Rising star- – Gary Cookson

What is your current role?

I’m workforce development manager for Golden Gates Housing (GGH) in Warrington. We manage homes on behalf of Warrington Borough Council and have 280 staff. My role will help GGH become a more compelling and inspiring place to work through continuously improving the way we manage and develop our people.

My job encompasses a lot of generalist HR work, and a sizeable portion of organi-sational development. I’ve been here 18 months and am the only HR professional in the organisation. I also teach CIPD courses at Mid-Cheshire College one evening a week, and am an Investors in People (IiP) Recognition Panel member.

What qualifications do you hold?

I completed my CIPD professional qualifications in 2003 and upgraded to chartered membership later that year. I’m a qualified teacher – I’ve got a diploma in management studies and a diploma in performance coaching.

Why did you get into HR?

I always enjoyed teaching, although doing so in secondary schools wasn’t quite my cup of tea. I saw delivering training in organisations as a natural fit for my skillset and then it was a short leap to looking at all aspects of improving performance, from individuals to teams to organisations. Moving into a generalist HR role seemed the logical step.

How did you get into HR?

By accident really. I was quite pushy in promoting my teaching skills while in a temporary role at ICI in 1999-2000, and was given some training and organisational development responsibility. I got my first HR job in 2000, delivering training for a public services organisation in Manchester, and moved on to become staff development manager for a local college in 2001.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Leading a progressive, strategic HR function in a large private sector organisation somewhere in the North West. Further on, operating as an independent HR consultant.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

Achieving IiP status for GGH in July this year against the revised standard, our first assessment as a separate organisation and one for which I had to put in a lot of work, which was publicly recognised by the assessor. Seeing myself described in the IiP report as ‘progressive and professional’ was a great morale boost.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

Having the skills and knowledge to operate as a generalist HR professional even if your current role is a specialist one. This has enabled me to contribute in a much wider context. And, acting like a business manager and not an HR professional – focusing on what’s important for the business and not HR. It helps you to be taken seriously.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

In a small organisation you’re almost working in the same office as them, and the relationships are more or less on the same level. It has helped me to think of my role in terms of performance improvement as opposed to HR, and this has helped senior managers to treat me with respect.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

Paul Kearns. His work on evaluation/ROI (and now human capital) has shaped the way I think about HR and in turn helped me to get this job, as I was able to use some of his thinking to illustrate my answers in my interview last year.

What advice would you give to graduates considering a career in HR?

Go for it. If you want a career where no two days are the same and where you can make a real difference to people and organisations, HR is for you.

Describe yourself in three words

Progressive, professional, committed.

CV

2005 Began teaching part-time CIPD courses
2004 Joined Golden Gates Housing as workforce development manager
2003 Completed CIPD qualifications and upgraded to chartered member
2001 Joined Mid-Cheshire College as staff development manager
2000 Joined BSS, Manchester as training and development officer

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