Interview with…Nicola Swann, HR director, Speechly Bircham

How did you get to where you are now?

I was very fortunate in finding great mentors throughout my education and career. They have been tremendously supportive and have shown me the value of understanding the nature of the businessin which we provide HR services.

What takes up most of your time at work?

Partnerships have a distinctive culture, and decisions tend to be made by consensus. Lobbying and selling ideas and conceptsis critical to preparing the ground for HR initiatives.

Which attributes are needed to do your job?

Tenacity, the ability to be influential, and a businessmind.

What legislation causes you the most headaches?

It’s not the legislation itself, but the way the mainstream press sensationally and selectively reports it.

How do you keep up with new and changing legislation?

Luckily we have preferential rates with our in-house employment lawyers! Joking aside, we benefit from training events that they provide for clients and contacts, as well as the publications they produce on changing legislation and trends within HR.

What’s HR’s biggest challenge for 2009?

Employee engagement. In the aftermath of redundancies, HR has the challenge of developing strategies in its organisations to promote and maintain employee engagement.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

In a medium-sized business of highly qualified people, great demands are put upon you to develop a broad base of skills and expertise – a challenge I relish.

What’s the most challenging case/situation you’ve had to deal with?

The unexpected death of an employee and dealing with the emotions of co-workers.

What really annoys you in life generally?

Those who assert their rights without accepting their responsibilities.

If you could wish one employment law away, what would it be?

Statutory minimum disciplinary and dismissal procedures – I got my wish!

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

All school leavers should have to do a six-month work placement with a non-government organisation – for example, working on the design and implementation of a development project, or promoting welfare or environmental causes. This would help them to develop social responsibility as well as many critical personal and management skills.

When you were a youngster, what was your ambition?

To be a vet like James Herriot.

Who’s your hero?

Michael Palin.

Swann’s CV

  • 1999-present – HR director, Speechly Bircham
  • 1998-1999 – Senior HR manager, Booz Allen Hamilton
  • 1990-1998  – HR manager/HR director, Mourant

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