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Interview: Helen Ives, Director of People, PEER1 Hosting

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1st Aug 2013
Editor HRZone
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Helen Ives is Director of People at PEER1 Hosting, following a long career in HR that has included time with insurer Aviva and shipping line Maersk.

How has the HR function changed in the last five years?

The HR industry has dramatically changed over the last five years and is now a strategic partner to any successful business. The key to business success is the people, and as HR professionals we should see ourselves as having the expert knowledge and experience that assists in business success.

At the same time, I passionately believe that the human element of HR and the role of people advocate is a critical one. We need to stand up and challenge our organisations on the right and wrong ways of doing things and to be that critical friend and trusted advisor in all decisions affecting our people.

What common mistakes does HR keep making when it comes to employee engagement?

Employee engagement isn’t a project or initiative; it’s the outcome of the relationship between the employee and the organisation and, like any relationship, it's complex! There is an abundance of research out there that suggests some of the key ingredients of engagement and I would love to see closer partnerships between HR and the research development community to help maximise our efforts.

I think that engaged employees need an emotional attachment to their job as well as the necessary tools required to work to the best of their ability. How to deliver all of that? Leadership is key – leaders make it all happen. On a day-to-day basis they help people to feel connected, solve problems, provide feedback, and advocate the organisation’s strategic direction. That means our number one investment needs to be investing in a businesses’ future leaders.

You’ve focused on change and transformation a lot in your career. Why do so many change programmes continue to fail?

Most often because we miss the human element of change, even though we know it and talk about we don’t take our own medicine! We get so focused on system and process that we forget that people experience complex feelings and reactions that often need our support to help them understand the process and the correct path through the change.

One of the things I love about my role is that I get to advocate for the way we change across all parts of the business. For change to be effective, people need a common purpose that they can believe in, the tools or skills to do things differently, incentive or praise and recognition and positive role models that lead from the front.

You spent some time developing a Business Partner HR strategy – what tips would you give to companies doing the same thing?

The core thing is to understand what your business needs from the HR team and then build a structure and strategy to match. For example, if one of your strategic imperatives is employee engagement then you need to put your money where your mouth is and create a team of HR Business Partners working onsite in all your key locations, supporting your leaders to create an amazing place to work. 

This will influence how you hire, and also how you target and measure your team. One size doesn’t fit all and you need to be prepared to constantly review and evolve your strategy. This ensures you not only keep up with the business, but also stay ahead and provide the thought leadership that the best HR organisations contribute.

You also need to avoid looking at the Business Partner model as a way of cutting costs in the HR organisation. Undoubtedly it can help with streamlining, but essentially it can bring the “people experts” much closer to business leaders and their day-to-day challenges.

Your current role is a global role – what are the HR challenges when dealing with such diverse employees in different countries?

On a practical level, working effectively across time zones is a real challenge. As we grow, our people leaders have to wrestle with how to provide great leadership virtually while retaining their own work-life balance. In a digital world, I believe this is becoming more and more important and HR has an important role in developing strategies to help.

The other big challenge in my role is implementing HR policies and practices that safeguard our culture, whilst at the same time spanning physical locations and diverse groups of employees. For example, in the US employment rights and benefits plans are very different from in the UK and that creates some internal inequity. I have to get creative and challenge traditional assumptions in the way we design a global perks and benefits program that truly delivers on our values.  

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