Purple Breakfast Club: The HR Revolutionaries

By Jane Sunley, best-selling business author and Founder & Chairman of Purple Cubed

In April 2017, an audience of 100+ senior leaders from industries including hospitality, retail, leisure, media, logistics and business services saw a stellar panel debate HR’s future role in workplace. Chaired by Purple Cubed founder Jane Sunley, the panel included Kim Gieske, HR Director, Planet Organic; Sîan Harrington, co-founder and editorial director at The People Space and former editor of HR Magazine; Amy Sawbridge, Brand Director & Head of Employee Experience at Virgin Group and Sean Wheeler, Director of People and Development at Principal Hotels.

Key themes included:

  • The importance of defining and embedding culture and values in the workplace
  • The power of the employer brand and its connection to the external brand
  • The developments in technology for the world of work and the opportunities ahead

The event supported Purple Cubed’s continued mission to help ‘the people people’ drive business success. Only by engaging, enabling and empowering an organisation’s people, can true competitive advantage be achieved in business. Yet many business challenges often prohibit the business-focused HR approach – especially in an ever-changing world that continues to be volatile, uncertain, complex and fraught with ambiguity.

It was clear that by understanding how to join up the people stuff into a clear, straightforward strategy, any organisation can build a robust and actionable plan that will transform it, with measurable and profitable results to boot.

Amy Sawbridge spoke about her work in creating and implementing an employer brand and people promise across Virgin’s 60 businesses in 30 countries, with outstanding business metrics as a direct result.

Sean Wheeler had faced an interesting challenge transforming, though tired, hotels through extensive refurbishment to restore them to their former greatness. This required some robust work with the workforce, which started with defining the new culture and embedding this across the estate.  He stressed the importance of putting building blocks like this in place before diving into anything else.

Kim Gieske spoke of how she had digitised Planet Organic’s communications and review process using Talent Toolbox™ which had provided a robust platform for information exchange, two-way dialogue and goal setting.

Siân Harrington, a former publisher and editor of HR magazine, said that when it comes to technology, the UK HR profession could learn from overseas, for example North America and India. Harrington challenged the HR community to get to grips with what the future workplace will look like now so it isn’t left behind. “I think we’ve got a big revolution ahead of us and if you’re not already understanding that the vast majority of your processes will be done by AI [artificial intelligence] then you’re stuck,” she said. “Often people think ‘not in my industry’, but it will [happen]. We are much closer to this than most people realise.”

Sean Wheeler raised the point that a key role for HR in future will therefore be to equip the generations coming into the workforce with people-centered customer interaction skills. He made the point that because of technology there’s less face to face interaction and therefore a need to teach them… “We need to teach them how to look after people.” He added that technology provides a great opportunity to revolutionise how learning and development is made available.

Amy Sawbridge also stressed that “We have to treat people like adults when it comes to when and where they like to work. The same way I wouldn’t presume to tell our people they shouldn’t leave early to pick their kids up, I wouldn’t tell them they shouldn’t be logging on at 9pm.”

Kim Gieske added how HR and a business leader – “these roles are inextricably linked. The decisions we make in HR have such huge impacts on the rest of the business.”

This panel concluded that, with the right approach, HR can drive overall business success though all agreed that it helps to have board support and, in particular, a people centric CEO. 

As part of this event, attendees were able to participate in a poll answering critical questions in HR. Here are our results:


2017-04-27T09:39:46+00:00 April 27th, 2017|