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Carol Kavanagh

I am really proud of how, in less than a year, our colleagues have embraced our strategic repurposing, and that we have been able to reorganise the Group in a way that is focused on supporting our branches better.

I am really proud of how, in less than a year, our colleagues have embraced our strategic repurposing, and that we have been able to reorganise the Group in a way that is focused on supporting our branches better.

Introduce yourself and tell us about your organisation  

I joined Travis Perkins plc as Group HR Director from Argos at the end of 2006. Besides my Group-wide HR remit, I provide advice as needed to our plc Board’s Remuneration and Nominations & Safety Committees and act as Executive Chair for Tilegiant; a retail business in our Group that has around 100 stores across the country.

Since I joined the Group, it has doubled in size, and today we are the UK’s largest supplier of building materials, with 20+ businesses (a mix of B2B and B2C), 28,000 colleagues and an annual turnover of nearly £7bn.

We have a proud heritage that goes back over 200 years and have always seen our people as the key to our success, and so besides our growth and all the interesting challenges that come with that, what’s keeping me here are my colleagues and the strong values and foundations (our ‘Cornerstones’) we have in place to build on.

As you would expect, these include keeping people safe, which means everything in our industry, as well as working for our customers and making decent returns, but it’s ‘the upholding of family values’ that really makes our Group different. For us, it’s about doing the right thing and valuing honesty, trust and kindness.

What do you think defines an organisation as a top employer today?  

This year, we were named a Top Employer for the tenth year by the Top Employers Institute. Although this is great, good employers are those that never take the eye off the ball, but continue to work with colleagues to keep improving the workplace. That means considering everything from recruiting the best talent to well thought out benefits, working conditions and career development opportunities that ensure we retain and build on our talent.

However, as employers we will only be more successful if we reflect the communities we serve and tap into talent from a variety of sources. This means being committed to helping individuals from all walks of life to develop their careers. For us, supporting our Armed Forces community is very much part of this, and since 2015 we have recruited over 600 service leavers.

Six years ago, we launched our Workforce with a Difference initiative as part of this drive to increase diversity at all levels, in particular the number of female colleagues in our business where men make up a high percentage of the customer base. While this is  yielding positive results, particularly in senior positions (from 9% women in 2013 to 9.4% in 2018); this is very much work in progress and we are driving a number of new initiatives as part of our recent organisational re-purposing.

Tell us about a recent initiative that you have instigated within your organisation that you are most proud of?  

In recent years our Group has grown considerably as we have expanded into new markets. This has lead to increased complexity and costs. Last year, we carried out a trategic review which lead us to conclude that the purpose of our business needed to be defined more tightly to focus on trade customers and simplify the Group.

We challenged ourselves to say ‘what matters to a branch managers matters to us’, and to focus our efforts on making life as easy as possible for our branches to give them more time to concentrate on customers and on winning in their markets.

I am really proud of how, in less than a year, our colleagues have embraced our trategic repurposing, and that we have been able to reorganise the Group in a way that is focused  on supporting our branches better. This enables us to become a faster, more flexible and responsive organisation, and our recent results show the great progress we are making towards delivering this strategy.

At the same time we have continued to deliver on our promise to have a leaner, more efficient, lower cost organisation, which is fully focused on becoming the best performing and first choice for trade customers. The good news is that all of this change has been achieved with ongoing high levels of colleague engagement.

What is the next objective in your organisation's journey to keep improving the employee experience?  

Not surprisingly, research shows there is a strong and positive correlation between good customer experience and employee engagement, so to accelerate the delivery of our new strategy to simplify the Group and focus on the trade, we are now exploring how we can build an even greater colleague experience to deliver on our outstanding customer service ambition.

This involves thinking of our colleagues as customers and working with them to identify and build the clear differentiators they buy into as part of the colleague experience, and that we use this compelling ‘promise’ to deliver organisational improvements.It’s about appealing to a mindset of ‘what have you done for me lately’ to ‘what can you do for me now, and in the future’ and creating, developing, and nurturing a culture that is as employee-centric as it is customer focused.

Now that we have renewed and refreshed our strategic direction, we need to determine precisely how we use this new purpose to re-shape our culture, customer proposition, talent type, how we lead, our colleagues’ career pathways and other HR fundamentals, so we can ensure our colleague journeys match the organisation we are and want to be in the future.

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation today and how are you planning to overcome it?  

Technology, diversity and the way we compete for talent are all contributing factors that are changing the nature of our close customer relationships, which have always been our unique selling point.

As we go through this period of change, our biggest challenge in the short term will be to make sure that we keep our great colleagues retained, motivated and focused on the right things, because it’s so easy to get distracted.

Longer term, we need to make sure we adapt to the changing needs of our customers through improvements and innovation in technology, formats and product ranges, so we match their changing requirements in terms of how they want to do business with us. One of the ways we have done this more recently is in the investment and development of our Toolstation business. This business challenges tradition by focusing on a new and emerging type of trade customer, and is designed to provide a different format and experience to meet their needs.

In the future, our challenge will be to support all the different ways that our customers want to do business with us, but also to ensure we anticipate and facilitate some of these new ways before or as they emerge.

How will your organisation have to adapt to meet the changing future workplace?  

Aligned to our challenge of the changing ways our customers want to do business with us is our ability to recruit, develop, retain and motivate staff that have the right skills to support these.

This has meant streamlining our HR self service and digital learning systems, so they are universally available, easy to use, and strengthen our skills, capabilities and  uccession pipeline.

This approach meant more than 800 of our existing colleagues enrolled in our Learn & Earn Apprenticeship Programme (LEAP) in 2018, including 12 who enrolled on a new degree-level. It has also allowed us to promote more home-grown talent; something which has been especially beneficial in senior leadership roles, where 60% of our promotions were internal in 2018.

In our industry we believe that technical and product knowledge will be differentiators and this is an area we will be investing in further. We face stiff competition for the best people, so it is important we tap into talent from a wider range of sources, such as former Armed Forces personnel, where we have recruited over 600 across the Group since 2015.

Last, but not least, we are thinking more about they way we improve the environment our colleagues work in, and how we can be more flexible when it comes to benefits and work patterns, to suit the needs of individual circumstances as well as meeting the requirements of our customers and businesses.


This interviewee was kindly introduced to us by ‘Top Employers Institute – the global authority on certifying excellence in employee conditions.’ Their organisation is certified as a Top Employer.

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