The Big Interview, HR Heads’ career profile series, launched in 2017 and features insight from senior HR professionals.
In the latest Big Interview, Chris Pestell met up with Glenn Jones, People Transformation Programme Director (Interim) at Tesco, to hear about his career and thoughts on HR.
Tell us about your journey into HR
My journey into HR was relatively simple – insomuch as I left school at 16 with one O-Level in commerce; my back story is a little long and complicated!
I wanted to join the RAF and go to the military band school Kneller Hall, but things didn’t quite go as planned.
Instead, I took a Youth Training Scheme role in an office and started my people journey from there.
During my career I’ve evolved as a person, for example, implementing HR systems, consulting, payroll, shared services, outsourcing, purist HR around the world etc.
In 2012, I launched my own consultancy, GGJ Global Consulting Limited.
Since then my clients have included Bank of America, HSBC, Ecolab, Imperial Brands, AXA XL and now Tesco.
I’ve been able to cut across almost 20 different sectors and have been fortunate to work globally too, which has enabled me to have a very diverse and different view of all things HR and People.
What does your typical day in the office look like?
Typically, my workday starts around 6 am, which allows me to have some time to think and check emails before meetings start at about half seven.
As a career interim, this isn’t unusual and when you’re heading up a big programme early starts are the norm.
After numerous meetings, I’m normally happy to switch my laptop off and head back to the hotel at about 6 pm.
What do you love about your role?
In a nutshell, it’s the challenge.
It’s the ability to walk into somewhere that needs real help and be able to walk out knowing that you have truly added value on multiple levels.
Are there any aspects of your role that you find challenging?
It might sound like a cliché, but I really do love what I do, and if there are challenges, I use them to continually learn and evolve.
Looking at the next 12 months, what lies ahead for you?
Quite simply, we have to move around 240,000 retail employees from Unipay onto Oracle HCM, plus a few other things around the edges.
If you could give advice to your 20-year old self what would it be?
That’s a great question.
For me, I wouldn’t give any advice whatsoever as you have to make mistakes to evolve.
That sounds a bit strange and perhaps a bit glib, but ironically what I’ve really enjoyed about my career is the varied roles I’ve had all the way through.
This has allowed me to continue to grow and be where I am today.
I guess one thing I’ve never had was a really detailed plan of where I wanted to go.
What I did do – and the advice I would give anybody – is take every opportunity that comes along.
I think if you were to take a look at my CV, one of the things you’d probably see is that I change roles every two or three years; this has been intentional and you could argue that I’ve always been a career interim.
The roles I’ve done are fairly dynamic, to the point where I guess I was building to the consultancy piece I’m in today.
Taking the opportunities as they have come along have been great and I think without that I wouldn’t have got the exposure I have today.
What top tips would you give to someone hoping to be a success in HR?
For me, this is all about not being your stereotypical HR person.
Because HR – in my opinion, and through the research in my book as well – is predominantly still stuck in the dark ages. There is data though to suggest that a change is happening, but for me, things are not happening fast enough for HR as a function.
That sounds really terrible doesn’t it and of course, I am generalising!
I really should’ve changed that answer in case I alienate all of my HR/People colleagues!
I would ask them to really look for the shining stars in HR, the people who are curious and are essentially leading the way and not just regurgitating the same old same old.
Essentially, they are being brave and bold. I also believe that you are likely to find these people in companies that are growing and prospering.
If you consider that a lot of companies don’t treat their people as their core unique selling point and, instead choose to focus on products instead. Remember Sir Richard Branson’s saying, “If you look after your people then they will take care of your clients!”
If I was to give advice to someone about how to be successful, I’d say balance the people approach with the commercials.
Look at some of the skills and great CEOs that are out there influencing, partnering and who have commercial and people savviness.
What I mean by that is not only being aware of the company or organisation you work with, but also being financially acute so when you talk in the boardroom, if that is where you operate in, you’re able to translate the people data and information and strategy into commercial financial viability, so you’re talking the same language as the CEO and CFO.
I think they’re the key things for me, for someone to be successful.
In my opinion, it’s about ripping up the old rule book of what HR does and, being really brave and courageous in the 21st century. HR has an amazing opportunity to lead and now is our time to do so.
It’s coming up with things that have never been tried before because they’ll be the sort of people that will lead the companies and organisations in the future.
Is HR as a function still relevant and if so why?
It’s still absolutely relevant.
For me, this comes down to a simple premise and it’s something I wrote about in the book.
While people still exist and are still working, there still needs to be a function that looks after them and is able to articulate what it is they need.
If you consider we work the majority of our lives, we probably spend more time in work than outside of it, so there has to be someone who pioneers and looks at the welfare and wellbeing of how people are working within the day-to-day basis. Plus, all of the other stuff on top.
