Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Winning Entry: Christine Kelly / HR Challenges at Brady Corporation


Brady Corp  I promised that I’d award a ticket for the Economist’s Talent Management Summit to one of the people responding to my recent survey on HR’s challenges and I’m delighted to announce that the winner of this ticket is Christine Kelly from Brady Corporation.

I managed to catch up with Christine last week and asked her about the responses to her survey.  First, just to let you know about Christine – she has been at Brady for 9 years and is HR Director for the EMEA region, leading 4 senior HR leaders and site teams across the region.  Brady Corporation is a $1.4 bn US owned company that you may not have heard of because its focus is in niche markets, with a particular focus on identifying and protecting premises, products and people (making for example safety signs, such as the green running man for emergency exit signs, high performance labelling systems and identity badges).

We started, as did the survey, with Brady’s business challenges.  This was all about achieving an ambitious business vision in a still uncertain economy.  One major theme was getting better organised as a global organisation.  Brady’s EMEA team has already consolidated its focus into three business streams, and the challenge now is working effectively and efficiently in these streams – using the right systems and technology, implementing best practice and clarifying responsibilities for processes – who does what etc.

The HR challenges fall out of these business challenges (I would write ‘of course’, but it’s not always the case!).  Brady HR’s first challenge is about culture and values – taking the temperature of the organisation during change and engaging employees in the company’s vision.  They do this in different ways but I particularly liked the use of what are called skip level meetings.  In these the Directors talk to the people who work for their direct reports (without the direct report being there) etc.

There’s also a strategy deployment process which sounded very empowering.  This starts with business leaders setting challenging goals for teams which will lead to the achievement of the company’s goals.  But then the teams are left to go away and find the best way of delivering against the objectives and will report regularly against the consequent improvement projects.

My third set of questions were around the preparedness of HR to deliver against these challenges, and it sounded as if Brady Corp’s HR teams are set up quite well for this.  Their processes still need work because of the recent change in business structure and processes etc (and because of the ongoing challenge of operating in a global way across the different languages and legal jurisdictions in Europe).

HR technology’s in a good state as Brady Corporation implemented Workday a year ago (and Christine says she can’t want to see the new additions in version 12).  They also use a performance and career system that they built themselves and which they see as one of the key things that support their way of doing business.  They’re also looking at a recruitment system, but the question is still whether they can justify a single system operating across the various countries they’re in, available in all the different languages that would be required – or whether they can meet their needs in a different way.

The capability of the HR team is good, partly because Christine’s been able to recruit her HR leaders herself, and has recruited them for the environment they’re working in – so understanding how to make business partnering work – which still seems to be a major challenge for many organisations, doesn’t seem to be an issue here.

Probably the biggest need is to focus on HR’s operating model – particularly given the high standards and expectations of their internal customers.  And here the issue is mainly about the time-lag between strategy and execution.  Christine explains this best herself in her response to my survey:

“The typical dilemma for HR is that the function must not only deliver the strategic support but must also manage a number of administrative tasks.  The requirement for lean teams, means that a high level of technology is required before the proportions of strategic and admin work can change.  Systems are, however, slow to be implemented and complex to standardise globally.  Pressure of work and demand for a responsive customer service demands that urgent, admin tasks suck up resources and this prevents the move to more strategic activities (and means that HR continues to maintain more administrative headcount, who are less capable to pick up the strategic work).  In practice, HR is not able to change its operating model quickly enough to meet the demands being placed on the function.”


I also asked Christine about the Talent Management Summit we’ll both be attending and she’s obviously looking forward to this, as in her view, in addition to the normal benefits about getting new ideas about best practice, The Economist has selected some influential thinkers, all from respected organisations for this conference - and they’ve also picked topics that are very relevant to today’s world.  I agree!


Also see my post on the results of the survey, and this one of my conversation with Matthew Hanwell about HR’s challenges at Nokia (Matthew will also be joining me at the Economist Talent Management Summit).



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