What does Avaya think of this man?

This week Personnel Today puts Mike Young, HR director of Avaya, in the hot
seat and asks four fellow directors what they think of his function.  Does HR play a strategic role in the
boardroom at the global communications network provider? Or, does it just
provide back office, administrative support for its 21,000 staff?  Young is confident of his team’s
contribution to the bottom line. But Roisin Woolnough finds out if the leading
players at the company agree

Tanya Steele marketing director for Western Europe

What value does HR bring to business?

HR understands the totality of business and what every department is doing. You
can have a detached discussion with HR about your actions because there is
someone who understands the overview of the organisation and has a non-aligned

What does it bring to your own department and you as a manager?

I need HR to look for the best
possible practical solution to problems – if there are issues around the calibre
of your team, for example. People often see these as soft issues but I believe
they are crucial. HR needs to be proactive in providing you with feedback as a
manager and on how you are running your department.

What is its role in the boardroom?

It has a strategic role to play at
Avaya and is not a back office function. HR people need to be as savvy with
business results as the finance director. They have to be involved in the
business and have an opinion on it – not just chipping in about employee attrition

Have you encountered any problems with HR?

I’ve consistently seen issues in
sales around the commission payments going through on time, plus standard
hygiene factors such as paying correctly or getting offer letters to candidates
on time. When there are tremendous daily pressures on you as a manager and you
have to intervene on something you view as an HR issue, you can form a negative
image of the profession.

How has HR changed in the past five years?

It has moved away from admin. I miss the old-fashioned HR function as there
is more form-filling now which we all hate – but I would not give up the
increased strategic support received as a result.

How does it need to change now and in the future?

HR needs to do more internal
marketing of the function. It needs to attract new recruits who understand how
the function has changed. If you look at graduate programmes, they work in
specific business functions. Is HR involved in that? If not, it should be.

What do you think of outsourcing HR?

You need to look at the function and
see which bits can be sensibly outsourced. I would only outsource ‘engine
room-type activities’. On a strategic level, HR must be a part of the business,
day to day.

Steve Weeks chief operations officer for UK and Ireland

What value does HR bring to

I need Mike to help me decide what type of people we need, what talent resource
is available and if need be, where we can afford to take people out of the organisation
or retrain them. Its value is in terms of understanding people and where they
go in an organisation, particularly when the economy is suffering.

What does it bring to your own department and you as a

I need an HR person I can talk through
work and personal issues, as a confidante. It is good to have open discussions,
such as planning your own career – including moving away from the company. You
can then work together to identify your potential successors.

What is its role in the boardroom?

HR has to have a view of the whole business to work well on the board. The
function needs to be fully in line with where the business is positioned in the
market and the essential drivers.

Have you encountered any problems
with HR?

Sometimes HR will react on only one source of information, without having
the full facts. We had a case where it looked like several individuals were
sharing confidential company information over the internet. Mike and I went
through the case, found out the real situation and issued a warning to just one

How has
HR changed in the past five years?

HR used to be very disconnected from what a business was about. As a
function it shuffled paper. HR brought you in and took you out, but it is not
like that anymore: it gives assistance more in tune with the business on a
day-to-day basis.

How does it need to change now and in the future?

HR needs to be accountable to the business. To be really effective on the
board, I would look at having compensation based on business results.

do you think of outsourcing HR?

The processing-type activity can always be outsourced – data, record
keeping, and so on. Other parts, such as internal training and development
can’t, because they need to be in line with your business culture.

Kirk Locke-Scobiefinance director
for UK and Ireland

What value does HR bring to

The HR function needs to provide a balance between the company view and the
employee view. I would say that balancing the morale of an organisation lies in
the HR court. There are core activities around training and ensuring the
business has the right people in the right place at the right time.

What does it bring to your own department and you as a

One thing is challenging some of the
directives we’ve been given – such as ‘lose all contractors immediately and no
pay rises’. In these situations, board directors, like HR, need to make tough
decisions, but they also need to be able to fight their corner. HR can help
provide local independence in global companies.

What is its role in the boardroom?

