Unprecedented with Victoria Philp

Published 9th April 2021

At Unprecedented, we had the opportunity to speak to Victoria Philp, Head of People at Food Manufacturer, who spoke to us about how covid affected her both professionally and personally.  

A background into you and your business?

My HR career started in 2007 in London, when my role as PA to CEO was at risk of redundancy, due to the sale of the business. I was offered a role within the HR team for the acquiring Company and was excited by the new career proposition. Over the following 13 years, I gained my CIPD certificate, postgraduate diploma and finally my MA Management of HR, whilst having two children, working and relocating to Leicester.

They were a hard few years, but during this time, I worked for some fabulous businesses, which have offered me a variety of experiences that have brought me to where I am now.

I currently work for a food manufacturing business in Leicester that employs 1000+ colleagues, mainly from the local area. Most of our colleagues have over 5 years’ service, which shows how committed they are to the business and how we see ourselves as a family

Define leadership and what being a leader means to you.

I believe that leadership is about having a vision and being able to bring everyone on the journey with you.

People often associate leadership with power and control, but that is not what it means to me. Being a leader for me is knowing what we want to achieve and making sure that we are all part of that journey.

Who are your Leadership role models/inspirations?

There are only three people that I have come across in my profession that have stood out to me as leadership role models – I won’t name names! I have a lot of respect for them and they have inspired me.

What would you like your Leadership Legacy to be?

To support the development of others and to have made a positive impact on people’s experience at work, as well as the businesses that I work for throughout my career.

What are the “non-negotiable” behaviours that you expect you and those around you to live by?

Compassion and understanding – we all have bad days, we don’t always behave in the most appropriate way, but if we all showed compassion and understanding then we could try to see things from a different perspective. 

What impact has Covid-19 had on you?

Personally – like most people, it has been difficult to not see family and friends, but equally, it has been nice to not have the pressure of having to do loads of things after work and at weekends. It has given me the time to focus on me and home. I feel for my children and everyone else’s as it really has been tough on them and their physical and mental health

Professionally – it has been one hell of a year! It has been really tough, and my team and I are all a bit tired, but we have all looked after each other to get through it together.

What impact has Covid had on your business?

We have had a really busy year, and this continues to be the case. We have navigated our way through a pandemic whilst being fully operational, which we are incredibly proud of.

Where were you and what were you doing when you first realised that Covid-19 was very serious?

I was at home on my birthday watching Boris Johnson announce the lockdown and that is when it really hit home.

What was your internal comms strategy at the start of lockdown? Has that changed in Lockdown 3.0?

I’d say that it was limited to begin with but developed greatly over the following months. Most of our colleagues are hard to reach because they don’t have company email addresses and sit in front of a computer all day.

We also have a really diverse workforce, so language is also a challenge. We have used various channels of communication to reach our colleagues over the last year and have used our own multi-language colleagues to help communicate in various languages to relay critical information.

What have been the Unprecedented decisions you have made? Those where there was no playbook.

I remember at the start of the pandemic I had to make some quick decisions on how we managed absence notification across the site and ensuring Covid processes were followed by colleagues coming back into work following isolation or holiday.

There were also decisions made regarding the team and how we could work in a Covid safe environment whilst supporting the business with the ever-changing landscape.

The word pivot was used unprecedently in May/June. What have you done to innovate or differentiate you or your business?

We implemented a learning, communication and engagement platform during the pandemic, which was a challenge, but a great decision, because it enabled us to communicate directly with all colleagues via the app on their personal smartphones.

We could also run induction virtually to support the onboarding of new colleagues in a Covid safe way, as well as continue with our compliance training by doing this virtually.

What were the 3 biggest (or best) decisions you made in 2020?

  • Agreeing to marry my partner

  • Continuing to upskill our managers by adapting our learning offering to fit a virtual world.

  • Continuing to embed our purpose and values through our cultural framework despite the challenges

What remain your 3 biggest challenges?

  • Keeping the team engaged and motivated

  • Keeping everyone safe

  • Communicating the ever-changing rules to a diverse and hard to reach workforce

How have you (your business) coped from a mental health/stress perspective?

It has been difficult for everyone, both personally and professionally, however, we have provided support tools, such as guides for colleagues and managers, and have provided training sessions for managers focusing on mental health. 

Looking back to March 2020. If you could change one decision that you made what would it be?

None that I can think of, I am very proud of what we have achieved as a team and as a business in 2020

Looking ahead to 2021 what are your predictions for the economy? For your sector? 

I predict a slow recovery because businesses and people have changed. Working from home has become normal and, whilst we may not work from home all week, most people are likely to spend less time in the office.

People’s attitudes have also changed towards certain things; like how frequently they will visit the hairdressers; doing home-based workouts rather than paying a gym membership, and making home-cooked meals rather than eating out. This will all impact the economy – we are not the same people as were pre-Covid.

It will impact businesses such as mine because fewer people will be buying food to go, frozen meals etc. We expect there to be some uplift, but not the volumes we were seeing before the pandemic immediately.

At the beginning of 2020, we were in a talent short market. What is at the top of your "people strategy" agenda for 2021?

Continuing to embed our cultural framework, as well as developing our colleagues and supporting progression through our Talent and Succession plan.

Has "succession planning" risen up your people agenda?

Absolutely. We implemented this in our business in 2020 and it is now central to a number of other important initiatives on our people plan.

What are you doing to retain your superstar / Leaders of the future?

Ensuring we are having quality and transparent conversations about their aspirations and development needs, so we are able to support their progression

Fast forward to 2050 .... what would you say to your future self...? That you did well or badly in 2020 to learn from.

I would say that I did well persevering with the people initiatives we had planned for 2020 despite navigating through a pandemic. It demonstrated that our people are incredibly important to us.

The biggest lesson came from not understanding/believing the severity of the situation to begin with. However, it was unprecedented, nothing most of us had never experienced before. Should this happen again, we would be far more responsive and better organised, which is why it is incredibly important that we document this experience and our learnings from it.

As a Leadership Team, how have you re-defined your vision and values? What have you done to make your culture remote-work friendly?

We have placed a huge focus on our communication and engagement strategy. The majority of our workforce cannot work from home as they work within the factories, so for our office-based colleagues who are working from home, we have had to adapt to be more inclusive.

Our values and behaviours have never been so important, and we recognise those that go above and beyond. We have had plenty of fantastic nominations from our colleagues, which has been amazing. We have made a big deal recognising and rewarding our worthy winners to inspire others.

What advice would you give to those entering the workforce today?

Develop your resilience, adaptability and agility because there is an unpredictable few years ahead!

The Pandemic has caused many of us to reassess what is important in our lives. In what ways have you recalibrated your own priorities and goals.

I am learning to enjoy the simple things in life, to be grateful for what I have and to accept things that are not within my control. I want to spend less time on social media and focus more time on my health, wellbeing, family and friends.

If you have enjoyed this blog, and have found Victoria’s story interesting, you can find her on LinkedIn. Alternatively, you can find some of our other blogs here.

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