Managing change while developing your HR team

This session was on Managing Strategic Change while Developing a Passionate HR Team with Action Aid’s Graham Salisbury. Firstly, Graham told us that 24 years ago he attended his first IPM conference in Harrogate…

By way of introduction, Graham told us that the HR team at ActionAid had been “broken”. It started with 60% turnover in the HR team, inadequate HR governance, poor payroll controls and faced Border Agency scrutiny over work permits. He went on to tell us about some of the challenges Action Aid had faced and was refreshingly honest that in trying to tackle them, they hadn’t necessarily got everything right!

They introduced an interim change manager “to upset the apple cart”. They implemented an HR system and updated policies and procedures. Then they recruited Graham, who came in as Head of HR. He had to rebuild some relationships who regarded HR as the problem – not necessarily the individuals working in it.

Again being honest, Graham noted that their 2014 staff survey results were not good. In fact, he used the word “awful”! But then he went on to explain the particular circumstances – they had proposed changes to the pay structure which were not well communicated and caused problems. Graham said they spoke to their Trade Union and some of the more vocal staff and apologised, then said “let’s work together”. The revised proposals were much better received.

We then had a Question Time session on the effectiveness of HR teams in the not for profit sector. It was interesting to see the shows of hands in response to the questions which asked how we felt our HR teams were performing. There was a fairly even split between those who thought that their HR team was high performing, middle of the road or underperforming (although Graham picked up on the “card-carrying don’t knows” within the audience…).

Some of the other questions discussed various points:

– Do we seek out enough recognition in our sector, asked Graham. Probably not.

– Is not for profit sector experienced valued outside the sector? Graham quoted an article from People Management which suggested a period in a NFP organisation was a weakness on someone’s CV

– ActionAid successfully brought in apprentices to increase the diversity in their teams.

– “Start at home”. Graham told us about a guitar he’d recently bought at an auction that was dirty but when it was cleaned up has become the best guitar he’s ever owned. This is a clear analogy for some of our people – we need to develop our own internal talent!

– Graham’s team are currently looking at Dave Ulrich’s latest book, taking a chapter every few months and concentrating on it to develop themselves and their HR skills.

Overall this was an interesting insight into one organisation’s journey which certainly shares a lot of challenges and features with my own. Intriguingly the Question Time section revealed that many of the audience were from the private sector rather than the not for profit, which seemed to take Graham by surprise. Hopefully it does go to show that people do recognise the value of NFP sector experience, unlike the CV Doctor that Graham quoted in his presentation!

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