How to build a better team – and inspire them to stay

HRD caught up with Fiona Crawford, GM of HR at InfoTrack Group

How to build a better team – and inspire them to stay

On her desk, Fiona Crawford has a Post-It note that simply reads “Remove The Noise”. As the GM of Human Resources at InfoTrack Group, it’s something of a mission statement – a distillation of the larger role that HR plays in the workplace.

“If that’s what I can do and allow people to be as effective as they can be, then I’m doing my job,” says Crawford.

Certainly, the evidence would suggest that it’s been a successful approach. Crawford’s list of accomplishments is impressive, both inside and outside of HR. As a two-time Olympian in softball (Silver 2004 and Bronze 2000), along with a BA Sports Studies (majoring in Psychology, Marketing and Science), her background in teamwork provided her with a unique perspective when she made the move to her current field.

“I’ve always been fascinated with teams, and how people behave in a team setting,” says Crawford. “My background was in softball, so I spent a lot of time pulling players from all over the state or country together and finding their optimal operating rhythm to perform at their best.”

Careers in transition
However, the actual shift to HR would come after Crawford’s playing career came to an end. She was working in corporate teambuilding, delivering seminars to organisations looking to enhance their workplace culture. One hotelier was so impressed by her seminar that she was immediately offered a role with the organisation. Intrigued by the challenge, Crawford accepted.

“They didn’t really have an HR department at the time, so it was a baptism of fire,” laughs Crawford. “Early on it was very mechanical – getting compliance in order, making sure proper procedures were in place, all that sort of stuff.”

Others might have been overwhelmed, but it proved to be a formative experience. Crawford was uniquely placed to pioneer a new culture in the workplace that would enable staff to perform at their best – both as a team and individually.

Several years in the hospitality industry were then followed by 8 years in the automotive industry. Eventually, Crawford branched out into consultancy, providing her skills to organisations on a freelance basis. It was this consultancy that would eventually lead her to InfoTrack Group, in 2015.

“I wasn’t really looking for another full-time role, but I met Stephen Wood (Chairman) and John Ahern (CEO), and was fascinated by the company’s potential,” says Crawford. “I walked out of the meeting, rang my husband and told him that I had to work there.”

InfoTrack Group
At the time, InfoTrack Group consisted of around 130 employees, with only one other dedicated HR staff member. Much like her first role in the business, it was a trial by fire. However, the advantage to this was that many of the processes were able to be built from the ground up. From very early on, Crawford notes, staff were made aware that she was there to enable to the wider business.

“We haven’t just taken products off the shelf,” says Crawford. “We’ve worked strategically with the CEO to build bespoke programs for the business. Going in, I had lots of great ideas – but we wanted to make sure that we were actually delivering what was needed.”

This is an ongoing process, too. Just recently, Crawford helped undertake a “stocktake” of the business to see if organisational needs were still being met.

“Nothing was broken per se – but staff wanted a greater focus on personal development, work-life balance and on CSR,” she notes.

Turning this desire into action, Crawford helped develop an InfoTrack wellness program – “Be Me”.

“There’s lots of public conversation around mental illness at the moment, so we wanted to flip the switch and focus on mental health instead,” says Crawford. “We want employees to be the best version of themselves that they can be, so we’ve run a number of programs to that effect.”

While it’s obviously geared at encouraging employee retention, Crawford notes that it still has benefits even if employees leave further down the track.

“We always want to make sure people have a positive experience working here. So even if they do leave for other opportunities, initiatives like Be Me gives an opportunity to reflect on the opportunities and positive memories that InfoTrack Group has given them.”

On the professional development front, Crawford describes the legal and conveyancing industry as going through an “interesting phase”.

“Over 50% of employees are millennials, but we’ve got a pretty broad range outside of that – our youngest employee is 19, while our eldest is 80,” says Crawford. “Additionally, we’ve got people from more than 30 different cultural backgrounds in the office.”

Accordingly, new programs and initiatives need to cater for a similarly broad spectrum of employees. A recent example has been the Australian Government’s gradual rollout of requiring numerous manual processes to become automated. Accordingly, Crawford has been heavily involved in developing programs for reskilling, retraining and upskilling variety of employees within the business, as well as creating new procedures.

“Whenever we do something new, we need to make sure we ‘pressure test’ it to see where it adds value, and who it adds value to,” says Crawford. “Additionally, we need to make sure it’s strategically aligned to where the business needs to go.”

Shifting public perceptions
Yet this change is also emblematic of other changes occurring in the industry, too. HR is often perceived by layfolk as largely procedural, oriented around “hiring and firing”. But there’s a shift going on in the industry as a whole – the focus has shifted to driving a better workplace culture, reward and recognition schemes and providing a more holistic view of work.

“There’s been a big push towards automation in general, and lots of HR managers get worried that they’re going to find themselves out of a job,” Crawford says. “But I see it as an opportunity to enable our industry to not get bogged down in operational issues.”

Additionally, she also feels that the shift towards automation – and the data and metrics it can record – gives HR managers a better case for justifying costs to the business.

“HR is a cost to the business, and traditionally it’s been difficult to justify some of those costs in specific terms,” says Crawford. “But with better data, you can demonstrate the ROI and have clear metrics around what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how it adds to the business overall.”

Perhaps even more importantly, it gives her optimism about the future of the industry – and her place within it.

“One of greatest compliments I’ve ever been paid was that I wasn’t a ‘typical HR Manager’,” says Crawford. “I like to think I bring a sense of practicality to HR, and I know I add value to the business through the initiatives I put in place. What I do enables staff.”

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