Written by Holtby Turner
Holtby Turner Executive Search, explores the evolution of human resources in real estate with Land Securities Sue Greenland, Head of HR – London, Group and Reward. In the switched-on property companies of today, Human Resources must sit at the heart of decision-making, and for Sue Greenland, it’s personal …
“I feel loyal to the business because they allow me to be accountable for what I’m here to do. It’s about the investment that they make in me as an individual and in my team – whether that’s through training, career development, or investment in leadership programmes. I feel that I have quite a lot of autonomy to make and create a job and an environment that I enjoy working in and hopefully others do as well” – Land Securities Sue Greenland
Alexandra Sturdy: Land Securities has a fantastic market reputation for positive HR and people policy. Could you tell us more about the ‘Our People’ strategy? What has been your proudest contribution to-date?
Sue Greenland: When I joined there was a real focus on how do we deliver a high-performing organisation? Of course, we have brilliant people that are highly capable technically – but we wanted to give more capability, more confidence to our managers and leaders, and really get them to think about the workplace as it is now. I think part of the question of loyalty is that people want investment in them as an individual. So by developing this coaching, mentoring culture within our leadership and management team, we aligned the business much more with the expectations of our employees in terms of their development.
Alongside that we did some pretty high profile work on our values and behaviours, because I think people want to have a very clear connection with the company they work for and its purpose. While in this process we didn’t actually change the original values of the business, we did add one, and that was accountability.
Alexandra Sturdy: In your opinion, what is the role of HR in building a relationship of trust and loyalty with employees in a business?
Sue Greenland: I think previously there was a disconnect between HR and the business: there wasn’t much engagement in terms of the business strategy and decisions around people. And what we’ve done as an HR function is develop those relationships and build credibility. We spend a lot of time with our client group and sit on the Executive Committee. We’re not only inputting into decisions around people now, but we contribute more widely across the business – whether that’s around signing off on an investment decision or a development decision. In HR, I try to attend all the functions that go on around the business, as do my colleagues. Having that visibility and those relationships builds our credibility. It’s always a fine balance when you’re an advocate for the business and the employee, but I think we’ve got the balance right.
Alexandra Sturdy: You are one of the largest – if not the largest – commercial property developer in the UK. What challenges does this pose in relation to talent management and retention?
Sue Greenland: The biggest challenge with retention is that our employees are being approached all the time! Headhunters and other organisations know that we employ great people, so we’re mindful that there is constant interest and approaches being made. As a fairly small organisation with only around 650 staff members, the opportunities for people to progress are fairly limited. On the other hand, we’re a small organisation so we can be more creative and flexible in what we offer. We get to know our individuals very well, so if someone wants to move into a different role or team, we know if they’ve got the right skills set even if they don’t have the technical experience. People are unlikely to find the career development opportunities or indeed the flexibility that we offer elsewhere, I believe.
Alexandra Sturdy: How would you describe your employer brand? Do you think that’s evolved in the past few years?
Sue Greenland: We have a very clear and credible brand strategy now. The general consensus is that everything around our strategy makes sense and sounds robust, so if we do have another economic downturn, it feels like Land Securities is a safe place to be. The message around us investing in people is definitely out there as well, and there is a general view that we look after people – whether that’s through career development and training or the competitive benefits package that we offer.
Alexandra Sturdy: Land Securities are one of the best in the industry for their commitment to gender diversity – you’re currently ranked 5th among the most improved companies within the FTSE100. How far does that commitment to diversity help foster loyalty among your people?
Sue Greenland: Diversity is an industry-wide problem and we try to be very proactive in this area. Two years ago we did a mapping exercise which revealed there were very few women in development. We decided that we had to do something – we knew it might take a generation to change, but we had to do something. So, it was a matter of going through networks of people and looking at where there was young female talent, and in the space of six months we made three brilliant new hires. We do a huge amount of work around inclusivity and the LGBT community as well – in fact, we’re due to have a meeting in a couple of weeks’ time to discuss what more we can do.
“People will be loyal to organisations who go the extra mile and invest time: whether that’s around diversity or development or engagement or sustainability” – Land Securities Sue Greenland
You get a lot more probing questions in these areas during candidate interviews – particularly from millennials. They want to know that the purpose, values, and behaviours of the business align with what’s important to them. I think if you can do that, then you can win their trust and loyalty.
It’s not just a diversity of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation that we’re working towards: we’re also trying to encourage diversity of thought and innovation. Gone are the days when you can simply look at your own industry for how to be the best. Customer service is a good example of this, as we’re going out to other industries and looking at those organisations that are really seen as best in class in terms of customer service, rather than best in class in property customer service.
Alexandra Sturdy: We’re noticing that millennials are increasingly mobile and restless, and unlikely to commit themselves to one company for longer than 3-5 years. Is this something you’ve struggled with at Land Securities, and how are you managing to retain young talent?
Sue Greenland: It’s important to recognise that if someone comes in and works for you for five years, does a brilliant job, and then leaves, that’s not a bad thing. It’s a reality of the workplace now: they won’t stay for 20-30 years because they want different experiences. But we are looking at how we can create opportunities that retain young people within the business, while giving them different experiences so they don’t have to go off and work for another company.
One example is a graduate within my team who joined us three years ago, and whom we’ve just sent out on secondment to Debenhams. So she’ll come back to us in December having had two months’ completely new experience of working in retail, with its different HR challenges, ideas and ways of thinking. She’ll be able to support our retail team, too, having gained that valuable experience. We have to be proactive if we want to retain our talent, and think more creatively about how to do that: whether it’s an internal solution or by working with our partners.
Alexandra Sturdy: Looking to the future, how does Land Securities intend to continue attracting and retaining the brightest talent in the industry?
Sue Greenland: One area that’s been hugely helpful is working with partners we know are going to deliver the best candidates – consultants whom we know and trust, and who understand what we’re looking for. That helps us in getting the best people out there.
In terms of attraction, we are looking at our benefits package, which is competitive but it’s a bit one-size-fits-all at the moment. And the reality is that with four or five different generations of employee in the workplace, you should be offering some flexibility. For some people it’s important to have a gym membership, for others it’s a really good life insurance policy.
For retention, it’s doing more of what we’ve started already: making the performance and development piece much more individual, and being creative around opportunities. It’s about being innovative with the environment people work in, too. Our people want to work in an environment where they can collaborate and socialise, where they’re not tied to a particular desk, where they have opportunities to lead a healthier lifestyle. We have a great opportunity with our move to 80-100 Victoria Street next year to enhance our health and wellbeing offering and improve our social, collaborative spaces, so I think this will be a big piece for us in the future.