C-J Green, CEO UK of Servest, explains how her passion and confidence to ‘nudge the boundaries’ helped her make it to the helm of the organisation.
You have to demonstrate that people are important
I’ve been in HR for the majority of my career. I studied business with HR at university and have focused on people-related roles as I’ve progressed. Having worked in financial services for some time, I joined Servest in 2008 to explore a new sector.
Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the company and with facilities management (FM). It’s an extraordinarily interesting place to work; there are so many different dynamics and the scale of the challenge involved in providing business-critical support to the organisations we partner with is vast. I’ve never looked back.
I joined the people services team and a few years later was asked to join the board. As a company, we’ve always been customer-centric. That involves ensuring there’s room for people to be creative, innovative and a part of the journey. As such, FM is more closely aligning with the people profession.
People are recognising that having a strapline saying “people are important” isn’t enough. You have to demonstrate that’s the case. Placing someone at the helm who is a people person sends out a strong message.
How you see yourself lends you credibility
I think the key to progressing from HR director to CEO has hinged on my passion for the business.
I adore this company and this industry – and enthusiasm and commitment are the underlining themes of progression, regardless of what you do or the sector you work in. I was never the person beating everyone with my ‘HR stick’; I sought to shift the focus away from tried-and-tested policies, protocols and processes, encouraging a new, sometimes unconventional, approach that would better support people.
That involved developing a genuine interest in the business. Despite sitting in the people services team, I immersed myself in every facet of the business, because I cared how everything worked together.
I became a leader in the group who also happened to look after the people side of the business. I think how you see yourself helps give you credibility. If you restrict the scope of your contribution, you restrict your options.
If you believe you can, you will
HR professionals limit themselves because they don’t think it’s possible. It’s struck me since being appointed how many HR people approached me and communicated their disbelief and amazement that I’d been promoted from head of people services to CEO (in a nice way). And, yes, it is a rare move but… if you believe you can, you will. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy all over, isn’t it?
That’s not to say I expected to be asked to step up to CEO – but I have always lived and breathed the business so it was a challenge I felt I could take on. You earn your place because of your contribution, and the positive difference you make.
HR people need to nudge the boundaries a bit more and try approaches cemented in a deep understanding of the business, rather than an obsession with best practice.
We can help people be the best versions of themselves
I’m proud of our L&D programmes, particularly our two-year Future Leader scheme, a graduate programme to prepare candidates for their journey into the working world. It’s open to internal and external candidates and our future leaders experience a vast range of roles and departments – from building services and cleaning, to finance and marketing.
This demonstrates our commitment both to attracting the best people into FM and also developing our own talented staff to ensure a leadership pipeline. I derived a lot of satisfaction from doing away with appraisals and moving to ‘continuous conversations’.
Our job as a people function is to facilitate people so they can be the best version of themselves; encouraging managers to engage with team members on a frequent and ongoing basis – in a way that reflects the needs of their colleagues – helps people unleash their potential.
A ‘one size fits all’ approach, such as appraisals, doesn’t work with humans, we’re too complex for that. Servest embraces a ‘you choose’ ethos – we offer people choice and help them perform at their best. It’s also a ‘feel good’ moment when we hear: “I was told this business is where you can be yourself and it really is”. There’s still more work to do, of course; but then there always is.
Businesses interact with customers in a different way
Our vision as a next generation FM service provider is to acquire an in-depth appreciation of our customers to provide solutions that make them incredible.
The world of work is evolving and businesses are interacting in a different way; the FM industry is well-placed to adapt to those changes. For us, it’s about doing everything we can to be the flexible, adaptable, forward-thinking and innovative service provider that will make a positive difference to the organisations we support.
We’ve transformed our people agenda and should apply the same learning to our customers.
Leadership is uniting people with shared goals
My primary role is to serve the business, my clients and colleagues, and to do that in the best way I can.
If you facilitate collaboration and unite people across the business with shared goals, you’ll empower people to be the best versions of themselves. That’s what leadership is all about.
DEMONSTRATE YOUR WORTH
If you want to improve your credibility within the business, I’d advise the following:
- Be yourself – if you’re worrying whether you have enough gravitas, you won’t. Be confident and stay true to who you are.
- Work somewhere you love – you have to have the business in your heart. If it’s all about the title, you’re pushing the wrong agenda.
- Learn everything you can about the business – don’t silo yourself from the rest of the organisation; constantly consider different perspectives.
- Seek out mentors who are outside of the people space.
- Step out of the HR shoes – imagine what you would do and how you’d think if you were a business leader. If you were going to take over the business, what would your plan be?