Nigel Farmer FCIPD, BSc (Hons), former UK HR Director for Alliance Healthcare, recently spoke with Rosie Jenkins about his career and the challenges the function is currently facing.
How did you get into HR?
Ahh – the “day job”!
I guess that’s what I’ve enjoyed a lot in my roles – due to the type of business the role has been very varied given the amount of change my organisations have gone through.
Working across the full HR spectrum and also getting directly involved with client companies where we have provided services makes for a rich interest.
Have you specialised along the way?
I started life in manufacturing/production management roles and then moved into a project management role in which I ended up delivering some training within my business unit.
That got me an L&D role with the group and it was only then it even crossed mind to try HR.
A change of role and business in my next move left me in my first generalist role and my career went on from there.
What are you most passionate about being an HR Director?
In short, what drives in the HRD role is trying to line up the HR effort to help the business deliver on its objectives – short/medium/long term.
For me, that sums it up!
What challenges are you and your team currently facing?
In my last role not surprisingly COVID had dominated the agenda, although we were lucky in that our core business continued to trade “normally” but unsurprisingly there was a lot of volatility in staffing needs to manage.
That aside, a lot of integration work transferring in colleagues from other parts of the group and gearing up to support a business transformation/ERP programme, oh and the usual stuff!
How has COVID changed your role as HRD? What lies ahead for you in the next 6-12 months?
I think it has probably magnified the balance that you need to strike as an HR lead.
The balance between the needs of the business and the needs of our people. It certainly did in my case and I think then you have to be prepared to stand your ground if necessary and accept the consequences.
Sadly, I think the next 6/12 months will be dominated by the obvious “biggies” of COVID and Brexit and the inevitable difficult changes this will drive.
That aside, the best businesses will continue to drive their engagement and talent agenda and seek to balance the external effects to protect their long term viability; as part of that the D&I focus think will continue to rise in the prominence given the international narrative.
Equality Diversity & Inclusion is hot on the HR agenda at present, what actions have you taken around it?
To be brutally self-critical, not enough.
I’ve worked for large corporates for a while and all have been very focused on female diversity and the challenge has been to broaden that, in my latest role we have made some progress with unconscious bias training, engaging in network groups encouraging colleagues with an interest to get involved.
We’ve also tried hard to develop our mental health support and have been working on a Mental Health First Aider programme.
What impact has the use of technology – the 4th Industrial Revolution – had on how you deliver HR to the business?
In my last business, it was a core part of an HR transformation programme introducing a full Business Partner/CoE/Shared Services approach.
In my current role, we’re making the best use of a limited legacy system as the priority is the core business ERP programme.
What would you change within the benefit of hindsight?
With perfect hindsight, there’s probably loads of stuff I could have done better and maybe a couple of my job moves weren’t the best choice of business “fit” for me!
That aside what’s done is done and it’s best to try and make the most of it.
What advice/hints /tips would you give an aspiring HRD?
Honestly, I think the best thing for me was having time out of the HR function, experiencing life as a line manager on the receiving end!
That and developing a real understanding of your business and how you can align the HR effort to help it deliver…empathy and insight, they’ll help!
About the author
Rosie Jenkins is a Senior Manager at HR Heads with a degree in Business Studies from Portsmouth University.
She has more than 18 years’ multi-sector experience spanning permanent, contract recruitment and executive search.
T: 01962 432001