How I see HR: Jeremy Swain, chief executive, Thames Reach

If you have a board without HR experience, you’re lacking something, but a senior management team need not necessarily have an HR representative. At Thames Reach, we have an HR manager who isn’t in the senior team, and that works fine. And we have 400 staff, so we’re a big organisation.

It works because our HR manager has such a high status within Thames Reach. Iyobosa Ehanirie, or Bo as she’s known, is very prominent within the organisation, working with managers at both middle and senior levels. Her authority has come about not only because of her position, but because of the quality of what she offers.

Our HR team is relatively small. There’s Bo, and two people who report directly to her. She also line manages the training manager. It’s a small function, but Bo’s job is to empower all of our managers to carry out HR tasks for themselves, across the organisation. A lot of what they do is guidance and direction, which works very well for us, not only in terms of HR but also in the way we operate in general.

There’s no sense of HR being an oppressive force here – our HR team members are very personable. They interact extremely well, they smile a lot, they’re easy people to deal with even if they’re telling you stuff that you don’t really want to hear. People voluntarily ring them up for advice. This is incredibly important, and very unusual.

Our HR team is one of our most highly performing teams. But what we need to do better – not just in HR, but generally – is to have more focused procedures and processes. There’s nothing to gain from writing policies that nobody reads or that are completely misunderstood. I’d really like us to make sure we’ve got processes and procedures that keep us safe but are relevant to the people who need to read them.

The other thing we need to improve on is that we never manage to measure the impact of what we do. For instance, we’re able to see who goes on our training programmes. We’re even able to get their feedback on the training. But what we can’t do is set a value on the impact of that training on the performance of the staff. We need to raise our game a bit.

What excites me about our HR team is that they are open-minded and flexible. When we’ve got a corporate message to give to the workforce, they get behind it and drive it. They really understand what we’re trying to achieve at a senior level.

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