Ford Retail has recently appointed Sharon Ashcroft as their new HR director. After eight years in the company and playing an instrumental part in their £2 million customer services training programme, what are Sharon’s plans for HR success? The new HRD discusses the future with Katie Richard.
How did you get to where you are now?
I consider myself quite lucky as I knew early on what direction I wanted to take my career. I started in the operations team at GT News before being offered the position of personnel manager. From there, I moved to Gamestation to take on the role of HR manager before becoming a senior HR consultant at CODA. I also hold an MSc in human resources management and personnel administration from Sheffield Hallam University.
I joined Ford Retail in 2005 as an HR manager and was given a leading role in a number of large HR initiatives, including Moments of Truth, a £2 million HR-driven customer services training programme that has resulted in over 3,000 members of staff across 65 dealership sites earning either an NVQ in customer service or a Ford Retail ICS diploma.
Why did you join the organisation?
I had already gained a lot of experience in retail HR and wanted to branch out into a sector which is not pure retail. We’re much more than just a chain of stores and the very nature of the business, with 65 sites across the country, has provided me with some unique challenges that I don’t think I would have experienced anywhere else.
Unlike other organisations, HR is very much at the heart of the business. In the eight years I’ve worked at Ford Retail, the focus has always been on our colleagues – we don’t just endeavour to employ the best, but we have a real commitment to providing our teams with industry-leading training and a positive working environment and culture.
What impact has working at Ford Retail had on your career?
I’ve always believed that you should only stay in a job as long as you are learning and have room to grow. The fact that after eight years I’m still with the organisation and enjoying it as much as my first day is a pretty good indication of the impact it has had on my career.
The nature of a national dealership group, with 3,000 colleagues spread out across the UK, including Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, has provided me with unique challenges and has helped me develop skills I think I would struggle to find in many other organisations.
I’ve learned quite a few lessons working at Ford Retail, notably self confidence and a belief in what you’re doing. HR plays a key role in the overarching objectives of the business so there has always been pressure on the team to deliver. There have been moments when you question yourself and the strategy you’re taking the company, but it’s so important to have self-belief and ignore those niggling feelings of self-doubt. Stay positive and get on with it.
I would also recommend keep your eyes open: if they say it’s raining, go out and check yourself.
What are your responsibilities and objectives as the new HRD?
I’m responsible for the entire HR strategy at Ford Retail, including pay and benefits. An important part of my role and that of my wider team is health and safety; it’s very important when repairing vehicles in the garage environment. Our health and safety policy is under constant review in order to maintain good working conditions for our colleagues.
Recruitment is also a major part of my role and this year I’ll be launching an ambitious recruitment programme that will see us aim to employ the very best in the industry.
How will you ensure HR contributes to the overarching objectives of the business?
The business has a simple philosophy that underpins the entire organisation: happy staff equals happy customers, equals happy profits. I’m sure we’re not unique in that belief, but Ford Retail really does live by it and my team is at the heart of driving it.
We know that our customers are spoiled for choice when it comes to buying a new or used car. What we truly believe gives us the competitive edge is the customer service our colleagues are able to provide. We offer an excellent experience so our customers will continue to choose us over our competitors.
What’s top of your HR agenda in 2014?
To be recognised as an employer of choice, as this will allow us to attract the best talent and retain the competitive edge in the sector. My team and I will carry on with our key objective of making Ford Retail an enjoyable and rewarding place to work.
We’ll also be looking to evolve our industry-leading development and training programme, Moments of Truth, so that all our employees gain valuable qualifications and the chance to progress their careers.
What are your top tips for other professionals who want to become HR directors?
I think the most important thing is to fully appreciate the difference an HR strategy can have on a business. Make sure you work well with the operation’s department in your organisation as your role is critical to making sure operational needs are met.
Remember, making sure you can deliver what you promise is much more important than impressing people with overly ambitious targets which you eventually fail to meet.
Ford Retail is the world’s largest, dedicated Ford dealer group, operating a network of 65 sites in the UK. Local brand names include Dagenham Motors, Brunel Ford, Heartlands Ford, Lindsay Ford, Polar Ford, Bougourd and La Motte. The company is owned by Ford Motor Company but operates as a completely independent dealer group with its own board of directors and operating strategies. Total turnover exceeds £1 billion and the group sells around 90,000 vehicles a year. Ford Retail employs 3,000 staff, all of whom have attained or are working toward a diploma or NVQ in customer service as part of our unique Moments of Truth customer proposition.