch point: How KP Snacks’ simple approach won it our award for HR Impact

The KP Snacks HR team were the winners of 2016 HR Impact Award, seen here collecting the trophy from Vana HR Resourcing's Debbie Flowers

KP Snacks’ uncomplicated approach to creating and embedding a new set of values and behaviours after a merger made it a clear winner in Personnel Today’s HR Impact Award last year. We spoke to HR director Johanna Dickinson about how the company managed to steer its way through a potentially difficult transition and still improve retention and engagement.

When KP Snacks became part of Intersnack in 2013, it was the larger company, which meant HR had to steer a delicate transition.

However, its simple yet effective approach gained it the HR Impact Award at the 2016 Personnel Today Awards, sponsored by Vana HR Resourcing.

KP had formerly been part of United Biscuits, a venture, capital-owned business. Its acquirer, family-owned German company Intersnack, was looking to create a bigger footprint in the UK by buying up the company that produces snacks such as McCoy’s crisps.

As part of the transition, some factory sites were closed and a new nut manufacturing site was set up. New systems and processes needed to be established, which for HR director Johanna Dickinson, meant the opportunity to “create something new and special”, a different culture from its previous owner.

She explains: “There were still lots of legacy issues. Many of the senior management positions from the previous set-up had just moved over, which didn’t quite work, and we’ve since restructured the executive team. Intersnack have given us a lot of autonomy, but as the bigger company our culture was quite dominant. We’ve had to tread carefully and move things along when their teams were ready for it, and let them do it their way.”

One of the positive aspects of having a blank canvas to work with was the fact KP could create a set of values and behaviours from scratch. Some of this work was underway in 2014 when Dickinson joined from a previous role at Coca-Cola, but her job was to ensure the values could be fully embedded and become a natural part of how people worked. “We wanted to create a set of values that would be synonymous with how we work,” she says.

The company used focus groups across the business to scope, refine and test a set of values and behaviours that would support its future growth. These included: taking personal ownership, achieving together, valuing people and having a positive attitude. The values have since been embedded into the performance cycle so employees can see how they fit into their roles and progression in the company.

To help the values have more impact, KP appointed champions across the business at all levels of seniority “from the weekend cleaner to a brand manager”, and there are now 70 individuals who act as role models and instil these behaviours in others.

KP also developed indicators to help describe how behaviours come across in people’s everyday work. Champions are invited to an annual off-site to explore and discuss how they can improve their understanding of their role in the business – this year’s will be attended by a member of the gold-medal winning Team GB hockey team.

The new values framework is also supported by call-out cards – cards that employees can fill in (either online or as a physical memo) when they see colleagues demonstrating behaviours that chime with the organisation’s culture.

“The beauty of the call-out cards was their simplicity,” adds Dickinson. “We’ve now extended it so it’s online as we have lots of remote teams, sending out a ‘feelgood Friday’ email with a list of who has been singled out for praise this week.” Many employees still prefer the “old-fashioned” cards, though, especially as they are often displayed on the wall for all to see.

The solutions may be simple, but KP has produced tangible results. The company has the highest attendance level in three years, at 96.2%, and staff turnover is just under 4%, compared to more than 11% in 2015. The Personnel Today Awards judges praised Dickinson and her team for achieving so much without great expense, calling the entry “very good – and cheap as well! Just goes to show that where there is a will, there is a way.”

KP is looking to further simplify how it engages staff, reducing the number of questions in its pulse survey from 15 to eight. The next step is to encourage employees to see beyond the call-out cards as something that is given from a manager to a report, to a culture where individuals value each other’s contributions to the business. “One of the challenges is people tend to think it’s about their manager saying they value them, when it’s just as important to value each other,” says Dickinson.

As parent company Intersnack continues to grow globally, there may be an opportunity in future to create a set of overarching values, she adds. So far they’ve been impressed with what KP has done in the UK, as were the Personnel Today judges.

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