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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Kenneth Freeman, head of corporate university
Article Type: Practitioner profile From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 10, Issue 3
HR executives share their experience in human resources
Kenneth Freeman is international technical director for Ambius, the global expert in interior landscaping, and head of Ambius University, the company’s corporate university. While not directly in HR, his responsibilities overlap with those of the HR team. He explains: “My role in HR is semi-detached. We have a dedicated HR team, but as the head of Ambius University, I lead a team that is responsible for the design and implementation of programs relating to colleague engagement (new and existing). Ambius University also has responsibility for developing, reviewing and promoting our vision, mission, values and service principles, and we also develop training programs that are subsequently managed by our learning and development colleagues.”
A challenging global environment
This is his most significant HR-related role to-date and is challenging in terms of the global environment in which Ambius operates. Freeman says: “Ambius University (AU) has a global role (covering 19 countries and nine languages), but the outputs of our work, and the responsibility for implementation and delivery, are managed by local country-based HR and L&D professionals. AU is made up of a management board, which is advised by a committee of colleagues (from a variety of roles) from each country where we operate.
“The most significant challenges relate to ensuring that our programs make sense in different countries – culture and language issues must be addressed – and getting things done in a timely fashion – big committees can be a little cumbersome. However, we have achieved some really good things in a short time and with limited resources. One great success is our ‘New Colleague Engagement’ program, which is extremely effective and popular with colleagues and management alike.”
Freeman explains that employee engagement is a key priority at Ambius. He says: “We know that the key to effective and successful customer engagement and satisfaction is genuine colleague engagement. Our service staff has a great reputation for their technical skills, but we need them to feel much more empowered to give great service without having to refer issues up to supervisors or managers. Empowering people is one thing, getting them to really believe that they are empowered is a different issue. Researching best practices in companies known for their customer service through colleague engagement is a task for the next few months and we’ll be casting the net well away from our own industry.”
Balancing the demands of a varied role
Freeman’s role involves a fine balancing act between his different responsibilities. He says: “My current role is split between my leadership of Ambius University and my directorship of the company’s R&D and sustainability projects. It’s not an obvious split, but there are some surprising cross-overs. AU supports, and is supported by, departments as diverse as marketing, R&D, L&D, HR and general management and this interdisciplinary approach breaks down barriers between departments and facilitates very good communication and mutual learning.
“However, there are clearly challenges. Allocating time between my AU role and my scientific/technical role can be difficult. Also, leading programs without necessarily having the direct line management responsibility for the people who are supposed to implement them can be interesting – they are sometimes torn between two tasks and it is easy to see why the line managers’ requests are given most attention, even if the greater good were served by the more strategic (perhaps esoteric) tasks of an AU program.”
Preparing for HR of the future
Freeman says: “The HR function in the business is quite complex. As a division of a much larger plc, we have to work within the frameworks of the group as a whole. The HR team within our division has reporting lines to both divisional business managers as well as the group HR team. In some countries (notably the smaller ones), we might find that HR and L&D combine, and in other places, we might share our HR resource with another division of the parent group.”
Preparing for and keeping up with changes in HR policy and practice is a continuous challenge. He comments: “There are always going to be legislative issues to deal with – compliance is hugely important (and if managed well can be commercially beneficial). The rapidly changing political environment is also going to put pressures on HR specialists. The new government [in the UK] has its agenda to follow, informed by its own philosophies, and this is already having an impact.”
When asked if he has any advice to give to HR professionals facing the challenges of the future, he says: “I’m not sure I’m qualified to give it. However, we’ve been involved in supporting some ground-breaking research carried out by the University of Exeter looking at workspace management. One of the key lessons learned from that research is that giving people some say in the way that their work space is managed (and by steering clear of management systems that depersonalize the working environment) will pay huge dividends. Don’t be dogmatic about issues such as lean space (or any rigid system) – let people realize something of their own identity and you will see that they will identify more with the organization, leading to greater engagement, greater feelings of well-being and more productivity.”
Kenneth FreemanHead of Ambius University and International Technical Director.
About the author
Kenneth Freeman is Ambius’ International Technical Director, based in London. An expert in interior landscaping, he has been directly involved in all aspects of research into the benefits of interior plants, as well as the development of horticultural best practices and the leadership of Ambius’ ambitious sustainability project. He has developed a range of education and training programs and is the author of continuing education programs for architects in the UK as part of the Royal Institute of British Architects Continuing Professional Development Core Curriculum and in the USA as part of the American Institute of Architects Continuing Education System. Kenneth Freeman can be contacted at: email@example.com