“The most important thing is to prepare for the reality that things change as organisations grow…”
Catherine Allen is in charge of a team known as ‘The Happies’ at Ella’s Kitchen. She has worked with the business since it was owner-led, and is responsible for making sure Ella’s recruit the best, most passionate people and then keep them happy and committed with a strong culture, clear goals and a fantastic working environment.
Hi Catherine, tell us a little about Ella’s Kitchen as a company, and the role you play.
Ella’s Kitchen is an organic baby and toddler food brand, founded 11 years ago by Paul Lindley. We’re now a £60 million turnover business and you’ll find our products in all major UK supermarkets and across outlets in Europe. We have a team of 67, all based in our beautiful barns in Henley on Thames. I’m Head of Keeping People Happy and that’s exactly what I spend my time doing!
What parts of your job do you enjoy the most and what presents the biggest challenge?
My two favourite things at work are anything to do with employee engagement, and helping others to grow and develop to their full potential. As a small company, it’s not always possible to meet the career aspirations of the whole team but we are very focused on developing people.
The Ella’s Kitchen brand is very strong and recognisable. Can you tell us about the names of your departments and why you decided to keep the ‘little people’ theme going inside the company as well as outside?
We should be authentic to our brand and be the same brand inside and out. One of our values is ‘we’re childlike’ and our job titles are just one way of keeping this alive. Our Sales team is known as the Deals team, Finance are Sums, Technical is Safely, Operations are Clockwork and the HR team are known as the Happies.
Tell us more about your mission and values and what you do to keep that alive within the day-to-day practices of employees?
Our mission is to ‘Improve the lives of children, helping them develop healthy relationships with food’.
One of the ways we enable our team to stay close to our mission is by offering local volunteering opportunities for the whole team, which are related to this mission. We have partnered with Readifood, the Five a Day Market Garden, Rushall Farm and the Cooking Academy to do this.
Our values are:
- We’re Childlike
- We Think Differently
- We’re Good to Each Other
- We’re Business Minded
- We Want to Win
Our values are at the core of our recruitment and appraisal processes and we are bonused on how well we demonstrate the values. We talk about our values all the time and they guide us through making difficult decisions.
In our monthly Assembly (our monthly meeting) we ask for examples of how people have demonstrated the values and celebrate people living them from day-to-day.
Do your employee benefits link with your dream for a healthier world? Can you tell us which are the most popular perks for employees?
We have a good range of benefits such as healthcare and employee assistance, but it is our quirkier benefits that get the most positive feedback from the team. These include free breakfasts, a weekly lunch where we all get together, two pamper days per year, and our ‘term time clubs’, which have included pilates and fitness boot camp.
Four years ago, Ella’s Kitchen was sold to a larger US organisation. Can you give us a view of the journey you took from being founder-owned and led, to part of a large organisation? What happened to the company culture, how did things change and what made your transition successful?
The most important thing is to prepare for the reality that as organisations grow, things change – whether the business remains founder-owned or becomes part of a larger organisation.
Before we were sold, we had already begun the transition from a founder-led culture by defining our values and embedding them at Ella’s, so that our culture was more effectively future-proofed.
During the early stages of the transition we made sure we communicated regularly with all our employees and talked about our values. Our new owners recognised that there was something unique about our culture and were keen for us to protect it. This has enabled us to evolve in line with our values.
Your mission and values are to help people learn, play and grow. How do you see your HR initiatives evolving over the coming months and years to enable your workforce to live these values?
A good example of this is an initiative we are working on at the moment. We decided to focus on our Thinking Differently value and held company-wide workshops where everyone learned tools and techniques to help them Think Differently.
We then used our techniques in what we called Big Ideas Parties, where everyone contributed to product and non-product ideas and trained a group of facilitators to support creative thinking in meetings.
Catherine’s HR career has spanned many sectors, including charity, manufacturing, and fashion retail. After starting her family, she worked with small and medium-sized businesses as a consultant providing support with recruitment, organisational design, development and coaching. When she was younger, Catherine wanted to be a fashion designer or make-up artist but soon realised the quirks and talents of people was what really held her interest.
Connect with Catherine on LinkedIn.