· Features

HRD to... third sector CEO: Jon Sparkes

While the number of HRDs moving into CEO positions is still small, it's starting to happen more. We hear from those who've taken the leap

"It wasn’t really in my plan to become CEO, but what I was doing was already much broader than my job title.

I started with GEC as an employee relations officer. The key move was to the Generics Group where I became group HRD. Then in the early-2000s I was doing so much charity work in my spare time I made the decision to move

I moved as HRD. It wasn’t really in my plan to become CEO. When Scope needed a CEO I was leading a big change programme so that made me a strong candidate. What I was doing day to day was already much broader than my job title.

I think there are two things you need. One is the ability to lead change and not just facilitate it. That’s always a fine balance for HR people. The other is an external perspective. That was probably something I’d always had anyway.

At Generics Group it was a very outward-facing HR role. IT was a sector that really believed people were the most important asset because the product was intellectual property. To do HR effectively you need an understanding of the external environment your organisation is operating in. That’s the same in a commercial organisation, a charity or local authority. So it could be that a lot of HR people aren’t doing something that would benefit HR anyway.

You can be so busy doing the internal HR work you don’t raise your head. Other functions spend most of their time looking externally so you feel you don’t know what they do. And they may perceive the same thing.

My advice is to demonstrate that what the HR function is responsible for is just as external: people coming into the organisation and leaving, people doing things internally that add value externally. There’s a thing that HR needs to do around freeing up its own time.

I’ve found if you just make that contribution people will listen. Quite often it’s the CEO that’s the biggest supporter of the HR function."

Jon Sparkes is chief exec at Crisis

Further reading

Your organisation needs you: HRD to CEO

Check back over the next few days for more examples of those who've made the switch