Inspirational Woman: Anna McCarron | HR Director, Asendia UK

Anna McCarron

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I come from Suwalki in Poland and I studied law at Bialystok. But when I graduated in 2005, I wasn’t convinced that law was something I wanted to pursue. So, I decided to travel to the UK and settled in London. I took an HR admin job at Food Partners Limited, a “food-to-go” manufacturer and logistics provider. This is how I discovered the fascinating world of fast-moving consumer goods and logistics. I settled in really quickly and loved the job, which started to evolve more towards an HR generalist role, which I found really interesting and rewarding.

I completed a Master’s in Human Resources Management, and since then have worked in HR management roles for several food businesses, including Head of HR at Pasta King UK. This has given me vast experience of board level strategy as well as frontline operations, managing costs, liaising with unions, and the importance of building employee engagement to ensure a happy working environment.

I am ambitious career-wise, but I also value my family life, and so I took time off when I become a mother – undoubtedly the right decision for me. I then worked for a not-for-profit organisation for 3 years, before being head-hunted for my current role as HR Director at Asendia UK.

Asendia is a pure logistics business and so it’s a world I know well, but with a cutting-edge digital IT focus, which was a massive draw. We’re one of the world’s leaders in international e-commerce and mail, delivering packages, parcels and documents to more than 200 destinations across the globe. So, my role is very much focused on implementing an HR strategy which supports the organisational goals. These are commercial of course, but we also have strong CSR goals, with a huge focus on sustainability.

Asendia UK employs around 420 people and has an operational processing hub and head office near Heathrow, and distribution centres in Southampton and Bedford.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really, instead I explored industry at my own pace, and gradually found my vocation. A turning point was when I decided to study for my Master’s degree. The combination of working in a hectic, fast moving FMCG environment and studying meant that I had very little spare time, but I learnt so much in those early days. It was tough, definitely not glamorous, and was all about quick change, rapid decision-making, tight margins, cost control and foremost, taking people on a journey with you.

It was a strange and amazing learning curve to be in my twenties and developing a new way of communicating. I was gaining a grip on what HR was really about, what motivates and disengages people and how practitioners have to walk that fine line to ensure that we support the business, whilst ensuring that our people are at the heart of it all.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

My role often involves challenging the status quo and bringing new approaches to people management, which means my vision is sometimes a few steps ahead of current practice. Not everyone wants to embrace change! The best way to overcome this is to provide very clear communication, setting out the wider strategic focus for everyone to appreciate, making the point that to achieve our end goals, new processes are the best way forward. Your people must always feel they are part of any change.

I have also learnt to be more patient and to slow down! And I don’t view challenges in a negative light. They are opportunities for us all to either influence, change or adapt.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Engagement has been a huge passion of mine during my career, and my biggest achievement has been driving up engagement levels, which benefits organisations and their people on so many levels. At Pasta King, better engagement led to attrition rates falling from 35% to 17% – a real success story for the business.

And today I’m incredibly proud that at Asendia our employee surveys confirm high and rising levels of engagement. We have a lot more planned to build on our reputation as an employer of choice. People are committed to our culture and values, and this means whether they’re working in our head office or our busy warehouses, colleagues enjoy what they do day-to-day and feel appreciated in their roles. My biggest reward is helping people to achieve their potential. 

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I look back at my career and recognise I’ve always become restless when things were stagnant, and this has propelled me forward in the long-run. Change is good because it requires that you do something to meet it, and that is stimulating and forces you to think about how something can be improved.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is hugely powerful. Just prior to my joining Asendia, a mentoring scheme was set up within the UK business, and one objective was to encourage high potential people – particularly female colleagues – to progress into managerial roles. This has been hugely successful and we are now looking at how to take it further. We’ve seen several commercial teams overcome hurdles to achieve their own success, and improve company performance so it’s a no-brainer.

I am very pleased to say that several of our mentees have achieved promotions and landed better roles, and one of them has even achieved a well-deserved board appointment at Asendia UK.

Roles within my career have enabled me to personally support my direct or indirect team members over the years. It does require a concerted effort to find the time to mentor effectively, to give them your full attention and really listen to them.

My focus is always on helping the individuals achieve their full potential. Mentoring goes hand in hand with an ‘on the job’ coaching methodology to understand the person’s goals and ambitions and then support them in identifying ways they can achieve their professional development. It’s also about challenging people’s thinking to how they approach the challenges they are facing – looking at the situation from a different perspective is a great skill.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

It would be to have gender parity at board level. We have achieved this at Asendia UK, but of course, I know how rare this is, and I believe not having more women at the top is holding businesses back.

We’ve actively appointed women into top leadership roles, because we recognise that having an inclusive workplace is a powerful recruiting tool, amongst countless other benefits. Female millennials look for employers with a strong record of diversity, according to research by PwC, with 85% saying it’s important to them. At Asendia UK we’ve found that having a reputation as an inclusive employer is essential for us to demonstrate positive company values. It’s enhanced our status in a highly competitive recruitment marketplace, and helped with retention, as employees – both men and women – feel it’s a company worth sticking with.

I’ve seen first-hand how having women on the board can hasten pay equality, broaden opportunities for women, improve corporate culture and significantly boost corporate outcomes. If we can break down the barriers that women face accessing leadership roles and board seats, so much the better.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Working in the commercial world, you have to accept that change will be the constant, and I would tell my younger self to accept and enjoy the evolutionary nature of a career in people management. What I have learnt, above all else during my time in HR, is that you stand a better chance of succeeding if you take people with you, and so we must allow ourselves, and them, to be human.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next big challenge is supporting the business growth, and that means delivering the plans through attracting and developing the right skills, but equally balancing this up with supporting diversity and ensuring equality and inclusion.

Our diversity stats are already good – there is a 50/50 male female split on the board, and across the company we are represented by a wide mix of ages and ethnicities. But there is always room for improvement, and I’ll focus on that with real energy in the next few years.

We need to make sure that we continue to develop the capabilities of our people and give them the confidence to forge their own destinies, with resilience and agility. Where there’s a shortage of key skills, for instance in IT, rather than playing the victim to this reality and wringing our hands, we need to take responsibility and invest the time and resources to shape our internal career and development paths and build a reliable and sustainable pipeline of talent.

Times are challenging so we need to invest in resilience in our people, and that brings into frame the wellbeing agenda. There’s new impetus around the support needed for mental, physical and financial wellbeing, so that’s going to be an important focus for me looking ahead. It’s about communication and clarity, and it’s also about creating that experience of a great place to work where people genuinely feel valued and happy.

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