Squeezing absence at Heinz

Written by
Changeboard Team

04 Jun 2013

04 Jun 2013 • by Changeboard Team

Tell me about yourself and your role at Heinz

I have worked in HR for over 20 years within a number of different sectors, including retail and food manufacturing. I would describe myself as a strong commercial HR generalist, with a specialism in employee relations.

In August 2011 I joined Heinz as head of HR for their Kitt Green location. Kitt Green is one of Heinz’s largest manufacturing sites globally with 1,200 employees producing over a billion cans of product per year. When I took up the post, the business had just faced industrial action for the first time in their 50 year history and a dramatic upturn was needed in employee relations and engagement.

What were the challenges you faced?

Kitt Green was a factory with significant challenges. It had below par absence levels with room for performance improvements and the HR team had a low profile with no real impact. Consequently, Kitt Green’s culture was reminiscent of the 70s and 80s, with opportunities to build greater trust between employees and managers.

How did you tackle these challenges?

When I arrived, absenteeism had been running at levels significantly higher than a number of Heinz’s other UK sites for a number of years. Although an absence policy was in place it needed implementation and the operational team needed to be re-educated around this, so they would take responsibility for their team’s attendance. Within nine months, the absence level had dropped and is now running at 2.5%.

We achieved this by adopting a more rigorous approach to absence management. We worked with the site’s recognized trade union, Unite, to gain their collaboration regarding absence and the Company’s expectations.

This is HR delivering significant results for the business, through a strong employee relations strategy.

How did you improve trade union relations?

Improved trade union relations are based on delivering a compelling picture of why change is needed. These improved relationships allowed us to deliver a pay award with a 90% yes vote in a single ballot, an achievement previously unheard of. The increased strength of relationship has also resulted in a massive reduction in appeals and grievances.

To continue making progress, it was also essential that we raised employee engagement levels. To achieve this we have established a new communications programme which has seen the setting up of a communications group, lunches with the site Director and  the whole senior team regularly meeting for informal chats with employees. These measures are ensuring that communication is flowing in both directions on site.

What advice would you give to businesses going through change in a partnership agreement?

To deliver the type of results that have been achieved by myself and my team at Kitt Green it was vital that we worked with the Trade Union. Building strong relationships with Trade Unions is a skill in itself; however on past and current experience I have found if you deliver a consistent message and approach with them it helps build respect and trust. To ensure the relationship between the business and the Trade Union is sustained you must always deliver on your commitments.

What challenges lay in the future?

Adding commercial value through good employee relations at Kitt Green has been an important KPI for me since I arrived. The challenge continues to keep the improvement going and to ensure further improvements through working through a set strategy and goals to allow Kitt Green to retain its unique place in the Heinz family.