The Big Interview with Lara Pletcher

Lara Pletcher is HR Director, EMEA for Castles Technology, a future-proof payment solution making payments simple, seamless, and secure, a Taiwanese-owned business with offices in the UK, Spain, Italy, Jordan, Greece and France for the EMEA region.

For our latest Big Interview, Lara spoke with Rosie Jenkins about her HR career.

How did you get into HR?

Interestingly I applied to Northern Foods straight from uni for an HR role, I wasn’t successful so went off into general admin and management on a graduate scheme.

Then, in my second role, as part of my development, I undertook a NEBS line management course and loved it.

When I returned from the course I decided I wanted to go into HR. 

I was quite persuasive so when an opportunity came up for a project-based role in the Midlands, I agreed to do it.   I upped sticks and moved – in return for my CIPD training being funded at Nottingham Trent University – so while I was doing the two-year post-grad course I got loads of experience as a line manager, which was helpful in terms of doing the course and then obviously continuing my career in HR after I qualified. 

Did you specialise or did you go into a more generalist role?

I am definitely a generalist through and through and love supporting the business in all sorts of areas, although I’d say in terms of my preferred areas, I would say employee development, change management and employee engagement.

What would you say are the current challenges for your organisation at the moment?

Like many organisations, it is making Castles the employer of choice. 

So, being attractive to candidates in a candidate-driven market. 

Recruitment has been such a hard slog this year.  

We need to ensure we have employees who are keeping up with knowledge – payments is a dynamic area and always on the move so for example we pay with different channels – cash, credit cards, apple pay, online etc and methods are changing bringing in contactless, self-service and online payment platforms. 

As a consumer, we pay for goods but unless you work in the payment industry you probably don’t pay attention to the device, security is really important, has to be secure and simple. 

So it’s important we keep our employees up to date and make sure we have the right people in the business to take it forwards and grow.

Is there anything you have done differently this year as it has been such a tough year for recruitment?

I think we have had to be patient and know that eventually we will attract people but we are working on getting the internal marketing right.

I think marketing has been historically externally focused so we are now changing the way that we onboard employees inside the organisation and working with marketing to make us more professional so we can attract the right people.

What would you say you are most passionate about in the HR field?

I’m most passionate about creating a great employee value proposition – enabling employees to come to work to do a great job for us, whilst really enjoying it and feeling they can be their authentic selves.  I’m highly passionate about employees getting the most out of work and unblocking potential, making sure we support people and organisations to reach their potential. 

Wellbeing at work is key, alongside feeling valued.  I’m really looking forward to our next Engagement survey and raising the bar further.

What are you doing in the diversity and inclusion area?

Recently I had a great opportunity to work with Pro Age and HR Data Hub to do an audit for us on our D&I status in the UK. 

What came back from the audit was that we are doing a great job of being inclusive but we need to shout about it more and be more explicit in what we are doing so we can attract people to the business, who don’t know about how great we are in these areas. 

We have implemented an employee interest group to work on the area so we get what we are doing embedded and make sure we are being really inclusive, I’m excited by the journey we have ahead of us. 

The other members of the group are enjoying the best practice I’m sharing and it’s great to check your own thinking and make sure it fits with the organisation.

We have just implemented a new virtual learning platform, and that group will choose what training we are going to give everybody in the UK on diversity and inclusion, looking at language and how we talk to one another in the workplace. 

Have you got employees across multiple sites?

In the UK, our office is in Salisbury, and we have quite a few people who are home workers now.  We also have employees in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, France, Greece and Jordan. 

What are you planning on working on in the next 12 months from an HR perspective?

Again, like many organisations, one of the things we will be developing is making the hybrid working model more effective. 

I think I saw a stat that said twice as many under-35-year-olds want to work flexibly than the over-55-year-olds so that is quite interesting. 

On the employee values proposition, continuing to recruit and attract people to us and looking at continuing to improve employee engagement. 

I am sure as the past years have shown there will be a need to pull more rabbits out of the hat and work on what the next new thing is. 

Right now we are faced with difficulties because of the devaluing of the sterling, so there will always be a focus on making sure we are cost-effective, there is a lot to do!

How would you say the pandemic has changed your HR delivery?

We are working in a hybrid fashion now and because I work with people across all countries, I make sure I am in the UK office a couple of days a week. 

We are used to dealing with everything online, using cameras for virtual meetings, and scanning documents so we are not chopping down as many trees which is great! 

It has also from a personal perspective allowed me to connect with more great people in HR by joining online networks as opposed to having to drive to different places.

What would you change with the benefit of hindsight?

I don’t think I would change very much, I am very adaptable and I think it is really important to learn from new challenges and situations, you learn a lot when you come up with new challenges.

If you were to pick your top three talents or strengths in the HR space, what would you say those would be?

I would say, being balanced, persistent and planning are three of my major talents. 

You need a plan!

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would say volunteer – it is great to get to know other organisations that way. 

It is great for your sense of purpose that you see how other organisations in other sectors are doing things. 

I recently became a trustee for Andover Mind and do love that. 

I would say take every opportunity possible to learn new things. 

Be yourself, and bring yourself to the workplace, don’t try and change. 

Grow your network, and surround yourself with great people. They might be outside of your organisation. 

The great thing about the pandemic is that I have grown my network, I am now part of a few groups, Katie Walton’s progress club which has a big focus on learning and development and that has helped me in terms of meeting facilitation but learning new things so you are staying up to date. 

And Emma Djemil’s Be Unstoppable HR group, which is a really small and supportive HR community.   We have a book club there and read The Authority Gap which is about gender inequality, it was great to debate that with other people and see what we can do to challenge inequality.

I am also part of HR Ninjas and CIPD and do think it is really important to stay up-to-date and check your thinking. 

I would say, bring yourself to work, have lots of fun and try and make people smile at the end of the day!