Building an HR function during a time of rapid growth is always a challenge, but for Lorraine Metcalf of digital media business ZPG, there was a stock market launch in the mix too. She tells Personnel Today how she has built a collaboration culture across multiple brands.
It’s certainly been a rapid learning curve for Lorraine Metcalf, chief people officer at ZPG, which owns brands such as Zoopla, uSwitch and Prime Location.
CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition
Lorraine Metcalf will be sharing her story in a session on Delivering Successful Business Transformation at the upcoming CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition in Manchester on 8-9 November.
She joined the company four years ago, six months before its initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange.
During that time she has seen the company grow from a close-knit band of 200 employees to a growing group of companies employing about 900. Since she joined, there have been eight acquisitions.
“The IPO happened when I was still getting my feet under the table,” she says. “The company had an HR manager and assistant and now we’re a team of 14 including me.”
“We moved from what was a group of people who all knew each other with one set of values, to integrating a number of different businesses’ values and cultures, yet hopefully still feel part of the same thing.”
This has sometimes been a tricky balance as the brands ZPG acquired all have strong identities. Metcalf adds: “We want people to feel proud of the brands they work for, they’re businesses in their own right – we don’t want a vanilla experience. But we do want people to say I work for uSwitch, part of the ZPG.”
Career development paths
Helping people feel part of a bigger whole is high on her list of priorities. ZPG is now building career pathways across all of the businesses so people can see potential to grow within the company.
The offices across the group have also been built in such a way as to foster collaboration and bring colleagues together – the London HQ was voted one of the top 10 “coolest” offices on Glassdoor and has zones such as a “living room” and “sauna room” to help employees relax.
And while the CEO still provides regular updates on the company’s progress and answers every employee question submitted to him, going public means there are now some necessary limitations on how much information management can share.
“We aim not to have processes and policies for the sake of it but as a public company we do have to comply with certain things,” says Metcalf. “Historically we had been very open.”
That said, there were clear benefits for employees from launching on the stock market – employees had share options they could now go to market with and it was an opportunity to bring in HR systems that had not been in place before.
Bringing people together
Metcalf is keen to sustain this momentum – ZPG has recently implemented employee engagement tracking system Peakon. The CEO has looked at every piece of feedback and there are action plans in place to deal with any issues.
The company has also hired a dedicated employee engagement manager.
A key element of this transformation from a relatively small company to a publicly listed group has been its positive approach to bringing all its component parts together.
This is evident in how acquisitions are managed (executives attend the acquiree’s office in person to address any concerns as “it can be scary otherwise”) and how the collaborative feel of the London HQ is replicated at sites across the country.
“We try to share the culture and make people feel valued,” concludes Metcalf. A worthwhile mantra when change seems daunting and complicated.