Louise Noone is Chief HR Officer at Fastmarkets, a leading Price Reporting Agency (PRA) in the agriculture, forest products, metals and mining, and energy markets which serves over 10,000 customers globally.
You completed a degree in Law, Economics, Sociology and Politics, what then led you to end up in HR from that professional sector space?
During my time at school, I was a student who leaned more towards humanities rather than sciences or maths.
So I was looking for a broad degree that played to my interests.
I was one of those many students who didn’t have a clearly laid-out career path, so I was looking for a degree that was broad and one that didn’t specialise or limit my post-degree options too much.
There were a number of elements of the degree that I had studied at A Level and really enjoyed, so a social science degree felt like a good choice to get me into the university world while keeping my options quite open.
I had no clear predetermined career path, but that is where I started off.
You’ve held a variety of roles in the world of HR, do you think that variety gives you a good standing for what it takes to be successful in the function and would you advocate that for people?
Yes, I was just reading a study recently and it said something like 75% of all CHRO/CPOs have actually come from a generalist background within HR.
I have had a really broad range of HR roles.
The only thing that has been constant for me in my HR career is that it has been my choice of fast-paced organisations going through lots of changes and transformations.
I have been lucky enough to have some very large and broad HR roles that have awarded me great insight and learning.
When you are engaging, advising and consulting with a business you have to understand their language and challenges, so having that broad understanding really holds credence when you build those relationships with your stakeholders.
These generalist roles have shaped me and helped me be successful in my career now, but also I have seen people move into this career who have had those specialist career paths in HR as well.
You can’t ask someone to do something you haven’t done yourself, so having come from that path you can really empathise with them and understand the challenges they are facing within that role.
You absolutely can empathise.
However, one of the things I have noticed over recent years, is that while the majority of people coming into the CHRO role have had a background within HR, more and more people are also moving into HR from other career paths.
I have also worked for, and with, people that haven’t had a long career path in HR but have wider commercial backgrounds and have been phenomenal in the HR roles they have done as well.
It is really interesting to see a broader background of people being successful in this profession now.
In terms of when you are hiring what is it you look for?
There is a huge shift in the market for hiring for attitude and aptitude rather than skillset, how do you approach that hiring concept?
I definitely see this.
I tend to assume by the time I am meeting with a candidate they have got through a telephone interview and that the core capabilities and competencies are there so I am 100% focused on the behaviours, values and drivers for those individuals.
In Fastmarkets, we introduced values a couple of years ago.
One of our values is having a ‘growth mindset’ and that is something I really tune into when I am interviewing.
It’s important to understand that we are not skilled at everything, and we are all on a growth journey, but I look for emotional intelligence for people to recognise this and their development needs.
Particularly in a competitive job market, we need to look further than what is on the CV.
Somebody’s mindset about how open they are to learning new skills and developing and working in new cultures is so important.
That is something I am very mindful of when recruiting.
Also, we need to think about how we drive diversity through recruiting, whether that be cultural, cognitive or another type of diversity. It is not just about the skills on the CV or what university they have or have not been to, it is more about their aptitude and their ability to learn.
You have worked predominantly within the tech sector, was that a deliberate choice or was it more about pace and opportunity?
It wasn’t a deliberate choice, when I first moved into the telecoms sector it was a start-up, a business with four or five people, which then became 3 the mobile network in the UK.
Being in an organisation going through that sort of growth is phenomenal and an incredible learning experience.
It has become a little bit addictive actually. Once you work with that sort of pace and energy, you either really turn into or turn off from it.
But while it can be addictive, you also need to be mindful that when you are working at that pace you don’t lose the governance or rigour that you need.
The pace does really excite me.
When I came into Fastmarkets I was fortunate enough to be engaged in some consultancy work first. I loved the environment, pace and what it was looking to achieve. It was very ambitious, going through a lot of growth and that energised me.
There was lots of opportunity to work with the business.
We have gone through a phenomenal amount of growth and change, and we have just been acquired by private equity so another phase, another chapter.
What is the greatest challenge in ensuring that a large international footprint is managed in a way that is equitable for all?
It is a big challenge, where do you drive harmonisation and equality across a global organisation?
How do you account for those local nuances and cultural differences?
How do you balance this and the legal and governance framework that sits behind the scenes too?
I would say every day is a learning day.
My role at Fastmarkets has been my first international role, and I love the learning challenge that this brings.
For example, we have a team in Ukraine who have experienced the most difficult year you can imagine.
There is no playbook for how you manage this. You can never plan for every scenario and there are different challenges every day.
There are things you can’t legislate for but you have to be ready to adapt and to respond to these challenges all the time.
What HR trends are you forecasting for the next three-five years?
Somebody just reminded me it was three years ago since we first locked down because of covid and we started to work from home.
Who would have thought that we would have got here?
Perhaps one of the few benefits of Covid was that it fast-tracked flexible working in a whole new way onto our curriculum.
As organisations, we have had to grow up, we have had to think about how we manage people in a far more flexible way.
Organisations are becoming far more in-tuned about managing by output rather than presentism. That embedding of trust across the business, how we manage individuals, and the flexibility of roles.
We have had to become a lot more agile in terms of how we think and how we manage.
In terms of challenges, without a doubt, you referred to the economic uncertainty, that will continue.
As a global organisation, we manage teams that are in very different places, both economically and politically.
For example, Brazil has been experiencing a long period of high inflation, while it’s a recent challenge to parts of Europe.
Again it’s a challenge how you create consistency while accounting for local nuances in your people strategy.
That financial economic challenge is something we are all very mindful of.
The political uncertainty we all face in the world now, whether it be through war or through sanctions.
From an HR perspective, these challenges are something that we need to be thoughtful of when we set out our people strategy. Successful HR teams are becoming far more outward and commercially focused.
You have to be at the table and use the language of the business to have that credibility and impact and influence.
HR is not a passive role.
Somebody once referred to an HR function many years ago as a ‘tears and tissue role’.
A successful HR function now is so very far away from this description.
Data will also continue to play a key role in HR strategies. Understanding our people data and using this data to drive a strategy which ultimately underpins the business strategy will be key.
HR is ultimately accountable for the people that deliver that strategy.
What advice would you give somebody wanting to get into that Chief People Officer role in the future?
Two things, one is never say no.
I have been so fortunate that I have had a lot of opportunities. Some of those opportunities may not have felt ‘great’ at the time but I have never said no.
Some have felt like sideways moves or occasionally even backward moves but they have all been opportunities that have ultimately helped me learn and grow.
I have never said no, no matter how off the wall it felt at the time.
The other learning for me is networking.
I think in HR you can become quite internally focused quite quickly because your focus is always on the people that are inside.
And that priority still stays true, but that ability to have an external network and see what is happening around you, to be able to build on the experiences in the external HR world and learn from people around you is something that is so important.
Networking was not a natural strength for me and it’s a muscle I am still developing now.