The Big Interview with Nebel Crowhurst

Nebel Crowhurst is Vice President of People at INTO University Partnership, for our latest Big Interview she spoke with Rosie Jenkins.

I joined INTO in March so it’s all very fresh with loads of new ideas and learning a lot about a new business. 

Prior to INTO I spent the last two and a half years with Roche, a global pharma company, before that I worked in retail heading up the talent and people experience function for River Island and then before then was part of the Virgin family in the exciting and fast-paced world of the travel industry. So quite a mix of sectors and lots of different roles along the way in the HR space. 

Watch Rosie’s conversation with Nebel here

Where do your real passions in HR lie?

I think for me my biggest passion is around employee experience overall. It is really important from an internal credibility perspective that we get our key processes and fundamentals in order and we stick within the compliance and legalities of what we do in HR. But once we have those things in order what we need to be focusing on is the overall experience of every employee in our workplace, to enable people to thrive and do the best that they can do to then in turn have a positive impact on business performance. 

The employee lifecycle tends to be historically what I have built people strategies around, really focusing on every stage of the lifecycle and making a real difference in how people feel when they turn up for work. 

My view is that how people feel and how they have a sense of belonging knowing that they are making a real difference and adding value to a business is vitally important. 

Employee experience, for me, is the real lynchpin in how we build what we deliver into an organisation and how we make a real difference to organisational performance.

Are there any examples of initiatives you have rolled out specific to that employee experience piece?

The employee experience lifecycle from the starting point of employee branding, attraction, and selection, through to onboarding, developing, rewarding and acknowledging achievements all the way round to when somebody decides to leave a business and how you treat someone at that point of their experience with a company, is all critical to delivering a great experience overall. However, at the centre, there needs to be really strong leadership, a clear view of the culture of the organisation and really strong communications. 

Those central pieces are vital. 

So, from a leadership point of view, I have done a lot of work in previous organisations around defining what leadership behaviours we want to role model to fit with the ambition around the culture and what we are striving to collectively achieve. That then enables the lifecycle pieces to land well because you have a much stronger position on what HR brings to the table in the organisation. 

Another area of passion for me is Agile working, the last two organisations I have worked in; River Island and Roche, I have been very lucky in that both organisations were passionate about what working in an Agile way means to the business and encouraging HR to play a key role in bringing Agile to life. One of the great things about joining INTO is that there is an ambition to bring Agile ways of working into the business which is something I am delighted to be able to support.

Agile enables work to be done more effectively but also brings a culture of autonomy self-organised teams and employees feeling empowered in the work that they do.

How long would it take to introduce that to an organisation that might not be working in an agile way currently?

It depends on the context of the organisation and your starting point and whether your starting point is an organisation that already has forward-thinking approaches to leadership or whether you are in an environment where you have quite a lot of traditional hierarchy in the way that you work, sometimes there is a lot of focus needed in that space before you can move into new ways of working which allow people to make decisions autonomously.  

And it never really ends, the vision can keep being pushed out further, it is a continuous evolution.

It is a bit like onboarding, which is often seen to be a stand-alone deliverable, but in fact it is something that can always be evolved and improved and I think rolling out Agile working is similar. 

That being said you do need a good year to 18 months to truly shift the culture and move the mindset towards Agile.

What trends do you see in HR for the next year to 18 months?

I think ways of working is a massive one. The working environment element and understanding what flexibility looks like in a new hybrid world.

I think the other area that is challenging for HR right now, is understanding the impacts of inflation and what that means from a reward strategy point of view. 

It is almost impossible for organisations to offer pay increases that match inflation like for like so it is about how we work creatively around total reward and focus on the other things we can bring into organisations to bolster what people have from a benefits perspective alongside pay to help people to take advantage of different things that enable us to make our pay go as far as it can in what is quite a challenging time for everybody. 

Another area is around how we make sure that the overall employee experience is meeting the needs of the different people we have in a business in a new world of work compared to where we were two years ago. 

It feels like everybody wants the answers around flexibility and hybrid working immediately, we are not going to be able to fix this in a matter of weeks or months it will probably take the next two or three years to take the learnings and get to a place where we want to be. 

We have to test and trial things right now to see what works and be ok with making some wrong decisions and learning from them so we continue to evolve and be comfortable with that.

We need to listen to employees and have a clear understanding of what the wants and needs are of people and make sure we have a good balance of what the employees need and what we offer.

What vehicles do you use to gather that information and data when you have such a diverse workforce?

I think it is a blend, people are all different we need to make sure if we want to encourage employee voice the mediums in which we gather that also need to be different. 

One person might feel more comfortable using a survey, while another may prefer to speak face-to-face to feel heard.

Engagement surveys play a role, although I think we need to get smarter and move away from the cumbersome yearly surveys, towards more regular surveys – focusing on the temperature check surveys that give you a snapshot of what is going on at any one time. 

I also think forums in which people can access you and have a conversation are useful; some people might prefer to do that with a line manager and some people might want to do that with HR. 

One of the things that I used to regularly do at Roche was to hold an open forum, called ‘What’s Brewing?’ I would encourage people to come and share views, ideas and suggestions with me directly and it would give me a really rich insight into what was going on for people in various business areas.

HR needs to have a good mix of people data and analytics complemented by a real feel and sense of what is going on in the business so it is really important to find those moments to let people share their thoughts and ideas.

HR can sometimes get caught up with policy and process which is all fine and well but you need to be in touch with people in the business to meet their needs and expectations. So making time to connect and listen to employees is vital.

Are there any other trends or nuggets of wisdom you would like to share?

One of the things I spot quite regularly is people questioning their ability, it is the whole imposter syndrome principle, and I wonder is that more prevalent now because we are encouraging people to be more open and honest with how they feel or has that also been triggered by the fact that people have been working alone a lot for the past two years and have not had the supportive human interaction they would have had previously. 

One of the things I think is important is coaching people and supporting them to have a level of confidence to succeed in their careers. I do question whether this has not been prioritised by HR in the last two years as we have been in a reactive state, we have all just been trying to cope, from a personal point of view, from a business point of view we have all just been trying to cope.

I think now is a really good time to focus on supporting people to thrive in what they do and giving them the tools and ability to have the space to be clear on their career aspirations and organisations being open to those conversations. 

One of the small things that I try to do is to give people small nuggets of wisdom through a blog I write, called ‘Dream Big: Believe Bigger’ it’s just a series of short stories sharing things I’ve experienced in the I hope that when people read it they think ‘oh yeah, I can do this and I can achieve what I am hoping to’.

I think in HR we shouldn’t overlook the importance of putting things in place to ensure people are truly thriving in the work that they are doing.

About Nebel

Nebel has a progressive approach to HR with an emphasis on delivering real business value and impact. Having spent a career supporting the people agenda within a spectrum of industries and various organisations including; River Island, Virgin and Roche, a global pharmaceutical organisation; Nebel has experienced extensive business change and growth.

Using modern HR practices to implement fresh ideas on; workplace culture, performance management, Agile working, using evidence-based practice and tech-led approaches has resulted in achieving multiple HR industry awards as well as being recognised on the Sunday Times Best Big Companies to work for list.

Nebel also features in HR Magazines Most Influential HR Practitioners list. Nebel has demonstrated real success in helping business leaders to understand the benefits of moving away from traditional HR tactics to build workplace cultures in which people flourish and businesses thrive.