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How Did I Get Here? Graham Josephs, HR Director, Historic Royal Palaces

19th Sep 2005
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History, ghosts and tourists is just part and parcel of life for Graham Josephs, HR Director at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the Charitable Trust with responsibility for HM Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and the Banqueting House Whitehall and Kensington; here’s his story.

1. How strategic is your current role, and what does it involve?
With a team of operational HR Managers my role is largely strategic – helping to develop an organisation that lives our cause (that is to help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people together have shaped society in some of the greatest palaces ever built.)

My time is largely spent on:

  • Developing and implementing appropriate HR interventions to support the above
  • Coaching and developing my team to deliver what is required
  • As a member of the Board helping to grow and develop the overall business and organisation.

2. How is the HR function perceived within your organisation?
Six years ago, before I joined HRP the HR function unfortunately did not have a very positive image. I was recruited with a remit to change and modernise the organisation, and this started with a complete change of the HR team. The reputation of the new team is really strong and very positive. We are seen as professional, supportive, and providers of pragmatic solutions to a range of people issues.

3. How does your business use HR practices to get ahead?
Our HR strategy is an integral part of our business strategy; they are one of the same thing. We therefore utilise whatever HR practices are necessary to develop a working environment where staff are able and motivated to do what the organisation needs them to do.

Our approach is uncomplicated. We have modern recruitment processes, utilising assessment centre technologies, to attract and select the best people. We invest heavily in developing our leaders and empowering them to create work environments within their team that are motivational and productive. We focus on engaging our staff through involvement strategies, and through motivating rewarding and recognition processes.

4. Why is your company such a great place to work?
We have a great sense of cause within the organisation, an empowering sense of purpose and identity that many other organisations do not have. The work that we do really does makes a difference to the lives of all our customers.

In addition we really do work in “some of the greatest palaces ever built.” The working environment is fantastic.

Finally it is great to work here because we are really trying to re-invent the experience that people have when they visit a cultural organisation. Our guiding principles: independence, showmanship, discovery and guardianship are really being brought alive to create a powerful experience for visitors.

5. How does HR win hearts and minds in your business?
By doing the basics and keeping things simple. We really do believe that our staff are our greatest asset and we do everything we can to get them fully involved in developing our business. Communicating, listening and acting on feedback are all activities that we continually focus on.

6. Will HR survive outsourcing and changes to service delivery?
Put simply – Yes! People are at the heart of any organisation. It is people who make the biggest difference; and yet this “greatest asset” can leave you, or switch off at any time. The challenge is great and the pay off huge. Outsourcing administration is possible and desirable. Outsourcing the strategic capability to harness the potential of your greatest asset is daft.

7. What’s the new skill set of HR?
To some extent there isn’t one. I believe all HR professionals will always need professional competence in areas such as recruitment, training, employee relations, pay and reward, etc.

However in a fast changing world they also need to be change experts, and real business partners, understanding and speaking the language of the business is vital.

8. What’s the worst thing about working in HR and the best?
It’s the people for both! We all know that there is nothing worse than working with difficult and negative people. But equally there is nothing better than working with people who are knowledgeable, passionate and really want to make a difference. Fortunately the majority of people at HRP are in the latter category!

9. What are the key issues preventing HR professionals from getting a seat on the Board?

  • Lip service by some Chief Executives to the creed “people are our greatest asset.” If they really believed this and wanted to ensure maximum returns from these assets them they would ensure that there is an HR person on the Board. Thankfully my CEO is enlightened enough to have me on the Board!
  • However, HR professionals need to do much as well – they need to have a much deeper understanding of business, speak the language of business, and offer tailored solutions to real business problems rather than simply offer best HR practice.
  • They also need to make themselves more visible, and shout more about the links between good HR management and business performance.

10. If you have a mantra/motto, what is it?

  • “You are the change that you want to see in the world.”
  • “Graciousness is a gift of yourself to others, the donation of your attention, your interest, your listening and your caring. It builds trust and fosters relationships.”

11. What you currently reading?
Good to great by Jim Collins. A great story of developing leaders and businesses from being good to being great.

Winning by Clive Woodward. A fascinating behind the scenes insight into how Sir Clive developed a world leading rugby team

12. What would be your desert island disc?
Tina Turner – Since we’ve been together (First dance when we got married)

13.If you could have lunch with three famous people, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

  • Duncan Fletcher the England Cricket coach. Cricket is my passion and I would love to find out how he really turned the England cricket team from poor to great.
  • Clive Woodward the England Rugby coach. For similar reasons as above, but also to find out more about how he uses his sporting success in business.
  • Richard Branson – Virgin. Because he is such a successful businessman and entrepreneur with a great personality who has both energy, and fun. What a great combination.

14. If you’d like to be remembered for one thing what is it?
Being a great husband and dad, and being a gracious and successful HR Director.

Previous career profiles can be seen on the How Did I Get Here? page.

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