Katrina Dunne is passionate about her HR day job and her voluntary work with young people – the employees of tomorrow. Jill Theobald met the People and Performance Development Consultant to find out what she can teach the employers of today.
When I first meet Katrina Dunne she tells me she has two passions.
We chat at length about both her voluntary work inspiring young people to achieve and her day job working for professional HR, training and psychology services firm Sereniti.
But it quickly becomes clear she actually has one main passion: people.
“My father was profoundly deaf. Aged 16 he was just considered thick – but he ended up becoming a university professor. Despite the ups and downs of disability, you can still achieve – that was the message I took, that’s how I was brought up.”
It’s an attitude that has influenced Katrina’s approach both to her business and voluntary roles.
“I’m a very hands-on person. I do a lot of voluntary work with sixth forms, colleges and schools. Students and young people often have low self-esteem – it’s all about helping them understand their strengths and see they have choices.
“I like listening to and understanding young people and getting them inspired – I get excited and animated about that.”
After growing up in the West Midlands, Katrina studied a hospitality degree at Manchester Metropolitan University and worked in that industry for a few years before falling into recruitment.
Temping at ATA Selection recruitment agency in Scotland, she worked her way up to Recruitment Consultant, Senior Recruitment Consultant and then Branch Manager of the Engineering Division.
“This was in the days before computers and fancy software,” she laughs. “Success in the job was simply down to creating relationships, understanding the client’s needs and matching the right person to the right role.
“The next stage would have been area manager but it didn’t really appeal as I like to be in the thick of things, so I decided to be bold. I put a proposal to Dublin-based Action Recruitment Europe to set up their UK division. It was all done on trust – it wasn’t a franchise.”
Putting her hands-on attitude into practice, Katrina moved to Dublin for a few months to understand the culture and ethics of the company then built the UK division up in a back bedroom in the West Midlands (“I used to have remind my partner not to run a bath or flush the loo because I’d be on the phone in next room!”) But from small acorns – Katrina moved the business out of the back room to office premises in Rotherham and built up the team, at the top end employing 12 staff.
After her partner got a job with SVM Global in 2010, Katrina joined him. The company – the world’s leading reseller and distributor of corporate gift cards, e-codes and gift vouchers – wanted a foothold in the UK and the pair set up in Rotherham, with a little help from RIDO.
“We went from literally one small building and as we grew we bought the building next door which was an old sewing factory which we gutted and did up. We went from two to more than a hundred staff in approximately seven years.
“The combination of our core vales and company culture was very strong and it was an amazing team of really lovely people, a mixture of skilled staff, apprentices and graduates.
“We didn’t just pin a company mission statement to the wall and I didn’t do it on my own – we all worked as a team to create and develop those core values. At SVM I learned that teamwork is very, very powerful and it still is.
“Financial thank yous were personalised. For example if the employee was into DIY then a B&Q gift card, or a book token for readers. We thought about their individual interests and tastes.
“When you work eight hours a day you rely on your family to support you, so we would also recognise relatives with social get-togethers and days out for employees and their partners and children.”
In between donning various other voluntary hats (including committee member for Business Growth Board on the Employment and Skills Sub-Group, a judge for Rotherham Apprentice of the Year, and a member of the Rotherham Pioneers group) Katrina’s most recent move was joining Sereniti earlier this year, working alongside MD and clinical psychotherapist Anne Lockwood and her team.
MD Anne explained: “I set up the business in 2010 in response to comments from several business owners I had coached. There seemed to be a theme of SMEs wanting fast, flexible and professional HR resources which could in essence be switched ‘on and off’ as needed, rather than signing up for a two or even five-year contract without knowing future needs.
“Our ‘Pay As You Go’ offer gives peace of mind support without fixed overheads – a bit like an invisible HR department – because each business might not need the same specialist each time. One project could be a restructure, or leadership training, the next a large recruitment campaign.
“We’ve also been super careful in building our team, and they are why we are successful. We only have the best employees and associates.”
Said Katrina: “After SVM I was approached by a number of companies but for me it’s important that the company is a reflection of my values. I met Anne and Vicki (Newman, Sereniti’s Director of HR and Operations) at a Springboard event and found them extremely professional and liked their approach to business. It’s all about working in partnership with the clients to solve their people challenges but doing it in a way that’s open and up-front, adding extra value as an extension of the team.
“I was also impressed with the range of consultants from emotional intelligence trainers and psychologists to highly experienced HR specialists.
“Things are changing. People go into employment now and might switch job roles several times throughout their career. Today’s employers have to learn to be less ‘tunnel vision’ and instead look at pools of different talent.
“It’s all about going the extra mile and a lot of companies are starting to get that. Company culture is the foundation of every business – get that right, feed it into everything you do and that will support your growth.
“Your company might produce a product but without employees’ heart and minds that’s all you’ve got – a product and nothing else. You’re just ticking boxes and paying lip service.”