Published: Cardiff Life, May 2014
You are “Head of Happiness” at training provider ACT in Cardiff -that’s a brilliant job title! What does your role entail?
Why any organisation would want unhappy staff is beyond me! Great places to work have happy staff! My job title certainly raises a smile with people but it’s an extremely important role. I try to make sure staff feel happy, valued and supported. If someone is unhappy I want to know about it! We spend a lot of time in work and one of our core values is about having fun in a professional, safe and friendly environment. I believe that no one sets out to come to work to be unhappy.
Can you give us some examples of the strategies you use to make sure that ACT’s 340 employees feel valued and fulfilled?
It is essential that employees are clear about ACT’s strategies so that they know they’re going in the right direction and feel fulfilled. Every member of staff has an ACT desk pad which clearly shows our mission, vision, core values and strategic objectives, together with hints and tips on how to be great in their job role. As an executive coach I individually coach managers and encourage them to use a coaching style within their teams. I carry out departmental support visits and speak to employees on an individual basis to encourage communication. I am also chair of quarterly staff council meetings. ACT prides itself on an open door policy and this, combined with regular departmental visits from Directors and team meetings with decision makers, ensures that staff are listened to and valued. Innovative ideas and excellent practice are welcomed and rewarded and employees feel they have a voice and can make a difference to ACT’s future.
What’s your background? How did you end up working in this position?
I have a varied background, from working in the Careers Service, being a Police Officer, working in sales and marketing, running my own business and probably the most difficult job – being a stay at home mum! I joined ACT 14 years ago when I saw a job for an alternative curriculum tutor advertised in the job centre. I now sit on the board of Directors and I’m responsible for staff welfare from the top of the organisation, to the bottom.
As a training provider, ACT has a very wide remit, briefly, can you tell us what ACT does?
ACT was established in 1988 with a mission to make a positive difference to people’s lives by providing outstanding learning opportunities. Since then, ACT has offered Traineeships, Apprenticeships and more recently Higher Apprenticeships to our diverse intake of learners with over 9,000 people passing through our doors each year.
ACT has something for everyone; school leavers looking for a credible alternative to college, those who are unemployed and hoping to return to work as well as people already in employment who are looking to develop themselves through upskilling, from improving literacy and numeracy levels to Level 5 Higher Apprenticeships.
ACT have consistently performed in helping learners progress to employment or college and have one of the highest performing Apprenticeship programmes in the UK.
ACT has recently been recognised by The Sunday Times as one of the Best 100 Companies to work for in the UK, what is it about the company’s ethos that makes it special?
Being recognised by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 Best Companies to work for in the UK was a huge honour and I was particularly pleased to be praised for my ‘Head of Happiness’ role.
All staff are surveyed in order to be included in the prestigious list and we scored extremely highly in every category, which is incredibly gratifying.
Our work at ACT is to raise the esteem and promote the personal growth of thousands of learners every year and we can only do this with the right kind of leadership from staff who themselves feel confident and empowered in what they are doing. To know that our employees in turn feel as valued and fulfilled as the learners they are helping is the greatest outcome we could have ever hoped for.
It genuinely is important to us that our company is a happy one. We want people to come to work eager, motivated and inspired and in order to do this they need to feel supported and valued as an individual, and not just a number on a spreadsheet. Cheesy but oh so true in my experience.
How’s business at the moment?
Really busy! When I started with ACT we had about 35 employees and now we have 340, so growth has been massive. We are the largest training provider in Wales and we just keep growing and growing. Every day is simultaneously exhausting and exciting!
What might be a typical day for you?
Coaching sessions, staff training, support visits, helping to organise charity events and wellbeing activities. And of course there are those moments when I simply have to drop everything and just be there for someone who needs me. There is never a typical day.
Any embarrassing work stories you can tell us about?
Being asked to dress up and sing as part of an ACT rendition of the Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’ for a learners event. Trying to sing and imitate Baby Spice was a bit of a challenge to say the least!
Which part of your job gives you most satisfaction?
As a coach, helping people to overcome their barriers and achieve their full potential -being happier in the process.
What’s your greatest career achievement to date?
I was very proud to be made a Director after working at ACT for 6 years, but perhaps my proudest moment was helping a young learner to read and to write his own name for the first time. It was a really emotional experience for both of us.
How important is social media (Facebook, Twitter) to your work?
Social media is incredibly important at ACT. We’re currently present on four of the five major social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Youtube and interact with a variety of people and organisations to improve communication and collaboration. Internally, directors and the senior management team have recently attended training with a social media expert which resulted in increased interaction from staff members.
Who has been your main career influence?
It has to be Andrew Cooksley, ACT’s Managing Director. He’s always believed in me and encouraged me to be the best I can be. He makes me feel that everything and anything is possible.
What’s the best bit of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Listen far more than you speak. This has been one of my biggest challenges as I talk a lot, but I have learned to do an incredible amount of listening as well!
Career-wise, what’s your ultimate ambition?
I’m the Welfare Director and I want to keep building on what we are currently doing at ACT to ensure our staff feel 100% happy in work. Why would we want anything less?
Favourite place for a business lunch or dinner in Cardiff?
I really like Madeira on Churchill Way in Cardiff for a business lunch plus they sing to you when it’s your birthday!
What do you do in your spare time?
I love making jewellery, cooking and gardening.
Surprise us with a revelatory fact about yourself…
I cycled from Tallinn in Estonia to St Petersburg in Russia over 5 days to raise money for charity. I also used to be a bodybuilder!