I started out... working as a temporary job analyst for the police service in Scotland. Looking back, it helped me have a good sense of organisation design and reward issues.
I knew this was the right career path for me... when I exceeded my sole career ambition to become a HR manager by the age of 40 (I got there at age 27). Since then, it’s been about working in interesting roles and organisations, with good people.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way... is that it’s always about building a talented and diverse team. You’re only as good as the people you work with, so treat them well, help them grow and when the opportunity arises appoint smarter people than you. Really importantly though, don’t just appoint in your own image. Make sure you have a diverse set of perspectives and lived experiences in your team, that creates richer insights and delivers better outcomes.
More lessons from the C-suite
My proudest achievement... was being the HRD in a new leadership team that turned around a failing council in the north east of England within two years and the unique achievement of jumping from being rated ‘fair’ by regulators to ‘excellent’ and then sustaining that rating. While being ‘excellent’ was great, it’s knowing that this was very much about a focus on culture change, organisational development and authentic leadership at all levels.
My biggest mistake... was becoming institutionalised and beginning to mirror the poor behaviours and style of senior leaders in a previous organisation. I didn’t like the person I was becoming, but fortunately I woke up to the impact I was having on others and, importantly, the impact that staying in that organisation was having upon my wellbeing – so I left.
My biggest inspiration... is my mum. Kindness, compassion and being caring were second nature to her and her deep and personal commitment to public service, justice, fairness and making things better for people and communities – it has become part of my DNA.
Keeping me awake at night right now... are two things. One is the medium-term financial sustainability for my organisation, aligned to the state of the economy and anticipated further public sector spending cuts. The other, is of course the people. Finding, retaining and growing the workforce we need for today, tomorrow and in years to come is an equal challenge.
The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be... responding to the economic and climate crisis. We’ve got to fix the problems of today and ensure there is a future for the generations to come.
I need my HR director to be... a critical friend, a trusted adviser and, above all, someone who will speak truth to power. My HRD and HR team need to be confident, capable, professional and respected. I’m pleased to say they are – at least as far as I’m concerned.
It annoys me when HR gets too focused on... transactions and processes, rather than being enabling and delivering improved outcomes.
More HRDs would become CEO if... they stopped doubting themselves. Too many HRDs doubt their value and contribution and they can suffer from professional imposter syndrome, never mind personal imposter syndrome.
What I’m reading right now is... Compassionate Leadership by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter. I’m also reading A Life with Footnotes, the official biography of Terry Pratchett by Rob Wilkins.
My top leadership tip... is to keep learning, every single day. Learn from colleagues, learn from experiences, learn from feedback and reflection, don’t become trapped by a fixed mindset.
The full piece of the above appears in the September/October 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.