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A round-up of lessons on HR for finance directors

Fresh from holding The FD Surgery in Manchester in November, Real Business followed up with the HR for Finance Directors event on Wednesday 6 December.
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The event with lessons on HR came about with the knowledge that 70 per cent of mid-market FDs from a survey of 250 are responsible for managing HR in their workplace.

With that in mind, it stands to reason that the workloads of FDs is considerable, given human resources sits alongside their primary financial focus. On the day, we had a series of guest speakers, panelists and roundtable events, which we’ve rounded up to give you an overview of considerations when it comes to the mix between finance and HR.

Opening up proceedings on the day with lessons on HR was Doug Ross, a director at business consultancy Square Peg, which counts Coca-Cola among clientele, who detailed what can be learnt from FD and HR collaboration in a company.

Speaking of his work alongside the soft drinks company, he said that a major shift in the way the business operates today has been brought about with a vision to make it a “total beverage company” rather than one just geared around soft drinks.

“In moving through the process, we had to come up with a new model, as the old model didn’t work anymore, it stalled out,” Ross said, adding that “stuff happens” to change the agenda all the time.

“Events happen and rather than ignoring events, we said let’s recognise events as a key driver. So our processes are either proactive or reactive to events,” he explained.

Prime examples of events that have thrown unexpected spanners into the Coca-Cola works have been things like calories or no calories, the obesity crisis, use of sweeteners, the sugar tax. All of those things have shaped the way Coca-Cola operates.

When James Quincey joined Coca-Cola as CEO in May, his ambition was to create a new strategy, recalled Ross. “There was a whole new system for strategy – a new strategy that needs skills to be digital, social, entrepreneurial from a big old corporate firm.

“We used to work like a bowling game, see pins, roll the ball and get a strike. With events and processes, we’re playing tennis, we didn’t know where the next shot was going to come from, up down, left right. We had to become agile.”

Sarah Hutton Coca-Cola Lessons on HR

“The level of trust I anticipate building with my FD partner is more than mutual accountability around numbers,” says Coca-Cola’s HR director

According to Coca-Cola’s HR director of Europe and the Nordics, Sarah Hutton: “The future is fast approaching us and in HR, there is work we still need to do. I think future of work for finance and HR will change, but we’re not quite out of opportunity yet.”

“Everything is interconnected. We started with company goals and within that we had to track frame of work, the leadership team, and within that we have key financial components and savings.

“The level of trust I anticipate building with my FD partner is more than mutual accountability around numbers, it’s a real understanding around intent and sustainable savings. Also managing cost of change and common understanding of what it takes to get people engaged.”

Adding lessons on HR, from Hutton’s point of view, managing people and change will shape the company culture, and from an FD perspective, that’s an investment.

Ross added: “Crisis resolution needs to be managed or at least monitored by HR. They can support ethics, keeping people engaged. HR working with finance can be really good to discipline managers.

“Often, finance wanted to stop too soon, take money out, and we were able to say ‘if you do this, these are the unintended consequences you will have’.”

Rounding off lessons on HR for FDs, Hutton said: “Think as far ahead as you can and think backwards as well.”

The first panel discussion with lessons on HR was around getting recruitment right to avoid unnecessary costs and financial fallout.

On the topic, Magnus Båtsvik-Miller, CFO at digital service company Virtual1, said the biggest challenge is keeping recruitment without budget. That means factoring in everything from whether they hire managers with experience at more expense or save with junior managers and risk needing additional staff or training.

Kimberly Bradshaw, MD of HR consultancy at Buzzacott, echoed his thoughts in terms of factoring in requirements to seek during recruitment.

“We work with a lot of FDs and most clients don’t have a HR or L&D team, so it falls to the FD to run HR,” she said, sharing lessons on HR.

“One of the things it links to, there’s the risk of getting it wrong, tribunal claims, in addition to cost, we advise clients to focus on business case. It’s really important to focus on why you’re recruiting. For growth? What aspect of business plan is this meeting?”

Laura Haynes lessons on HR FD Surgery

You shouldn’t avoid the awkward questions when hiring, according to Laura Haynes

Laura Haynes, the founder of HR and recruitment consultancy Freshr, suggested that managers should really consider their reasons for they’re hiring. Is it because they can feel the impact or not having someone? Do they need a new team member permanently? Can the role be spread across people or contracted?

Båtsvik-Miller pointed to recruiters as a quick route to fill posts, but also warned that they tend to be the most expensive option to account for their effectiveness.

“We advise to clients that successful routes are LinkedIn and specialist job boards, such as Accountancy Age for financial people – generic ones not very good. Networking is also good way without spending money,” said Bradshaw.

All three of the panellists were in agreement that recruiters can be guilty of not listening to requests from clients and simply feel as though bombing them with CVs is doing the job.

On what approach to hiring she likes, Haynes added: “It depends on what the hire is for. If you are hiring a designer, I’m a huge fan of referrals, which encourages culture. An analogy that strikes me very much is to attract the most attractive girl up in the nightclub, you chat to their friend.

“As someone that started as a recruiter, I’m very distrusting of them and I’ve seen every trick going. Ask for their experience. Look exactly where money is going. Are you on same boards I am or going above and beyond to cultivate great relationships?”

When selecting recruits, Bradshaw suggested that talking to prospects outside of the office in environments such as a coffee shop is an option to determine how they react to being outside their comfort zone should be among lessons on HR.

Haynes opined: “People shy away from asking awkward questions. I always want them to go two questions further than they need to. It feels awkward and should because they’re going to be a fabric of your business.”

Meanwhile, consistency is key for Båtsvik-Miller, who said all recruits should experience the same questions. “Give everyone the same fair and consistent approach,” he said.

“I suggest asking the person to talk through what they expect the role to be like. I had someone once describe something completely off the reservation back to me. With recruitment agencies, my advice is interview the person who will be hiring for you and force them to hot desk in your office to understand your culture. If they’re offering a lot of rubbish, tell them to stop.”

Haynes added her own lessons on HR: “Take recruitment seriously – treat it like your customers. You wouldn’t throw a product out there and hope people buy it.”

During the first of the interactive roundtables that took place, the discussion of recruitment techniques continued among delegates.

A HR manager at a small media company explained that creativity is key when recruiting.  “We make a a lot of effort with our website to be appealing to people coming in. The cost to use agencies all the time is very expensive, so we look for companies who reflect our values and there are five that we work with,” she said.

“I still get recruitment calls all day though. There’s a lot of rogue players out there, which is quite frightening.”

FD Surgery GDPR Lessons on HR

How ready is your business for GDPR?

Another delegate explained that her approach, which she said works particularly well, is to offer three-month paid internships to find talent. And, suggesting the skills gap isn’t necessarily the big issue in the UK, but people understanding their abilities, she added: “They don’t always realise things they’ve done at university can offer transferable skills.”

Melanie Stancliffe an employment lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, meanwhile, touched upon employment law considerations that companies should be aware of in the new year. These include gender pay gap reporting, the gig economy, shared parental leave, the apprenticeship levy and GDPR.

On GDPR, Stancliffe said: “How many here enjoy data projection? GDPR comes in May 2018 – you need to prepare to ensure all contracts aren’t reliant on consent. Make sure your company is auditing the journey as data comes in.”

With GDPR set to have such a large impact on the way business is done in the UK, we’ve introduced GDPR doctors to Real Business, experts that will break down the various things you need to know about the arrival of the new data protection legislation.

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the former deputy editor of Real Business. His areas of interest included media, innovation, technology and the digital sector.

Real Business