HR specialisms: HR policy manager

The
role and responsibility of the HR policy manager can vary widely between
companies and industry sectors, according to organisational size and the kind
of legislation governing that sector.

For
this reason, the creation and management of HR policy is not always the
responsibility of one individual. Sometimes it is generated through the work of
individual managers – people with responsibility for health and safety matters,
equality and so on.

However,
even within this structure there is usually one person whose job it is to
ensure policies set down for the management of employees are legally and
practically sound. Policies must not contradict or compromise each other,
should not be restrictive for line managers and must be communicated
effectively to the people who need to use them on a day-to-day basis.

"HR
policy managers do differ between organisations," says Deborah Moon,
corporate personnel policy manager at Medway Council in Kent.

Moon
reports directly to the assistant director of HR, keying into the strategic
needs of the organisation as well as the practical demands of managing
employees.

"The
role I have is to lead on the corporate approach to employment matters. This
means creating an overall framework and giving a general direction which can be
implemented in each of our HR service areas," she says.

At
Tesco, a number of policy managers are employed on a part-time basis in a
consultative role, providing recommendations project by project so senior
managers can make informed decisions on policy within their department.

"The
policy manager’s job is to keep abreast of the law and then to make
recommendations over and above that as to what our own policy should be,"
says Catherine Glickman, involvement director at Tesco.

HR
policy managers need to be technically proficient in terms of understanding the
implications of employment law, have a good practical understanding of how
people management works within their organisation and full knowledge of the
communication techniques available to deliver this information to the line
managers.

Glickman
identifies three core skills for success in the role: the ability to influence
people, the ability to "take complex topics and make them simple and
practical for the people who need to work with those issues", and the
ability to network.

This
final skill means being well connected – both within the organisation and to
the outside world – able to address employment issues before they arise. In
this way, HR can be proactive in creating policy rather than simply reacting to
problems as they happen.

"A
lot of the things you do are unseen," says Moon. "Very often your
work keeps the organisation out of employment tribunals and that’s not always
recognised.

"There’s
an emphasis on developmental issues such as equality initiatives and so on, but
insufficient recognition for the things you do which stop tribunals from
occurring."

There
are no specific qualifications required, but it is clear that policy managers
need a good knowledge of employment law and must have operational experience to
appreciate the relationship between policy and practice.

Policy
managers may also require specific knowledge and skills according to the
current activities of the organisation.

The
initial creation of Medway Council resulted in Deborah Moon concentrating on
harmonisation issues, including an extensive programme to restructure pay and
conditions.

Alison
Borley, HR policy manager at financial services company Marlborough Stirling,
has been more involved with international employment policy as the organisation
has grown through a number of acquisitions.

"There’s
a lot of up-front work to be done which means working with the relevant people
in the workplace to identify the best way to integrate policies," she
says.

"In
general we try to use as many of our existing policies as possible and tailor
them where appropriate."

With
the potential to work with managers and employees across all areas of an
organisation, together with the challenging task of bridging the gap between
theory and best operational practice, HR policy managers can see their next
step forward to be into HR directorship.

"There
are a number of routes you can take, but it does open the door to a department
head role. This role means you absorb a lot of information about employment law
and wider employment issues," says Borley.

At
Marlborough Stirling, for example, Borley has helped introduce new policies
addressing stress in the workplace – a move inspired to promote a happier
workforce rather than responding to legislative demands.

"It
is a good stepping stone if you want to go on to be a head of department,"
agrees Moon. "It gives you an in-depth understanding of a large number of
HR areas.

"I
know some people miss the daily interface between managers and staff, which the
role doesn’t have, but if you’re aspiring to be a director it helps to give you
a good all-round experience."

Borley
says, "I like being able to see the wider picture. It’s interesting to
look at a piece of legislation and see how we can implement it within the
company. It’s the creation of practical policies which makes the job so
enjoyable."

Borley
originally worked in Marlborough Stirling’s life, pensions and investment
sectors, having worked for a dedicated employee relations team in another
financial services company. She has a degree in French and Italian and is CIPD
qualified.

She
began her career in a generalist HR role. "You need to have operational
experience and a broad understanding of the function," she explains.
"You have to appreciate the practicalities of people management and the
effective use of internal communications."

Borley
works in an HR team of 20, delivering services to 900 staff. Recently the
internal communications function was brought into the HR remit, a move intended
to improve the dissemination of policy information. "Internal
communications used to come under the marketing department," she notes.

"However,
the only material they were dealing with came from us. Effective HR policy is as
much a matter of good communications as it is creating the policy in the first
place."

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