When I joined RSK 15 years ago, it was a UK engineering and environmental business of around 700 employees with ambitious plans to expand internationally and through strategic acquisition. Fast forward to 2022, and we have successfully grown RSK into a global group of more than 175 companies (and counting) operating in nearly all sectors of the economy. Our workforce has surpassed 10,000 people, based in more than 200 offices across 40 countries.

RSK is a very people-centric business, so HR has always been an integral part of our growth strategy, which really hit its stride about seven years ago. Ultimately, we acquire businesses for the skills, passion and experience of their people so it’s crucial that we retain as much of the workforce as possible.  Early engagement in due diligence, the embryonic phase of any acquisition, is incredibly valuable, as you’d expect, but I’d say it’s paramount for RSK.

For an acquisition to be successful, not only does a business have to be a good fit for the group in terms of its sector experience and expertise, but it must also be the right cultural fit. This is especially true when the leadership team is retained – something that we seek to do in almost all of our as acquisitions. We want authentic leadership at all levels of our organisation. Managing directors need to be able to demonstrate they really do care about and engage their workforce because there are no ivory towers at RSK. HR’s due diligence contribution helps to ensure that this strong cultural fit is not overlooked, helping to avoid potential conflicts further down the line.

This is a strategy which has evolved over the years, but certain aspects of the HR skill set have remained constant. A degree of flexibility is required, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach, but a framework is needed to sensibly navigate the process. We value mutual respect and prioritise remaining open-minded and collaborative to build trust. We work hard to make sure any concerns the seller has are aired and addressed quickly - we definitely don’t want to wait for the post-acquisition survey! And, above all else, we are open and honest. We at RSK have been involved in a great many acquisitions, but for those selling their business, this is often a new experience, a period of significant change that we need to be sensitive to.  Offering support through this period is part of the service when welcoming them into the RSK family. For an entrepreneur, selling their business can be daunting,

Mirroring RSK’s growth, my own team has seen significant change and investment – growing from an original small team of two back in 2007 to a Group resource of 125 people. In a significant step change for HR, we have restructured this year, shifting from what had been a mainly centralised HR function to a divisional HR structure modelled on our wider business structure.

It made sense for me to introduce an embedded HR operational structure aligned to the divisions. Our acquisition strategy had developed at such pace that I felt a centralised function was at risk of become something of a barrier to the service delivery and decision-making process. Embedding operational HR teams in this way has helped us achieve better ownership and engagement at a divisional level and I can remain close to the process with a truly fit-for-purpose structure which gives me the big picture overview of our progress.

“Applying a local lens to all that we do is just one aspect of creating an truly inclusive working environment.”

The divisional approach is also helping us achieve the flexibility which is so important to us. Small businesses which often do not have much HR resource, if any, find the HR service offered by the Group a welcome relief. For those larger organisations where HR structures already exist, more time and attention must be spent on establishing how the teams will collaborate and work alongside each other to achieve the overall HR strategy.

Our constant growth has created many opportunities for accelerated career development within my team and in particular, for those HR professionals who have joined us through acquisition. We have had several successful promotions, for example two of our divisional HR leaders came to us managing this function in companies of 50 to 100 employees and are now responsible for divisions employing over 1,300 people. We are able to clearly demonstrate how a Group acquisition creates opportunities for individuals, and not just companies.

RSK’s international expansion has also required a different approach to HR, with the appointment of an international HR manager, who co-ordinates the in-country HR teams and local legal and other experts, as appropriate.  It’s critical that we learn about the different countries and cultures within which we operate and how the HR service needs to be tailored to be sensitive to this, applying a local lens to all that we do is just one aspect of creating an truly inclusive working environment.

A common thread has been how our people across the world have valued the RSK commitment to well-being – and by this we mean physical and mental health, financial and social well-being. The response has been fantastic, demonstrating there are some universal needs we can respond to.

Finally, even with the wonders of technology like Zoom and Teams, we do like to be able to bring our people and companies together when we can. Covid made this challenging for a while but earlier this year we were able to host an event in Birmingham bringing together the leaders of all our 175+ businesses and it was extraordinary to reflect on the breadth of knowledge in the room and the energy this created.

There will always be bumps in the road, of course, but my hope is that our down-to-earth approach of remaining committed to doing the right thing and striving to be an employer of choice will continue to carry us forward and the fact that we encourage individualism and remain constructively challenged by our businesses ensures we will continue to evolve.

No two days are the same at RSK, and that’s still true after 15 years of service.  I feel extremely proud of the journey that we have been on as a business and, despite the inevitable growing pains that come with such rapid expansion, the constant thread that holds it all together is our people, they are what make RSK a great place to be.