This week’s letters

No substitute for real experience

In ‘Outside input is needed to make HR strategic’ (HR Viewpoint, 28
January), Alan Bailey claims HR business partners are few and far between and
the industry needs to look beyond HR to recruit and develop the stars of the

As someone who has moved from a commercial background into HR, I can
certainly recommend it. Having been in PR all my working life – which included
developing two consultancies – I realised my strengths also lie in people

I implemented training schemes in both consultancies, and we ended up
winning industry awards in PR for two consecutive years for our people
development programmes.

About four years ago, after yet another three-hour meeting with a
24-year-old brand manager, discussing the personality of his chocolate bar
brand, I had to move on.

One of my ex-colleagues, who was then chief executive of Edelman in London,
asked me to "take a look at our HR – I don’t think we’re getting it
right". I explained that I had no qualifications in HR, but she insisted
that I was the right person because I had always had a leaning towards people
management and I understood how business worked.

I agreed to do it in the short-term, but four years later I am very much
full-time, having been given responsibility for developing best practice in HR
in all of our 12 European offices, and more recently having started working
with our offices in Canada, Asia Pacific and Latin America.

Despite big differences in employment law across the offices and regions and
cultural differences – including silly things such as the time of day I have to
break for lunch when training (12 noon in Stockholm, 1pm in most of Europe, but
2pm in Spain) – the challenges our managers face are exactly the same.

How do you make sure you get the best people, how do you motivate them when
you can’t always reward financially, and how do you get managers to take their
people management responsibilities seriously?

I have now handed the London office over to a professional HR person, and am
developing HR staff in our other offices. I also work closely with senior
management to develop HR strategy, which places a lot of emphasis on
recruitment, motivation and retention of top talent.

Do I miss PR? Not one bit. I still feel that I work in PR, but the challenge
is getting the people management right, and focusing on the most important part
of our business is a fascinating and ever-challenging scenario. It is demanding
– long hours, lots of travel and sometimes having to clean up other people’s
messes – but it is hugely rewarding and I know what I do makes a difference.

I never really felt that way about the chocolate bar.

Liz Fraser
European director of HR, Edelman

Career breaks can build staff loyalty

I was really pleased to see the subject of career breaks covered so comprehensively
in Personnel Today (Legal Q&As, 28 January).

Career breaks are often overlooked as a way of attracting and retaining key
staff, and along with flexible working options are a good way of retaining
experienced people.

The public relations industry – like many others in the service sector – is
notorious for its full-on, full-time attitude, with the result that any
employee over 30 is treated a bit like an antique.

We have found that the introduction of career breaks, sabbaticals and a more
flexible approach to work in the past two years has increased our retention
statistics at the level we need it most – that is for those with more than five
years’ experience.

Returnees come back fresh, relaxed, creative and, most of all, committed to
the business that gave them this opportunity.

The philosophy may seem full of risk, but I can confirm that it’s worth it
from an HR point of view.

Carmel O’Kane
HR manager, Firefly Communications

Cheap alternative to Porter’s wisdom

So, we need to invest in labour force skills, innovation, and goods and
services that provide companies with sustainable competitive advantage, claims
Professor Michael Porter (News, 28 January).

This guy is amazing – worth every penny of the squillions paid to him by the
DTI and others.

Aged 57 and speeding downhill fast, I am more than happy to dispense wisdom
of equal quality, and for a lot less cash. It might help me earn more than my
missus – a much younger HR manager.

Do you think there is any chance that you could put in a good word for me
with the DTI?

Paul Williams
Training and development manager, Federal Mogul Powertrain Systems

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