Jess Williams is the HR Manager & Admin Support at Firstflex Cables. The industrial electrical cable and components business provides solutions for organisations nationwide, as well as being New Zealand’s largest stockist of premium industrial and flexible cables.
Location: Takanini, Auckland
Business Type: Commercial Electrical
Number of Employees: 44
Current Business Situation: Building sound HR structure through growth and acquisition
Relationship with The Icehouse: Leadership Development Programme Alumni
'We have seen a huge shift in the way Jess approaches her work. She has transitioned from being an advisor to more of a leader by owning her role, is focused on improving HR processes and connects better with the wider team so they feel comfortable talking to her.' Chris Burgess, General Manager
Tell us about your role?
It changes every day! There's all the usual work associated with HR; recruitment, payroll, disciplinary (when it arises), facilitating PRDs, annual engagement surveys and anything new that comes up. The other big focus is the people and culture activities – staff training, health and wellness initiatives, social events and giving back to the community. Every year Firstflex supports local sport teams and various charities, which staff get to have input on and contribute to.
Senior management are very focused on people and creating a good culture and I’m fortunate to have a role where I can continue adding to that environment.
Why did you choose this business?
My contract at my previous job came to an end and being a single mum, I was in need of a job. A recruitment company put me forward for the data entry role Firstflex had available and nine years later, I haven’t looked back. As the company has grown, I’ve been fortunate enough to progress from the data entry role to an administration role before moving to the HR role.
What have been the biggest challenges for you over the past 18 months?
For most people, 2020 will go down as one of the most challenging years, but we were in the fortunate position where all the staff remained on full wages during lockdown, even when working reduced hours. A lot of the team were able to work from home and those that couldn’t would come in to work one or two days per week, depending on the roster. We are an essential service, so operated on skeleton crew.
Communication was vital, especially during those first few weeks, because it was a new experience for all of us. We had to quickly implement new policies, ensure we could easily contact staff, create rosters to ensure the business could still operate with skeleton crew while maintaining physical distancing, and get used to a new way of living. Having those key conversations and checking in on people and their wellbeing was really important as lockdown affected people differently.
Learning to work from home was extremely challenging – I’ve always worked with people and had that social interaction while working, so it was quite an adjustment working in a makeshift office at home. Certain tasks took longer due to not having access to all of the equipment I have at work but it was something I got used to.
Going forward, we have recently purchased another business and I’ll be assisting them with their HR requirements - a challenge I’m looking forward to.
What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them?
I did LDP 37, which ran from September to November 2019. I’m the sixth person from Firstflex to complete the programme and we plan on sending two more employees this year.
The facilitators were knowledgeable and engaging, you learn about all other aspects of the business and how every department in a business is important. I’m not going to lie – the presentation was very hard, but Maryse (Dinan, Customer Growth Partner) and Jo (Clayton, Programme Facilitator) were fantastic support in helping me to get through it.
There are also additional programmes available to employees after completing LDP, something a couple of employees have expressed interest in.
How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?
When colleagues come back from LDP they make gradual changes, rather than instant ones. They think and approach situations and tasks differently without realising and, as I’ve grown, I’ve done the same. I’ve slowly transitioned from thinking like an advisor to thinking like a manager and focus more on future improvements and long-term solutions, rather quick fixes.
I’m not as involved in other areas of the business as some of my colleagues and have often thought of my role as ‘just HR’ but after going on LDP, I realised that my role is important. In any business, people are very important and if you don’t have good people who are happy and healthy, the business won’t be as successful as it could or should be.
We've all got stuff going on and you don't know what's happening behind closed doors. Rather than having a ‘You need to do this’, approach, I now focus on understanding the situation and, where possible, finding solutions which are going to work for those involved. Everyone is different and a one size fits all approach doesn’t work.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling/looking for help?
If you are given the opportunity to attend LDP, definitely take it up – it was an amazing experience. Being away from work helped as I was able to solely focus on getting the most out of the course without work distractions. Without realising, I’ve started working differently – I now think of HR ideas and initiatives rather than waiting for senior management to tell me theirs.
Follow this link for more information about Firstflex Cables and its extensive range of products and services.