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HR mustn’t wait to be disrupted

HR mustn’t wait to be disrupted 

Being on the front foot in a changing world means you have to be more commercially minded, says Sharron Pamplin, HR director UK and Europe at design consultancy Atkins

We need to fully exploit the data which is now at our fingertips and understand how the digital revolution has changed working life for virtually everyone

What sort of evidence do you use to prove that what you’re doing in HR works?

This is something that is really important to us as HR professionals and as an organisation. Each quarter we undertake a comprehensive business review where we look at every aspect of performance, including progress against our people strategy. As part of this, the leadership team will review our HR dashboard which captures data around talent mobility, staff turnover, diversity needs, etc. This allows to clearly see whether or not we’re delivering and where we need to pay more attention.  

Like many organisations, we’re still exploring how to take full advantage of people analytics, especially as data becomes richer and – in some respects – more complex.  

One thing we have learned is that if we want to make informed choices, we must constantly measure and track our progress to see if something is having the desired impact.

Are some of the historical criticisms of HR not having enough evidence fair?

We have to be realistic about where we have come from. HR wasn’t an earlier adopter of technology, but we now have a significant role to play in the changing world of work. In our business we are constantly affected by very significant external changes and we have an internal mantra: ‘Don’t wait to be disrupted’.

My view of what makes a really good HR professional at the moment is to understand global mega-trends, to think about what operating in a VUCA world really means for HR practices, and then develop the talent, culture and the leadership that will actually help your organisation to thrive in that changing environment. That’s absolutely critical for us.

Where does that intellectual curiosity to find those answers come from? Is it down to HR leadership or to individuals?

A bit of both. You have to be curious – that’s a great quality for an HR professional – and to be able to think ‘outside in’.

One of the criticisms I would have of HR historically, having been in the profession for a number of years, is that we tend to focus too heavily on what’s happening inside our organisations, rather than trying to better understand what our business’ customers want. What sort of culture would they want us to adopt?  How would they like us develop talent? It’s shortsighted to think we’ll find all the answers internally.

That could be described as commerciality. Is that the right term for it?

I think it is and I think it’s really important. Some people tend to think commerciality is only relevant to the private sector, but I disagree – it’s about understanding your customers’ needs, and we all have customers, even if we work in the not for profit sector.

One of the things we do is think about shareholder value. We mapped the whole employee journey and looked at why people wanted to join us, every step along the way from hire to retire. It wasn’t HR-led – it was led by what our business and reflected what our stakeholders needed.

How would you hope HR initiatives would influence and affect people on the front line?

A core component of our people strategy is our employee value proposition, which clearly articulates what we offer our employees so that they understand that Atkins is a great place to work with great career opportunities and room to develop.

Since being acquired last year by SNC-Lavalin, we’ve also done a lot to promote the opportunities between the organisations – opportunities which a number of staff have already seized.   

One initiative saw us hold a series of career seminars where people from all around the world could dial in and hear about our major projects and the opportunities to get involved. People join a design and project management consultancy because they want to work on amazing projects – whether it’s the Singapore Grand Prix or the Dubai Opera House – so it was really important to showcase what’s out there for our employees.

How do you think the skillsets required by HR professionals will change in future?

Commerciality is key – you need to understand your business, its clients and how they both operate. Commercial awareness allows us to be better informed and more perceptive as HR professionals.

Alongside this, we need to fully exploit the data which is now at our fingertips and understand how the digital revolution has changed working life for virtually everyone. Technology has huge implications not just for what we offer our customers but also the way we recognise and reward our people.

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