HR future leader of the month: Emma Milton


HR magazine speaks to the future leaders of the industry to discover what makes them tick

I started out on the Civil Service HR graduate scheme. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career but I knew I liked helping people. Looking back there were a lot of career paths that would have given me that, but I enjoyed my time on the fast stream and my eyes were opened to the range of interesting HR roles and the impact I could have.

Keeping me busy at the moment is the transformation of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service – it’s an ambitious reform of the justice system. I’m responsible for making sure our 16,000 staff have access to learning that’s both role-specific but also covers topics like leadership, customer service and digital. The new learning management system will help us curate learning resources and make them easy to access. We’re striving to become a learning organisation where staff are curious and proactive about learning, and that’s a big culture shift for us.

I read HR Disrupted by Lucy Adams a couple of years ago and it helped me change the way I think about HR. Having come through a structured graduate scheme I had a fairly linear view. This book reminded me that it’s OK to take risks and do things differently.

One of my proudest achievements so far is overhauling our performance management system. I moved it away from a twice-yearly conversation that focused primarily on a rating linked to a pay award that arrived several months later. Diversity data showed that certain groups were less likely to receive the top rating. Feedback told us that staff weren’t comfortable talking about development needs because it might affect their rating, and they were overwhelmed by the paperwork.

I’ve stayed in HR because I’ve seen the positive impact our work can have, particularly somewhere that’s going through significant change. All too often the people and culture element of change is forgotten, which means the organisation either doesn’t achieve the change or it loses the engagement of employees along the way.

The next step for me is to take a break from the Civil Service and try my hand at consultancy. I’d like to experience working for a private sector company, with a variety of clients, to expose myself to different environments.

My advice to others just starting out is to throw yourself into projects and new areas of work. Just because the people working around you are more senior or more experienced doesn’t mean they know best; your ideas might be even better. And you don’t need all the answers to do a great job. Asking good questions can be even more effective.