HR are the people who are advocating the people-side of the organisations.
They’re the ones who really are underpinning the corporate and company strategy, pulling together the development and talent plans and looking at how the workforce of the future needs to be built.
So, HR is still highly relevant, although most functions in HR these days don’t understand that. I think there’s an interesting question there about why.
Why do you think HR as a function isn’t consistent in its value-add around the world?
I think this pretty much comes down to not promoting what the HR function does.
A lot of the stuff that goes through the function gets unseen.
It’s the old adage that nobody ever pats you on the back for getting something right, but they’re very quick to tell you when something is wrong. For example, why does accounting have a different reputation in companies and why doesn’t anyone talk about it as just being a financial overhead and not adding value?
I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
Part of it for me is about HR being able to raise its profile.
There’s a stigma around the value-add of it, so it’s seen as just a business cost, what does HR truly drive from a value perspective.
HR is misunderstood.
It doesn’t sing its own praises, and I wonder how HR functions are innovating what they do and how they do it?
Because HR is just seen as an administrative function, and nothing else, it tends to carry that label. Paul McKee wrote a great book called SUMO, for anyone in HR/People it’s worth a read.
There’s an element of HR needing to realise that, a change of mindset within the function from a fixed perspective to a growth mindset that then enables a different value to be put on HR; that it actually should be there talking about the talent strategy of the future, it should be there talking about the growth, and how companies can do it.
I always come down to: If you haven’t got a fully fit workforce who aren’t engaged or motivated, chances are the actual profit margin going through that company is low.
Alternatively, look at a different HR function at the top of its game, that has coaching, wellbeing, sponsoring and development at the core of it, and you get a different company altogether.
Tell me about your book HR Changes the World – and the new HR model you propose
The book focuses on several things and what I wanted to do was really come back to the question of, “If people are important in every organisation”:
- Why isn’t HR at the forefront of making key decisions in the boardroom?
- Why is it it’s not evolving as quickly as I would like?
What I wanted to do was to understand the blind spots, not only of the HR function and HR Directors but that of the boards and CEOs as well.
I really wanted to come back to why HR wasn’t being perceived as truly adding value.
In addition, looking at where most stereotypical HR people come from and looking at how other functions, like finance, would grow their leaders.
Finally, asking why HR Directors don’t become CEOs.
The book includes a list of actions at multiple levels and it starts everywhere from school, where HR isn’t deemed as one of the classical careers, all the way through to university and out into work today.
I did a fascinating piece of research around:
- If HR is really that valuable, why don’t we see HR Directors become CEOs?
I wanted to understand do we have a level setting for HR functions around the world.
With regards to the 6RHR Model, I wanted to create a very simple set of clear items that give the key minimum criteria that HR and People Functions should be looking at that enables them to be the best value-added HR team possible.
Anything above that would just be a value-add for them.
What do you think HR does really well?
It absolutely gets people, and that’s a commodity in my opinion that other functions don’t.
It generally gets things right from the people perspective, it cares about them and knows what they want.
That’s what you want from an HR function, you want someone who really gets people and the working environment.
You can’t get that from say an IT or accountancy functions, because their motivation and drive are for completely different things.
I think what HR does well 90% of the time is it looks after people.
HR Changes the World talks about earning the right to be at the top of the table, can you explain what you mean?
I’m afraid there’s another stigma that gets attached to HR, which is around the need to be at the top table.
It comes down to people instinctively saying, “Well I should be there.”
The reality is, if they got there what would they actually do?
What sort of influence would they give?
What strategic and operational vision would they give to the board that would be there?
Earning the right to be there is all about what are you going to give when you get there.
You need to know why and how to add that value.
Therefore, it’s not just being about being at the top table, it’s earning the right to be there.
Get to know Glenn Jones
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy spending as much time with my family and two dogs as possible, watching rugby and holidaying as much as I can plus scuba diving too.
I’m also a firm believer in meditation and I try to meditate at least once a day.
Although saying that, I start a DBA in January 2020 which will enable me to take the research in my book to the next level, so I guess there goes my spare time!
Is work/life balance important to you? If so how do you achieve it?
As I work away from home Monday to Thursday, I make sure that when I walk through the door on Thursday night, I am available to my family.
In addition, I always try to finish at 4 pm on a Friday and aim never to do emails and work over the weekend which I achieve 90% of the time.
It’s not long though before it’s 8 pm Sunday night and time to go to sleep for a 4 am get up on Monday.
About the author
Chris Pestell is a Senior Manager at HR Heads and specialises in placing senior HR professionals into leadership positions across the M4, Thames Valley and London regions.
Click here to connect with Chris on LinkedIn.