Daniel Gallo is Executive Director, People and Culture at McLaren Racing. As part of a brand new Executive Team, the racing heavyweights were looking for someone to drive the talent agenda. Daniel and his team haven't disappointed, with McLaren enjoying great success both and on and off the track.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Daniel about his experiences at McLaren, his pride at the part played by HR in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and why he's determined to take the positives from a difficult situation.
Let’s start with a bit about you and your background.
I started out at a high street recruitment agency, a tenuous link to HR. I got a great deal of satisfaction from helping people into jobs, but I didn’t particularly enjoy the sales side of things. I was fortunate to get my first internal HR role with Asda Walmart in the benefits department when I was 21. It was there that I really found my groove. Asda was a progressive organisation where you really saw the best of HR. They had a genuine interest in the human side of the business and that acute understanding that if you treat your people right, then you'll get much more from them.
I've had a fabulous career so far. I've always been opportunity and brand led and have always looked for new experiences. I'm quite inquisitive as a person, which works well in the type of HR career that I've developed. I think if I had to summarise my career and my passion in one word it would be 'change'. I'm not a status quo person. The types of organisation that I'm attracted to - and the ones that reciprocate - tend to be those at a crossroads in their development or evolution.
I really enjoy going into organisations and helping them diagnose where they are today, what it is that they’re truly trying to achieve, how that looks in terms of their workforce and their organisation and then helping them to turn that into a tangible strategy. The role at McLaren ticked all the boxes.
Can you tell me more about your role at McLaren?
I'm just coming up to a year in my role as Executive Director of People and Culture. It was a brand-new role as part of a brand-new Executive Team at McLaren. They were looking for someone to shine a light and offer clarity around how to take your workforce, enhance their performance and contribution and translate it into success on the track.
It was an easy decision when they came knocking. I'm a bit of an F1 fan and it was a once in a lifetime career opportunity to be part of something new and exciting. I grabbed it with both hands. It was a fabulous proposition and I haven't been disappointed.
How have you revised the people strategy at McLaren?
Every people strategy I've ever developed has always been unique to the organisation. Of course, there will always be common themes, but I think when you start investigating people strategy in a high performing sports environment, it’s quite different to what you see in other businesses. We applied the same science to our 850 strong workforce that would be applied to drive exceptional performance in elite athletes, as we felt it would deliver great results.
I had to really get to grips with the concept of human performance and it being key to how you then deliver mechanical and racing performance in a car. To develop the strategy, we had to work out where we needed to focus our attention so that we can take this great workforce and the passion that was already there and really elevate it.
There were a number of key elements:
1. Physical wellbeing. Everything in the working environment is focused on people taking good care of themselves. We looked at things such as the canteen menu and the options available in the vending machines. We also really invested in mental wellbeing. McLaren as a sports team and as an employer, has a duty of care to be at the forefront of wellbeing. We don’t just want to have those open conversations when people have issues. We want to ensure that people have a strong work life balance and that we support staff beyond work, whether that’s financially or in their relationships. We want to support people to be at their best and to be open about when they have challenges.
2. Working environment. We're very fortunate in so much as we occupy a beautiful purpose-built building. The working environment influences performance and people's wellbeing far more than most people realise. Ensuring that we’re creating the right work environment for people to be in is key. We’re committed to making sure it’s visually stimulating, easy to get around and that there are the right types of areas for people to do different types of thinking and working. Some of it is still in the planning stage but we’ll get back to delivering the changes as soon as we can.
3. Rewards and incentivising the workforce. We want to ensure that we’re encouraging and rewarding the right behaviours and the right contributions. So, we completely redesigned the entire reward framework. We’ve introduced new bonuses that really align to what we are trying to deliver from a vision and strategic point of view. Everything has been gently re-focused and is pointing in the same direction.
Have you had to convince other stakeholders in the business of the power of people. And justify why there is such investment being made in your people strategy?
No, genuinely I haven’t. I have to say that’s not a surprise as it was all part of my due diligence when I joined the organisation. All I've been met with is a genuine appetite for things to progress and to move faster. We’ve had some fantastic debates along the way.
I have a very clear philosophy that when you're doing a role, you've been brought in for your expertise and to have a voice. You need to contribute. That said, a key part of my role is to facilitate discussion and to try and generate consensus. Business leaders have to appreciate that the people strategy isn’t just an HR strategy, it’s a business strategy that happens to focus on people.
What results have you seen from the changes that you've made?
I’ve been really pleased with the results. When you have clear leadership from the top, starting with the Chief Exec and the Executive Team and you’re all fully aligned, you can achieve some really great results and quite quickly.
Of course, to deliver long-term sustainable change, particularly where there are more painful areas of culture that you need to unpick, it’ll take you a lot longer. But to generate that initial impetus around setting a new direction and tone, galvanizing the workforce, generating excitement and to actually start seeing a tangible shift in culture - we’ve seen results in a matter of months. The challenge is then to sustain it and we know we can’t drop our guard and become complacent.
