In the second of our ‘developing your career beyond HR’ series we continue to explore the ever-evolving role of HR Directors, and how their strategic contribution within organisations is changing. In this interview, we talk to Rebekah Wallis, Director of People & Corporate Responsibility at Ricoh, about how she came to head up two functions, and how this has worked for her, her teams and the company.
Rebekah, could you please give us an introduction to your background, and when you started heading up Corporate Responsibility (CR)?
I originally started my career at one of the major energy companies. Following a short period with another organisation, I then joined Ricoh; from 2007 to 2011 we acquired/merged five different companies and as a result my role grew and grew. One of Ricoh’s founding principles was a commitment to be socially and environmentally aware; my CEO at the time was keen to be involved with business in the community and started by launching a big initiative to give printers to schools.
When I was recruited into the role, there was no specific CR function and it wasn’t a part of my remit. However, over my time here the function has grown to become extraordinarily important, both internally to our employees and externally to our customers. We have a corporate partnership with The Prince’s Trust, as well as working with social enterprises, charities and harder to reach groups in the community. Ricoh is a ‘ban the box’ employer, which means that we give ex-offenders a fair chance to compete for jobs by removing the criminal record tick box from application forms, and not asking about criminal convictions during the recruitment process. We also do a lot of work with prisons, running employability workshops as well as offering offenders training and work experience, which should help them to gain employment when they are released.
Why was the CR role created?
CR has always been intrinsic to the organisation and its purpose is genuinely to do good for society. It has, however, recently started attracting more customers and potential talent to join Ricoh, impacting the organisation from a commercial perspective too. As an additional, huge – albeit unanticipated – benefit, through ongoing engagement surveys, we find that employees who have volunteered to do CSR activities are consistently over 20% more engaged at the highest levels of engagement, providing a win-win for society, the charities we support, our employees and Ricoh as a business.
Do both teams collaborate? How easy is it to head up two functions?
Both teams work really well together, and I don’t treat them as separate functions. I have a leadership team of four direct reports including a Head of CR, Heads of HR and a Head of Learning. There is a lot of overlap and they work very collaboratively.
Why do the functions work well together?
CR fits in neatly with HR due to its contribution to Ricoh’s Employee Value Proposition. As CR is such an intrinsic part of what we do, and always has been (it isn’t a recent add on or afterthought), the message that we send to both potential recruits and customers is the same, resulting in a strong brand message.
What were the toughest lessons in adopting CR as part of your remit?
It was a massive learning curve for me when I picked up CR! I had to learn how to work with charity partners, and how to identify the ones that we wanted to partner with in the beginning. We choose likeminded charities; Ricoh is a proactive, customer centric organisation, and we always want to find charities with a similar mindset. CR is a core pillar in Ricoh’s strategy, and not an add on. I have worked hard to align CR with what the business wants to achieve in the long term, to ensure we are ‘walking the walk’.
Do you see yourself as a trendsetter and think that other organisations will follow suit?
In a lot of companies, CR is not seen as a separate function, more as something that forms an add on to someone’s responsibilities.
It is relatively unique for Ricoh, in terms of structure, for CR to be based alongside HR, but I feel that the importance of CR will continue to grow across organisations regardless of sector or size. Whether this will result in stand alone functions dedicated to it, or CR coming under HR, remains to be seen.
In a 2019 survey by Deloitte, the results indicate the millennial generation seeks culture, diversity and flexibility in the workplace when looking for roles, as well as clear alignment of business leaders’ priorities – and one way to address this need, as Rebekah has highlighted, is through CR efforts that form part of the EVP. It also positions organisations well against competitors that may not be committed to the same principles. With CR being so intrinsic to Ricoh, and it falling under Rebekah’s remit, she demonstrates how two functions can effectively complement each other.
With the ongoing war for talent, senior leaders should look to Ricoh as an example of how a combined focus on CR and HR allows them to attract and retain the best team possible and has a positive commercial impact. Ricoh’s proven link between colleague engagement and CR demonstrates the worth of its investment, as well as genuinely helping society. It is something I believe organisations should look to concentrate on as more of a priority.