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From HRD to... acting MD: Anne Gibson

We asked former HRDs how and why they moved into roles at the top

“I’ve always been the sort of HR person that’s involved in wider things in the organisation. I’ve never really seen the HR role in very strict tram lines. I think I’m just a bit nosy.

If HR understands all of the organisation you can leverage that to think about organisational effectiveness and get involved in broader change and improvement. That’s what brought me to the MD role. I’d worked at Norfolk County Council for a long time in HR and in that time I’d been involved with things that were broader. So I was involved in setting up the new children’s services department; I led some significant organisational reviews and restructuring.

After I’d been there for about three years or so the then-chief executive invited me to the top team. That was about what I as a person did in the organisation as opposed to how the organisation saw HR as a function. I was acting MD for 18 months in the end (with someone else stepping into the HRD role).

I think any organisation, if it’s considering moving someone into a broader role, needs to see evidence of someone being interested in the broader picture. I think if you’re the sort of HRD who only livens up when there’s something with HR implications then you won’t be considered.

It’s about having the confidence in yourself but also not allowing people to have expectations that limit you. There’s this assumption you don’t go from HR to leading a profession, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When people said ‘you should go for chief exec roles’ I was saying ‘oh no don’t be silly’. When I started as MD it did feel like someone had said ‘see that truck over there, just go and drive it even though you’ve never driven before’. But I loved doing that job.

I left Norfolk County Council last autumn and am now looking to create a portfolio of NED roles and interim work. That wouldn’t be in HR but either a CEO or director of resources role.”

Further reading

Your organisation needs you: HRD to CEO

HRD to... third sector CEO: Jon Sparkes

HRD to... private sector MD: Esther O'Halloran

HRD to... deputy CEO: Jo Land

Check back next week for more examples of those who've made the switch