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Career profile: Dawn Cheetham, head of culture development, TGI Fridays

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Get to know your peers in the leadership community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Dawn Cheetham, head of culture development at TGI Fridays.

Basic details

CV in brief:

  • 2012-2014: HR manager, TGIF
  • 2009-2012: HR business partner, TGIF
  • 2001-2009: General manager, TGIF
  • 2008-2009: Assistant manager, TGIF

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation

My role as head of culture development is varied in remit, I essentially look after all things relating to culture, in effect anything which grows and underpins our core values. 

As a people-led brand, we run many cultural programs which impact every level across the year – I look after all of these programs. I also look after all things relating to manager performance, development and policy.  

Who do you report into?

Our HRD, Jacqui McManus.

Tell us about your team

We are a small team, but partner successfully with several HR support companies. Our people team is made up of six hard-working and creative individuals.

Essentially, two employees will look after all things relating to attracting and hiring our external/internal talent pipeline, as well as play a role in the on-boarding and induction. A further two of the people team will look after all internal and outsourced training, mostly at management level, but also project-based learning at team member level. The final two will look after benefits, payroll and all admin.  

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

The cultural programs I look after impact so many of our 5,500 strong family; seeing how what we do makes them feel like they belong to something special is very unique. I also find the way our culture develops from within very satisfying, I firmly believe the only things between our people and the job they want with us – is them. 

And the most challenging part of the role?

Communication blockages, there is always so much happening each day, sometimes not everyone gets to see some of the amazing things they can be a part of. At each stage the ‘gold’ is filtered for many reasons, I wrestle with how to mitigate this often.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There isn’t one! I could be in Barcelona partnering with hotels to ensure we have an outstanding manager conference, or in Birmingham delivering a law training session. But mostly my job is about supporting others to ensure our people are cared for and looked after every day. 

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

Simply Fridays is a people-led business, which makes working in the people team a very good place to be. I also feel that this is a brand which has remained respected and converted for decades in the UK, I feel proud to work for Fridays.

Perks and downsides of your role?

Perks – I get to travel and bring together conferences for 1,000 employees a few times a year, which is exciting and rewarding. And apart from the usual perks which come with a field-based role in a head of department, I actually think the culture of recognition means I have had the pleasure of being given some amazing recognition over the years. 

Downsides – Well, with a very small team supporting 5,500 team members, spare time is in very short supply.

What skills are essential for the role you’re in?

I am our employment law expert, so I have had to learn these skills as part of my role. Otherwise it’s essential to have great listening and negotiating skills. I sit alongside our operations team, and the historical ops versus HR challenge is something which I’m always balancing to make sure we do the right thing by all of our people.

I also think having the ability to turn my hand to all HR disciplines is essential, with a small team I must be just as comfortable running a cultural program, to delivering a training session, representing us in our exec board, and running a recruitment session.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

I began in operations and moved naturally and organically into HR.

What was your first job?

I worked for a travel agent, I went there on work experience at 15 and never went back to school (apart from exams of course).  I chose to work there because I knew I would get free travel!

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

No, I expected to remain in the travel industry.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

TGIF being sold by Whitbread in 2007 and moving away from a large business to a small one. Overnight all of the HR infrastructure went, and in a very uncertain climate both from a recession standpoint, and from being sold generally, we had to act quickly to get our people structure in place. Engagement was at an all-time low, and turnover at an all-time high, so quite a challenge all round to stabilise the ship.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?

I once played Olivia Newton John to holiday makers on a weekly basis while working at a holiday complex teaching scuba diving.  I needed to boost my income so took the only thing going – I can’t even sing!

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Winning 'Best Company to Work For' in the Sunday Times listing; I made this my personal crusade over 4 years. 

But the thing I’m most proud of is the journey from not even having a rating to being number one, and the point being how much better we are as a place to work being part of that journey.

Do you have any career regrets?

I don’t believe in regrets, you make the decision which is right for you at the time, if you wouldn’t make the same decision again that’s because it’s a different time now and things have changed.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Work hard, then work harder! Form healthy relationships with those around you, stay true to your belief system, whatever that is. Don’t polarise yourself by getting caught up in being ‘the tough one’ or ‘the one who says how it is’ – if you are kind and honest to everyone then you don’t need a USP. 

10.What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Carry on, you turn out alright.

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Coffee but only the good stuff
  • Jam or marmalade? Marmalade
  • The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? Rolling Stones, of course
  • Mac or PC? Mac, but I need a masterclass
  • The Guardian or the Times? I don’t read a specific paper every day, I like to mix it up
  • BBC or ITV? ITV
  • M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose
  • Morning or night? Morning
  • Rain or snow? Snow
  • Sweet or savoury? Savoury

Favourites

  • App: Fridays App obvs
  • TV show: Walking Dead
  • Band: Don’t have a favourite I have eclectic tastes
  • Song: Mood dependant
  • Book: The Chimp Factor
  • Sports team: Loathe sport
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Hot tub and prosecco
  • Place to eat: TGIF obvs
  • Holiday spot: Singapore, hot, sunny, cocktails, great food and shopping = happiness
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: Foster friendships, they need work. Wish I had heeded that sooner in life as I’ve lost touch with some amazing people by letting life/work take over.
Sarah Clark

By Sarah Clark

Changeboard

Online features editor at Changeboard

Changeboard

Changeboard

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