HR has to work with other board
directors in pre-empting what’s around the corner. It is important not to
react, but to predict. It can then provide advice about what the realistic
options are in the current situation.

Have you encountered any problems
with HR?

In my last position before Avaya, the
company was shrinking and I was asked to take a combined role. I agreed, but
for a trial period. HR said no to that and I told them that was the law.
Lawyers got involved and HR backed down, but I ended up leaving. I rejected the
role partly because of how HR and the company were treating me. Some people,
even at senior level HR, obviously didn’t know the law.

How has HR changed in the past five years?

There is more focus on its cost effectiveness. This comes with separating
out the transactional from the more strategic work. Also, things are becoming
more web-based – requiring smaller HR teams.

How does it need to change now and
in the future?

I have seen situations where HR does
not have much of a voice, for example when a company is shrinking and it loses
people one minute and has to recruit for the same roles again the next month at
greater cost to the business. That’s very short term and shouldn’t happen. HR
people should be stronger than to let that happen.

What do you think of outsourcing HR?

I find the familiarity that key HR people have with the business and people
important when you’re dealing with specific situations and a specific history.
I think the transactional stuff can be outsourced because it’s just a process,
but not core HR competencies.

Clive Sawkins vice-president in
the UK and Ireland

What value does HR bring to

It’s about convincing managers that they have to take requests for flexible working
seriously and to accommodate people’s individual needs. By doing this, we get
greater commitment from individuals.

does it bring to your own department and you as a manager?

I have a close management team that knows no boundaries. One of the most
important things in my business is my people and Mike acts as an interface with

is its role in the boardroom?

Mike has done some good work in
shaping the organisation for the future, especially in areas of new markets of
acquisition. I also expect him to keep me and the team up-to-date with the
legal issues.

Have you encountered any problems
with HR?

In previous organisations, HR
dictated what you could and couldn’t do, but in Avaya, it is about helping us
grow our business. In other companies HR’s function is more like one of
gatekeeper of the rules, with very little strategy or understanding of the
value of the investment.

How has
HR changed in the past five years?

It often had very little strategy. HR is far more proactive now in coming up
with new policies and new ways of attracting and developing new staff.

How does
it need to change now and in the future?

As the work culture changes, the HR
culture has to change too. It needs to be more flexible in terms of contracts
for employees and will need to ensure there are polices in place such as
part-time working and sabbaticals.

What do
you think of outsourcing HR?

I will always look at ways in which we can improve efficiency and the
employers’ experience, and if by outsourcing HR we could achieve that, then I
would consider it.

About Avaya

Avaya designs, builds and manages
communications networks for more than one million businesses around the world,
including 90 per cent of the Fortune 500. A world leader in Internet Protocol
telephony systems, communications software applications and services, Avaya is
driving the convergence of voice and data applications across IT networks.

The company was formerly the enterprise networks division of
Lucent, and was spun off from there in October 2000. Now completely separate
from Lucent and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Avaya is a company with
21,000 employees around the world – 900 of whom work in the UK and Ireland.

The Avaya HR director’s perspective
Mike Young, HR director for the UK, Ireland and Nordic regions

"There has been a move away from
admin and I am not responsible for HR operations [transactional] in Avaya –
that area of HR is often outsourced now. I have more of an HR consultancy role,
with a focus on performance management and improvement. I drive performance by
working with the executive team and line managers, sitting with the management
team in all meetings. I am involved in the overall decision-making and am quite
certain I am seen as part of the collective executive team that will deliver

"You have to understand how to apply HR to the business
planning cycle, what the pressures are and examine market changes and
benchmarking data to ensure we’re competitive. It makes what you say more

"You need to know what elements of HR are required in
different parts of the organisation, based on what is planned. Like any other
board discipline, I think I am increasingly a business person first and
functional specialist second.

"I am really into the mechanics of how people manage
others, pushing hard to get good management skills in place. There has to be a
belief in a company that managing people well adds to the bottom line. The HR
person is there to provide some of the tools and techniques to deliver that good
people management, I would say I’m an arbiter of HR and employment polices."

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