Building a workplace on trust: Krista Hunt and Teresa Wright, Porter Davis
Krista Hunt and Teresa Wright of Porter Davis
Few things are more important to the success of a business than attracting and keeping good people. And for Porter Davis, a company that started from humble beginnings then built its way into becoming one of Australia’s premier home builders, a great workplace brings in and keeps great people.
Krista Hunt has been perfecting this skill over the last decade as the Head of People, Culture & Change for Porter Davis home builders and its 430 employees. Initially trained as an accountant, Hunt has changed her focus to HR and attributes the switch to some sound advice from a mentor early in her career.
Working alongside Hunt is Teresa Wright, now Porter Davis’ Workplace Experience Manager – a role that didn’t exist in any business a few years ago, yet is now a core position when it comes to maintaining effective workplace culture.
Together, they share wisdom gleaned from working in one of Melbourne’s most successful home builders, in one of the city’s most contemporary workplaces. Located in fresh offices at Medibank Place on 720 Bourke Street, Porter Davis has created a collaborative and flexible working environment, and a positive workplace culture that often comes down to a matter of building trust.
My family were all in trades. My dad was a bricklayer, my grandad and uncle were all in trades and I grew up in a fairly small country town, so construction was an influence that I had growing up. I started my career at KPMG assisting the accountants, and then decided to move across into HR.
An early mentor of mine was a partner at KPMG at the time and I remember her having a really honest chat with me when I was still studying accounting. At that time I didn’t love accounting, but I studied it, thinking it was something I had to learn to be good at. She said, “No, look: there might be an opportunity opening up in HR. You’re more passionate about working with people than with numbers”. She encouraged me to give that a go, and gave me a bit of courage and confidence. Since then, I’ve thought it’s the best piece of advice: don’t try and be good at something that you don’t genuinely love. Now I always advise my team, “If you don’t love it, don’t do it.”
If you don’t love your job, working with people in HR means you will most likely project that onto others. We’re in a really privileged position to work with people and to have a positive influence. If we don’t love what we do, we’re not going to create that positive influence.
We’re in a really privileged position to work with people and to have a positive influence. If we don’t love what we do, we’re not going to create that positive influence.
It was ten years ago when I joined Porter Davis; a small, little business out in Hallam. At the time, I had no idea of the opportunities within the construction industry. I’d started on my 26th birthday, and had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself in for. I nearly didn’t take the job because it was in Hallam, which was so different to the city life at KPMG. Now, I look at this space here and I think, “thank God I actually gave it a go.” I was the first person employed to look after HR in Porter Davis. Now I head up the People and Culture team.
We have a connections program that runs internally that could be described as reverse mentoring. At the moment, I’m participating in the program with a customer service coordinator, and I spend time with her doing her job, and she spends time with me doing my job. That’s a way we break down boundaries and silos within the business and get much more shared appreciation. All of the directors have a person that they’re connected to. We do that for six months. Informally, because of the lack of hierarchy, you can walk out on the floor and you wouldn’t know who is a manager and who isn’t. Relationships just form naturally.
We’ve got a flexible work environment where a lot of people work remotely. The idea is when people are set up with the right tools, and the right training, and the right expectations, we actually don’t have to see them to know and to trust that they’re doing their jobs. It’s really trying to build a culture and an environment of trust, and treating the team like responsible adults.
The idea is when people are set up with the right tools, and the right training, and the right expectations, we actually don’t have to see them to know and to trust that they’re doing their jobs.
Trust is ultimately built on respect and I’ve always had amazing respect for Teresa and everyone in my team. I think the confidence in each other’s skills or where we need to take things builds over time, but I’ve always had an amazing respect for Teresa and in what she’s taught me. She’s been my mentor in so many other aspects of life: I think it works both ways.
I’ve been at Porter Davis for just over eight years, having worked for two residential construction companies prior to that. My role, being a Workplace Experience Manager, is really about optimising our work space for both our employees and our customers.
From a distance, I could see there was something about what the company was doing that wasn’t like everybody else. I wanted to be part of it, ahead of the game; that’s what attracted me to the business.
I loved the vibrancy of the HR team Krista led. I admired the way they went about doing what they did, and the attitude they carried with them and I wanted to be part of that.
I think Krista took a bit of a leap of faith perhaps in me and that was my introduction into the HR space of Porter Davis. With that came opportunities to work closely with Krista. Krista became a mentor figure for me – someone that I could gain a lot of knowledge from, but also someone that was prepared to set challenges for me along the way. There were times where I was completely stretched outside of my comfort zone. I remember, during the interview process, I had said to Krista, “I don’t want to get up and present in front of people.” That was one of my biggest fears and, before I knew, I was up in front of 30 new starters, running our induction day.
Our recruitment model is to hire slowly. We spend a lot of time recruiting for the right people, which means that, once they do start, we can trust and empower them really quickly, because we’re confident that we’ve got the right person. We have introduced new concepts to our recruitment process, so we do profiling, to see how the applicant aligns with our values, but also realistic job previewing, which shows them footage of someone actually doing that job, in both its pleasant and the less pleasant parts. We don’t want to fake what a job is about. We want to be open and show job seekers the good and the bad before they start.
It’s a dynamic business where things are always evolving and changing, and it’s the people and the fast pace that keeps you motivated.