People person: Kelly Hector of Churchill Retirement Living

June 8, 2018 / Rupert Bates
People person: Kelly Hector of Churchill Retirement Living

If you lead the human resources team and your business is voted the fourth best company in the UK to work for then at the very least you should get to choose the pizzas.

Such is her passion for cooking, Kelly Hector, head of HR at Churchill Retirement Living, would doubtless like to rustle up a more varied menu, but free slices of Margherita or Hawaiian on the last Friday of every month isn’t the reason 85% of Hector’s colleagues at Churchill say they love their job. The workplace satisfaction goes far deeper than that.

It’s not about saving your lunch money either. The concept of communal pizza once a month ensures that company chat and interaction moves on from the more intimate water cooler moments to a collective and the opportunity to share thoughts on the working month gone or the domestic weekend ahead.

Churchill has been on quite a roll in terms of top accolades. In 2016 it was voted Housebuilder of the Year at the WhatHouse? Awards, the first retirement developer to win the industry’s most coveted prize. And this year, having finished 13th in 2017, it rose to 4th in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Hector produces a series of numbers that would be music to the ears of any HR department. First in the Fair Deal category, second in the My Company category, 5th for Well Being and 6th for Most Inspiring Leaders to Work For.

“These fantastic results inform a lot of what we do, our HR policies and sets the tone for our people strategy,” says Hector.

“This is what our colleagues are saying about their company, but also these achievements, judged against so many other businesses and sectors, should be seen as recognition for the overall housebuilding industry too, promoting it as a great career to choose.”

I’ve done hundreds of interviews – as journalist with notepad and pen – and Hector has done countless – as recruiter and trainer. Answering my questions must have felt a bit like gamekeeper turned poacher for Hector, extolling the virtues of her business, her department and her craft. But before the first flat white had even landed it was clear why she was perfectly cut out for a job in HR – an easy communicator, but clearly a consummate listener too. I don’t really know what a ’people person’ is, but knew I was sharing a coffee with one.

“At school I didn’t really know what HR was and I suspect that is the case for a lot of young people,” says Hector, who joined Churchill three years ago.

“I initially wanted to be a TV researcher, while my father would have liked me to go into law. I didn’t go to university and, as it was, my first job application was for an estate agent.

“However, I soon discovered estate agency wasn’t for me and moved towards more HR and people-focused roles in sectors like financial services.”

Prior to Churchill, Hector was doing a lot of training and mentoring and won a national award for supporting people struggling to get back into work. “They were senior managers in financial services who had lost their jobs and with it their networks. They were not used to job centres and job centres were not used to them, so there was a need to support them through one to one coaching and many went on to set up their own companies or look at alternative careers.”

Talking of networks, housebuilding has webs that Aragog, the giant spider from Harry Potter, would applaud. Certainly at senior level there is the ‘ “I know someone’ approach, targeting former colleagues liked and admired – like a football manager determined to bring the fitness coach, strength and conditioning consultant and physiotherapist with him to a new club.

The trouble is fishing in the same pond with a shoal to recruit in a skills shortage pushes up industry salaries without bringing in new thinking, when fresh fish from other oceans might be the best value catches.

“While contacts and the experience of having worked with people before is useful, you need to hire on all-round attributes. Nobody comes as the finished article.”

Hector cites the example of a site manager. The core skill is an ability to run a building site, but what is that made up of? It requires strong project management, cost control, planning, people skills, multi-tasking and thinking and acting clearly under pressure. “You are looking for the conductor of an orchestra.”

Churchill believes in using psychometric testing as a recruitment tool. “We put a lot of weight by the system, helping us gauge how somebody is likely to perform in different scenarios, under pressure and whether they can work as a team.”

Hector says you always have to beware the ‘halo or horns’ effect, pre-judging the candidate’s ability to fill the role simply because you like him or her and conversely if you don’t, allowing first impressions to dictate your decision.

“Equally never discount that gut feeling – the sense of whether or not you have found the right person for the job, just ensure you carry out a thorough and consistent interview process to back up that feeling.”

A public misconception of housebuilding is that there are a limited number of roles – you either build it, or you sell it.

“There are a huge number of job opportunities and rich variety of skills sets and opportunities in between. But the great thing is that anybody who works in the industry can point to a house – or a retirement development in our case – and say ‘we built that.”

The industry has to move with the technological times too, which is opening up a raft of new skill sets, driven by digital innovation.

As well as the “fantastic HR team’ she leads, Kelly is quick to praise the Churchill leadership and what she describes as “an inspirational, entrepreneurial, dynamic board of directors driving the business”.

Brothers Spencer and Clinton McCarthy founded Churchill in 1994 and owner-drivers invariably bring more passion, enthusiasm and transparency to a family-run business.

“We have ‘Meet the Chairman’ (Spencer McCarthy) days with Q&As about anything and everything. Also seeing their success is a great motivator, showing colleagues how hard work and loyalty can pay off,” says Hector.

It is not just about recruitment, but retention too and also identifying the next generation of leaders, spotting the talent and how best to nurture it.

While Top 100 and WhatHouse? Awards are the highest possible accolades and look good in trophy cabinets, Hector also loves the smaller, but no less significant, wins. The 15-year-old work experience boy who wouldn’t say boo to a goose on day one blossom into a chatty, engaged, individual by the end of the week with his heart set on becoming a carpenter.

Or the site manager with the widest of grins after an owner told him she wished she’d moved into her Churchill apartment much sooner as it had given her a new lease of life.

“That was the validation he needed of his work. He had made a positive difference to somebody’s life.”

With that Hector pushes what I assume is a business card towards me. But it reads ‘I like what you did there…’

This is another Churchill recruitment initiative, if staff see somebody in another workplace do something well, they suggest they get in touch.

“I was once interviewing all day in a hotel. The woman serving me refreshments did much more than that: informing me when my next interviewee had arrived and looking after them until I was ready. At the end of the day I thanked her and said here’s a card if you are thinking of a career change. It is important to know what good looks like and we are all recruitment officers for our business.”

Or, to quote another Churchill, who knew a bit about leadership: “I am easily satisfied with the very best.”

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