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'I'm an HRD and...': Part two

As organisations become more complex and jobs bigger, it's no surprise forward-thinking HR directors are expanding their portfolios internally

“Increasingly important is that HR as a function is truly part of the overall business. So being able to keep up with the management and understand the objectives of the business is becoming much more of a focus.” So says Amanda Johnston, head of HR practice at Alium Partners, echoing the many entreaties made over the years for HR practitioners to become much more embedded within all facets of their organisations.

In fact many have taken this a step further, taking on responsibility for another function – whether operations, customer service or marketing – which has an important synergy with their organisation’s HR remit. As the following examples demonstrate, this can have hugely positive results…

Ian Deninson, group HR and communications director, Amey:

"Our people are out there every day brushing shoulders with the general public, providing day-to-day services. That’s 22,000 employees working with the public all the time. They’re our daily ambassadors, so external comms fits very nicely with HR.”

That’s Ian Deninson’s explanation of why integrating HR and communications works so well at Amey, a company providing infrastructure support services such as highways and rail management and waste collection and treatment.

He explains that though “some very brand driven markets probably need a more specialist communications function”, many in the service sector could benefit from such an approach. But it’s still important the function has specialists too, including a head of corporate communciations who sits within Deninson’s team.

“We have a set-up where some of our HR guys are embedded in the business, so we have three or four HRDs within our divisions, then we have a central team that runs the shared services and specialist team,” he says.

He explains that integrating functions is a critical approach here too, with the HR shared services team also looking after customer service enquiries. Not only does this bring efficiencies, it also aids talent development and retention, says Deninson. “It means I can offer a great career to someone who wants to work in a call centre environment,” he explains.

As in many organisations, a shared service approach frees up more senior individuals to concentrate on strategic activities – in this case ensuring that Amey’s values are seamlessly communicated to employees and then to the public. This is no mean feat considering the high staff turnover that contract work necessarily entails.

“We have a lot of people who transfer into the company on a TUPE basis and will then leave depending on the contract, so it’s critical we welcome people properly, we induct them properly and we communicate with them properly,” explains Deninson. “Our proposition is very much based around our customer understanding what we stand for and employees behaving the way we want them to every day.”

Deninson adds that the HR/communications team is also heavily involved in pitch work. “The comms team helps prepare bids for new contracts. They provide not just marketing expertise but also information on what sort of culture Amey has, so the customer can make a judgement as to whether Amey is a good fit for them,” he says.

He adds: “In reality your positioning in the market should be a complete reflection of who you are anyway. If there’s a gap between who you are and how you portray yourself you’re going to let a customer down, because they’re not going to get what they expect.”

On the importance of HR professionals adopting a more holistic approach, regardless of whether they officially have a dual role or not, Deninson adds: “The days of relying on your HR skills and experience alone are gone. You need to be very much part of an integrated business unit.”

Kathryn Herrington, CHRO, CLS Bank International:

"CLS Bank International could be referred to as the “biggest bank you’ve never heard of”. Every night it settles $5 trillion for trades in 17 currencies. So it’s appropriate that despite her job title being CHRO, Kathryn Herrington’s remit is in reality a whole lot wider.

As well as HR, she also picks up communications and strategy. As CLS undergoes a cultural transformation with a focus on operational effectiveness and innovation, Herrington says the opportunity for her is to “operate a holistic approach to communications, strategic planning and human capital initiatives”. That’s something she relishes: “It means the work is challenging and puts me front and centre in terms of what we’re trying to do.’”

Herrington joined the bank four years ago and set up a global HR function “pretty much from scratch”. Once HR was strategically central to the company’s success, she picked up communications, and recently took on organisational effectiveness. She runs a project team from all three areas. “How do we get consistency of messaging? It’s about connecting vision, strategy and culture,” she says. “The foundation of a cultural shift is about communicating our mission and strategy clearly and effectively to everyone engaged in delivering it, and connecting this shift to broader strategy.”

Central to taking on more is “approaching organisational issues with a commercial mindset”, she says, which should encourage the organisation to be more open to HR. “It starts with getting things done for the business, and building a reputation for being reliable and responsive,” she advises. “Delivering consistent added-value creates the platform for HR to deliver more impactful strategies."

Read more HRD case studies here