Top job: John Nicholson, head of staff diversity and equality, HM Prison Service

Where were you working before, and what were your duties?

I was head of diversity at the Land Registry.

What qualifications do you hold?

A Masters degree in history and the CIPD Advanced Certificate in Employment Law.

What are the duties in your new role? How big is your team, and who do you report to?

To ensure the Prison Service is a place where people want to work. This will be achieved by setting out a clear and effective decency agenda for staff, embedding respect for diversity into all our procedures and policies, raising awareness of the issues, and tackling inappropriate behaviour. I will be working with a team of five, reporting to the head of the personnel management group.

What are the main challenges HR faces in the next five years?

Delivering and supporting robust and effective performance management systems, particularly in a world with no retirement age.

What is the essential tool in your job?


And the most overrated?


What is the worst thing about HR?

Feeling we have to constantly justify our existence instead of getting on with the job.

What is the strangest situation you have been in at work?

I worked with someone who asked if she could have her grand piano installed in the office rest room so she could practise at lunchtimes and entertain staff at the same time. The rest room was on the fourth floor.

Who is your ultimate hero?

Apart from the employee with the grand piano, Tintin – world traveller and eternal optimist.

What is the most annoying piece of management jargon?

Blue ocean strategy.

How do you fill your spare time?

Trying to make the most of the wonderful things on offer in London – a city that truly belongs to the world: music of every sort, theatre, galleries, open spaces and the river.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Happy, go and lucky.

What is your most popular web page?

Themaninseat61 – completely brilliant travel information without the need for aeroplanes.

What song gets you on the dance floor?

Downtown by Petula Clark.

What is your worst habit?

Dancing to Downtown.

What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?

Probably moving to my current job.

What three items would you take with you to a desert island?

Champagne, Diego Velazquez’s painting ‘Old Woman Frying Eggs’, and a family photo album.

Who would play you in the film of your life and why?

Tintin, because he has such a faithful dog.

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

The London Philharmonic Orchestra, but I would settle for a harpist or classical guitarist playing some suitably soothing music by someone like Rodrigo.

Sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence.

Enjoy or give up.

Nicholson’s CV

  • December 2006-present: Head of staff diversity and equality, HM Prison Service

  • June 2000-December 2006: Head of diversity, Land Registry

  • January 1995-June 2000: Diversity manager, HM Customs & Excise

  • October 1989-December 1994: Internal tax policy adviser, HM Customs & Excise

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