One of the big wins we’ve seen in the first six months was the improvement in one of our key data points. When I first came in, the response to the question ‘I understand the vision and strategy of my team’ generated the lowest scores. Now, for anyone who has expertise in culture, they know that’s the Holy Grail. You just can’t influence culture without having that clarity of purpose and vision right at the top of an organisation and making sure everyone in the business is on the same page. We were quite aggressive in terms of defining our vision, building a strategy and communicating it extensively. The result was that that question went from being one of our weakest scores to one of our top five.
When you see such a major shift, you know that you've got something right. There’s still a huge amount to do but we had one of our best seasons last year, for many years. Now don’t get me wrong, that work had started long before I came in, but I think the Exec Team all take a great sense of satisfaction because we know that the changes that we started to make and that we will continue to make have contributed to the success on the track.
What role does brand play in attracting talent to McLaren? Do you think there’s a risk that people will be attracted by the brand rather than really buying into the values of the organisation?
Really good question. If I had the choice between having the power of a strong brand behind me vs a lesser known brand, I would always take the stronger brand. For me, it helps get more quality applicants through the door. The name McLaren certainly does that. It gives you more choice, but it doesn't mean that you can take your foot off the gas. We still need to work hard to ensure that we’re appointing people for the right reasons and ensure joiners complement the business and the culture.
Do you think the role of HR has changed? Do you think there’s more of an opportunity for HR professionals to demand a seat at the top table?
If there wasn't before Covid-19, there certainly is now!
For me personally, I've only ever taken roles where there was a seat at the top table. That was a prerequisite. If the role of HR wasn’t respected and if I wasn't respected equally as a leader alongside the CFO and the CMO, then that organisation wasn't a place for me.
If we go back to Coronavirus, it’s been a crisis of workforce and HR has led the response. For anyone in HR who may have struggled to reach that next level or to have a voice, I’m sure they won’t in future. I think the pandemic has done nothing but shine a positive light on our profession. I'll always be pleased about and proud professionally of the contribution that HR has made during this time.
If you go back to the role of HR pre-Covid, it has changed, but so has every profession. But Covid-19 has really started to show the contribution that HR makes around the table. A seat at the top table comes with great expectation and responsibility, you have to earn it both as an individual but also as a discipline. In my experience, you must be a business leader first and an HR specialist second. You must be able to hold your own in every area of the organisation whether that’s the financials, asset management, operations or income generation. HR professionals need to demonstrate they’re equals with the other leaders. Of course, you’ll be looking at things through the lens of the workforce, you’re there to represent them. You’re also there to translate the different business objectives and determine how you can help meet those objectives through talent.
Let's talk about some of the positives for HR that have emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic.
I think there are a few. There's a great opportunity for HR to really crystallise their contribution and the difference the function has made strategically.
It’s an opportunity for HR to make sure that the things that have worked and the opportunities presented aren’t lost. Businesses and the HR profession shouldn’t just revert back to the way things were before.
For those who have found themselves at the top table, I hope that it’s a permanent move. I hope HR professionals have the opportunity to contribute to the broader agenda of business recovery, which is the next step for a lot of organisations right now.
What are some of the more general business opportunities resulting from Covid-19?
One of the biggest opportunities or positives to come from the pandemic is the success of remote working. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while and the progressive businesses have been doing it very effectively for quite some time. However, for the majority of mainstream businesses, they were offering a bit of remote working or flexible working but there were still concerns about whether people needed to be in the office to get the work done. In a matter of weeks, Covid-19 has debunked what would otherwise have potentially taken years to come together. I think one of the real positives is the concept of the future of the workforce.
Business leaders have realised that their people have been productive, diligent and conscientious while working remotely. I think we’ll see some seismic shifts, particularly as businesses start to recover financially and look to address huge overhead costs and expensive buildings. I’m not suggesting that organisations should tell people to work from home five days a week but I’m excited about more dynamic working practices.
The remote working piece will have a knock-on effect on the environment. People won’t be commuting into the offices as much, which means less congestion on the roads and public transport. Again, these are important macro societal and economic matters that big brands, actually all brands need to take seriously.
Will we see changes to leadership styles?
I think we will. This situation has proved that you can lead people remotely. Managers and leaders have had to change their usual style and have been forced to actively reach out to the people. There’s been much more of a focus on welfare, as when staff aren’t there physically, you have to be much more mindful of checking in with them. I think the media has helped make us realise that mental wellbeing is just so important, particularly through challenging periods. The pandemic has definitely provided the opportunity for leaders to be more focused on their people, which is no bad thing.
I think there will also be opportunities for businesses who look after their people. The talent market is still active, albeit it's not operating at full speed, but when it does, businesses’ ability to retain their good people and attract new talent will be very much determined by how you have handled your people during this crisis. And rightly so.
For HR, my network and for me personally, there’s a determination not to lose momentum on some of the positives that have come out of a really difficult situation. I think it's going to be an interesting time. Whatever the new normal is, I hope it isn't just the same as the old normal.
If you're interested in being interviewed as part of the BPS Perspectives series, I'd love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.