I started to look at moving our HR approach from generalist to HR business partnering because we were given some very clear strategic goals around growth, change, client retention and improving margins.
I began looking at the HR initiatives I thought we’d need to support the growth. That led me to look at the structure of the HR department. The staff were not necessarily new to the business, but they had worked in disparate locations and for different business areas. And the historical background – that of a small company – was still very much within the business, which had outgrown it.
I decided that if I moved to a business partner approach, I would be able to have an HR provision that understood the strategic goals of the business while supporting the functions directly.
I did a pilot launch in 2008. Before this, I worked on the foundation of best practice models within the business, to ensure consistency. And I updated and re-energised some of our policies and processes. I don’t pretend it was rocket science, but at a higher level, we needed to decide how we wanted to manage our people and what policies and processes we would use to do so. This was a huge cultural leap, and I worked with the senior management team to achieve it.
I decided to trial the new approach with the sales team – I reckoned if it worked with them, it would work with anyone. I allocated one of my HR people to the sales group, and then collected feedback. It worked really well.
My managers are experienced HR managers, who enjoy a generalist approach, and like being involved in lots of different things. I think that was key – it enabled them to create really solid relationships with directors and managers. They also gained a much better idea of what was going on within the sales function, and what sales needed from HR and the rest of the business.
We also found the HR person involved in the pilot scheme was able to be much more proactive. She could suggest new ways forward – different training plans or alternative work patterns. That was very well received.
People were a bit surprised at first that HR was getting involved in such things, but when they saw the benefits – including the commercial value – they responded incredibly well. And the managers felt they had someone on their sides.
We launched to the business, with a six-month test, before gathering further feedback. I got an overwhelming vote of support from the management team, who told me to keep going – this was exactly what they wanted, and they liked the added value. The new HR structure was confirmed at the beginning of 2009.