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Star interview: Valerie Dale, Group Chief People Officer, and Rob Legge, Group CEO, OCS

30 May 2023

The two senior executives told PFM about their people strategy for newly-formed FM 'super-company' OCS...

It was announced earlier this year that Atalian Servest and OCS have merged to form one FM ‘super-company’, also called OCS, offering a tranche of FM services in countries all round the world. Last month, Group CEO Rob Legge laid out his vision for the newly-formed company,  – and what is very clear is that people are at the very heart of it. 

Alongside Rob, Valerie Dale, the company’s Group Chief People Officer, is the person charged with creating the strong, values-driven organisation that Rob and his investors want OCS to be. Recently onboarded herself, and with over 130,000 colleagues across the two groups, this is a challenge that she’s excited to be getting her teeth into. 

“We’re merging two different cultures. I’d say it’s quite a paternalistic culture but entrepreneurial as well,” she says. “We’re empowering colleagues to understand what it’s about, to help drive the culture forward. And we’re launching our TRUE values – an acronym which stands for Trust, Respect, Unity, and Empowerment. I’d say these are the backbone of the culture we want to develop with the two organisations coming together.”

Wellbeing initiatives

The two separate companies – Atalian Servest and OCS – have a number of different staffing and wellbeing initiatives which Val is tasked with bringing together under the new OCS umbrella. Central to this is  CHROMA, another acronym which stands for ‘Creating Harmony, Respecting Others and Making Allies'.

“It’s all about giving colleagues a voice to promote their individuality, plus promoting good mental health and wellbeing,” Val explains. There are three key areas within CHROMA – health and mental health; LGBT and gender identity; race, ethnicity and religion. Each of these has a board sponsor and a chairperson who’s an employee with a passion for that particular area, and together they come up with ways of supporting colleagues, which range from running menopause events to offering a disability confidence qualification. “There’s quite a lot of activity that goes on,” Val says.

OCS also offers mentoring schemes, and has an employability team that helps people from different backgrounds who may find accessing work challenging into employment. “We’re trying to support those who want to join us,” Val says.

Cost-of-living support

The company is keen to support staff who may be struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, offering Wagestream – a financial wellbeing platform that’s particularly targeted at frontline workers, helping them manage and maximise their money – as well as staff discount schemes. “We’re looking at salary sacrifice schemes and other ways of helping our people save on tax and NI,” Val says.

She admits it can be tricky knowing how to support people during tough economic times such as these – particularly as not everyone is comfortable talking about their financial situation. “We’re keeping our eyes and ears open to see how to support people as it is a challenge,” she says.

In terms of recruiting, Val describes the FM industry sector as ‘buoyant’, particularly from a frontline perspective. The company recently advertised for a communications director and received over 200 applicants. However, there are undoubtedly challenges in recruiting certain types of roles. 

“Post the pandemic, and with Brexit as well, we did find that a lot of the operative level of our colleagues did stay back in Eastern Europe, or did return to other countries, and it has been difficult to replace and recruit those people,” Rob says. “We also lost a lot of skilled engineers during the pandemic and they haven’t returned. There is still this fallout over Brexit – people didn’t initially feel the full impact of Brexit, particularly with Covid happening so soon after us exiting Europe. So I think there are some challenges. Val is correct in that the market is buoyant in terms of some of the people we’re going after, but there are some challenges as well.”

Hybrid working is one of the significant shifts in the way we work, and something that’s been accelerated by the pandemic – but remains as much of a challenge as it is an opportunity, particularly for FM. Although OCS has embraced it, Val points out that it’s important in terms of uniting the two newly-merged companies to have people in the office. “We’re trying to build our culture and we can’t do that if people are home five days a week, behind a screen. It’s important that we get that facetime.”

Increasing visibility

Of course, many of the frontline roles in FM simply can’t be done from home, which can prove a barrier to recruitment – but what is helping is that FM is making some progress in terms of becoming more visible as an industry. “Cleaning is really coming up the food chain, particularly post-pandemic with the focus on hygiene,” Rob says. “Some of this sanitisation work has dropped off a bit now, but we’re still seeing people coming into the cleaning industry as a career, and we’re been talking about the progression of our workers on the frontline being able to work their way through the ranks, being able to have opportunities to be managers, area managers, even directors of the company. Cleaning is a career if it’s approached in the right way.”

Both Val and Rob firmly believe that key to recruiting is by showing that there’s a career path through the business. This is something OCS prides itself in, with examples of long-term staff who’ve progressed right from the shop floor to senior management. The difficult thing, Val says, is demonstrating this to the market. “We want to showcase our successes, how they’ve moved on, and talk about this in publications and at networking events.”

One of things she’s done in previous roles is go into schools to talk about FM and all the different career paths through the industry. “If we sow the seeds when they’re young, hopefully they’ll realise there’s lots of opportunities for them,” she explains.

One of the positives about FM is that it’s a straightforward industry, without difficult barriers to entry, meaning it offers opportunities to a wide range of people with different skills, experience and backgrounds. This is reflected in the diverse nature of the workforce. “I think, across FM broadly, it’s quite gender balanced,” she says. “If you look at security, it tends to be male dominated, and cleaning is female dominated.” 

She admits that diversity is more of an issue at leadership level, but points out that OCS is doing a lot to counter the balance here. “Rob is doing a very good job at this, he’s leading the pack. We’ve got women and men, and a mix of different ethnicities, on our executive team,” Val says.

Of course, any or significant structural change within an organisation can cause anxiety for employees, but Val and Rob are keen to take their staff – and new staff that may join them – with them on this journey. As Val says: “A lot of people are seeing this journey as an exciting time and wanting to join us – that’s one of the reasons we’re getting such good responses to job searches.”

“We’re a strong, large international organisation with over 25 years’ successful history and growth. It’s an exciting time to be on board, and we hope people will see the company’s growth as exciting and an opportunity,” she adds.

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