Career file: Less talk, more action

Neil Jones, 39, head of HR development at the Welsh Development Agency,
explains why he wants to be remembered as someone who makes things happen

How long have you been in this job?
18 months.

How long have you been with your organisation?
18 months.

What does your role involve?
Development and implementation of all aspects of the WDA’s HR strategy, as
well as management responsibility for the effective training and development of
our 650 staff.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The ability to combine strategic visioning with operational responsibility.
This ensures that our HR practices are grounded in reality and not conjured up
in splendid isolation in ivory towers.

What is your current major project or strategic push?
Implementing the WDA’s first HR strategy; Investors in People and

Preferred terminology – training, development, education or learning?
I find the distinction between the three unhelpful and I tend to use these
terms interchangeably depending on who I’m talking to – or occasionally just to
provoke a reaction!

Favourite buzzwords?
My colleagues tell me that I don’t have any, but I think they’re just being

Are you good at self development?
Not as good as I should be in a formal sense, although I do tend to reflect
a lot (alone and with colleagues) and consider how I could do things
differently or better. Our profession places too much emphasis on formal self
development, whereas the development of reflective practitioner skills are just
as valuable.

Are you good at self development?
Not as good as I should be

What self development have you done in the last six months?
Completed three modules of European Computer Driving Licence. However, finding
out about the organisation and its culture has been the major development
activity for me in the past 18 months.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
HR director in a progressive public or private sector organisation. I
suppose it’s a bit late to change career direction into becoming a singer in a
rock band.

What was the most useful course you ever went on or learning experience
you ever had?
Fifteen years ago I achieved my Certificate in Training & Development
through an entirely experiential based programme – a life-changing experience
in more ways than one.

What is the best management book you have ever read?
HRM Rhetorics & Realities by Karen Legge. She displays an amazing
breadth of thought on all things HRM related. It doesn’t make for light
reading, but any book with a bibliography which includes Tom Peters and Luciano
Pavarotti must have something going for it.

What was the worst course you ever went on?
A "group dynamics" course run by a tutor who burst into tears at
regular intervals throughout the course as a result of the dynamics within the

What was your first job?
Local government supernumerary – there’s nothing like having a job title
which motivates you!

What was the best career decision you ever made?
Making the move into HR from a generalist admin role and then moving to
work at a university at a time when the university sector was beginning to
realise the importance of HR issues.

And the worst?
I’ve learned something from every career move that I’ve made, even though I
might not have realised it at the time.

Which of your qualifications do you most value and why?
I prefer to value experience rather than qualifications. However, one of my
previous jobs was at a university and I took a Masters degree to gain
acceptance with academic colleagues. Since then it’s been of little practical

How many minutes is it since someone senior in your organisation said,
"People are our greatest assets"?
It was said yesterday. It was me who said it – and I genuinely believe it.

Evaluation – holy grail or impossible dream?
Evaluation is important, but it’s written about more than it’s done. There
is a danger in too much navel-gazing. Tony Miller argued that there are certain
things that have to be done, so there’s little point in evaluating these. We
should only evaluate where there is a choice to be made.

How do you think your job will have changed in five years’ time?
There will be more emphasis on strategy, more reliance on technology and
more line manager involvement

What advice would you give someone starting out in training and
Training and development can be one of the most rewarding careers, but equally
one of the most frustrating. Keep your sense of purpose and sense of humour.
Always remember the words of Dolly Parton: "If you want to see the
rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain". Perhaps the most practical
piece of advice is that training is not just about courses – no matter what
line managers say!

Do you take your work home with you?
Yes. In my head if not in my briefcase.

What is your motto?
I don’t have a motto, but I remember a quote from Fitz Perls on feedback,
"Everything before ‘but’ is bulls**t , everything after ‘but’ is the real

Describe your management style in three words or less?
Consultative, empowering and results-focused (sorry – that’s five words).

How would you like to be remembered by your colleagues?
As someone who made things happen.

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