How I see HR: Glenn Thomas, managing director, Jelf Employee Benefits

HR should be on the board. We’ve already had this debate within our business, and were considering the situation before the world started to collapse.

My personal belief is that we should have HR representation on the board – everybody claims that people are their most important asset. Giving HR a voice on the board is proof of that, although we don’t practice what we preach. We’d like to.

As a business, we’ve grown fairly rapidly. Initially our HR department grew from within the business, but as we’ve grown, we’ve recruited people with HR experience or recent graduates looking to move into HR.

Rapid growth

We’ve reached the point where we’ve suddenly got quite a large workforce, and are starting to see the importance of HR, along with some of the problems that you get with larger companies.

Our HR manager reports to our group development director, who looks after HR along with the legal aspects of running the business. We’ve been quite an acquisitive company in recent years, and her responsibility has included running the acquisition programme, which dovetails quite nicely with HR. Our HR team has been very heavily involved in acquisitions.

I meet the HR manager monthly and would probably talk on the phone to the HR team members two or three times a week, although possibly more often at the moment, given that there seem to be more people issues.

HR caution

Sometimes it frustrates me as a managing director that the HR department can appear too cautious. I tend to have more entrepreneurial instincts, and just wish that they’d get on with things. But I do recognise their need for caution. I think probably some HR teams can be overly process-focused, and not as open and flexible as they might be.

One of the strengths of our HR team is that they have the confidence and strength of character to be able to debate, to fight their corner and to rein people in. So what frustrates me is also a strength.

I’m excited by the work our HR team has done around recruitment and retention. They also did a great job when we launched flexible benefits last year – they managed to enthuse a lot of people within the business.

I’m a great believer in getting the culture of the organisation right, particularly in difficult times like this. We need to get the culture exactly how we want it, before we move out of the recession. That would make a huge long-term difference to the business – and I think HR could have a huge part to play in that.

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