Before I was in HR, I was a company secretary for about 12 years, but to say that I was dreadful at it was a bit of an understatement.
I had done a business qualification, then extended that to doing the chartered secretary qualifications – I fell into the function. Unfortunately, my attention to detail is really poor and I ended up, as company secretary, sending a non-executive director into the City for a board meeting – on the wrong day. He was Bristol-based, and not best pleased. That error eventually resulted in me leaving the organisation.
I ended up working in the dispatch department of food manufacturer Ginsters, in Cornwall, where I was living at the time. They were advertising for an HR officer, and I got the job, without any previous HR experience. On reflection, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.
As a company secretary, I ran insurance portfolios, car fleets, and managed property – it was really varied, but the minute-taking, checking share certificates and liaising with the stock market wasn’t for me.
At the end of the day, people are much more interesting than share certificates.
Early in my career, I encountered a very aggressive, assertive operations director. He wanted to do a 360-degree appraisal, which I facilitated.
When I’d gathered the information, he was very keen to see the feedback – but with people’s names on it. I let him see it. As soon as he got the information, he took issue with anyone who’d given him negative feedback.
That was a real lesson to me about the integrity of HR, and that part of the role was to do with the advocacy of people.
I grew up in HR that day. I realised I’d been taken for an idiot, and steamrollered. I had to face my colleagues, to tell them that it was me who’d given the operations director the names, and to apologise to them. I did so willingly, as I would never have given him the information if I’d known that he would use it in that way.
He retired soon afterwards – he was due to retire anyway – but it wasn’t his fault. It was my fault for not standing up to him. It was about toughening up and growing up, from an HR point of view – and understanding that not everyone has the same values base as I do.