How I see HR: Alex Cheatle, chief executive, Ten

We have 290 staff, and a four-person HR department. Our HR manager reports to the operations director, and both sit on the operating board, which runs the business.

I meet my HR manager at least every two weeks. She produces a simple weekly report, and we discuss any issues arising out of that.

Whether HR should be on the board depends on the business’s priorities. For us, the people side of the business is critical, particularly at the moment, as we’re growing by about 10 new staff a month in the UK, and another four or five globally.

Just the recruitment side of things is vital, and retention is one of the main measures we use for the health of our business. So for us, our HR manager and director of performance need to be at the centre of the business.

But in the end, line management is the responsibility of line managers. Some companies see HR as a replacement for line management – they see people going to HR to find out what to do.

We think line managers should decide what’s going to happen, then go to HR to find out how to do that in a way that is sensitive and legal.

As a company, we figure out what we want to do, then work with HR to make it happen, rather than expecting HR to make the decisions.

Sometimes what might be best practice in HR might not be best practice in business generally, so the most conservative approach to HR, for instance in terms of managing poor performance, moves too slowly. Good HR people will present you with a conservative way forward, but also a pragmatic way forward, even if there are risks attached to it.

I like HR people who are willing to engage with risk, because failing to do so could mean that we are legally watertight, but facing greater risk to the business and service levels.

Good HR professionals are not just people to go to about legal compliance. An HR person shouldn’t be a lawyer. They should know the law, but they should also understand the business.

What excites me about my own HR team is that they really understand the needs of the business, and can represent the values of the company to candidates. They understand we are looking for people with great integrity and passion, and they reflect that themselves.

In terms of what extra they could do, I’m really interested in learning more from other organisations, particularly about international recruitment, the potential of home working, and the recruitment of mature candidates.

Each of those could make a massive difference to both the quality and the cost efficiency of our service. I would love HR to lead that over the next six months.

My key points

  • Staff retention is a measure of the health of the business

  • Line management is the responsibility of line managers

  • A good HR person knows the law, but also understands the business

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