HR Leadership in 2019 with Lisa Haggar, Group HR Director at Ascend Learning UK. Lisa spoke to us about her career in HR. “Show an interest in learning about the whole business and how it operates”.

As part of our commitment to supporting candidates in developing fulfilling careers, we’ve invited some HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.

This week, we had a great conversation with Lisa Haggar, Group HR Director at Ascend Learning UK. Lisa started her HR career in 2000 after acquiring her Business Management degree.  After becoming a HR and Training Services Manager, she started her own HR consultancy, where she was exposed to a range of different industries.  Lisa also received her Post Graduate Diploma in Personnel Management while working as an HR Manager at Marval Group UK.

How did you get into HR and why?

I think a lot of people you speak to in HR end up in it by accident. Getting involved in HR and admin, and then kind of falling in love with it. I left school at 16 and went straight to employment, in an admin role.

I started my career working for a small company, whose admin department did a bit of everything, including finance, marketing and HR. After moving back to Northamptonshire, I got an HR Admin job, which was solely HR. I spent a lot of time with the HR Manager, and was the first person to ask “What do you need doing? How else can I get involved? How else can I learn?”

It was apparent to me that you could either sit back and just do the admin, or put your hand up and ask for more work. , “I want to be involved with that project. How else can I help? I feel like I can do more.” So being quite vocal and flexible. I would say to anybody starting out. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be shy in asking for more work— more interesting work, if you think you’re capable.

What key themes and changes do you see taking place across the sector?

What is quite interesting in the HR arena is that you have a lot of people who are advertising for roles now who will say they want five years’ experience in manufacturing or in working with unions for example. However all of the skills that you’re trained at through CIPD are unilateral. It’s not sector specific. If you can motivate people, if you can see people’s potential, if you can recruit the best talent and you understand employment law, then that’s completely relevant to every company you work for.  I have never understood that mentality.

I think a lot of companies, miss out on good talent, especially in HR because they’re so blinkered on having somebody who’s worked in their industry. For example, if you go from retail to a commercial industry, retail is one of the most cutthroat industries you’ll ever work in, but people are not considered because they aren’t from that sector. There are several benefits, you could bring forward by bringing somebody from outside of the industry, but I think people are just afraid of it.

What would you say are your top 3 challenges?

Finding the best talent is always a challenge. Especially in London, because a lot of people jump jobs very quickly and they will go to somewhere down the road for £500 more. That’s a very sweeping statement, but I’m just saying that’s been my experience so far and the data has backed it up.

When I look at CVs in the London area, it’s not uncommon to see somebody who’s had 10 or 15 jobs. In the beginning I was a bit like, “Wow,  why is it like that?” It’s terribly expensive to live in London, so it makes sense, but for me that was quite an eye opener.

Some of the other challenges have been around promoting diversity within the organisation. The Fitness and Wellness industry as a whole, has a good balance between male and female, but in Sales it was prominently   male. We  now have successfully hired some of the best female talent out there. Last month alone our top three sales performers, were all female!

But for me, I think the top three challenges right now are:

  1. Finding the right talent in a competitive market space
  2. Retention of that Talent is key and always a challenge. People are so transient now and they can jump between jobs quite easily.
  3. Keeping up to date with the employment law because it changes so much.

I know some people are worrying terribly about Brexit.  I don’t feel that the Fitness and Wellness Industry will be that badly affected, therefore we’re quite optimistic on the outlook of that, but I know for some businesses that’s going to be huge impact, that will send waves and ripples across many industries.  But to be honest, it’s still a big unknown.

We still don’t really know what it means and the true impact with lots of subjectivity and lots of chat about it.  From a pure HR standpoint,  the biggest change will be the change in employment law.

You went into a self-employed consultancy role early in your career. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

I worked with Chartered Management Institute and from there went straight into consultancy. I undertook some educational courses to become a consultant. I reached out to a lot of people who were in the consulting business and said, ‘What’s going to stand in my way?’ Some early feedback I received was I was too young to go into Consulting. I believe, whole heartedly that talent doesn’t have an age.

So I did encounter credibility issues to begin with. “Who is this fresh faced girl? She’s not had a lot of exposure. What companies have you worked for before?” My clients would saying they were talking quite a risk taking me on. In the beginning I said, “If you don’t believe in what I can deliver for you, I’m happy to reduce my fee now. As a leap of faith for you, I’ll reduce my fee so that you’ve got less to lose. But if I deliver, you pay back what you owe.” It was a bold move and I did question whether I was devaluing the product (ME) in that process, but it all worked out as planned.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone that wanted to build a solid HR leadership career like you?

Firstly, I would advise to them to get a strong mentor.  Secondly, if you’re shy, you need to learn to get some confidence and be vocal about what you want and be the first to put your hand up and say, “That sounds a like really nice project. I know I’ve never done anything like that before, but even if I could just shadow you for a month while you go through that project, I would really learn a lot and then hopefully I can add some value later.” Put your hand up and be that person. Show an interest in learning about the whole business and how it operates.

During your reviews openly tell your Boss that you want to progress in a company, don’t be shy in saying, “I would like to see myself as a Director in the next three years. So I how would I go about that?” Have a discussion with your HR Department and ask, “What would the succession plan look like? What training would I do? Who would I shadow and how would I get the skills required?”  Have a dialogue with the senior people in the business that you work at and tell them what it is that you’re aspiring to do. Start putting certain things in place because at least they know that you want to do it and that you’re serious. A lot of people have difficulty with that. They’re very good at what they do, but they’re very quiet or very timid and they get overlooked or just not noticed.

Lisa has been the Group HR Director of Ascend Learning since 2017.

If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.


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HR Leadership in 2019 with Lisa Haggar, Group HR Director at Ascend Learning UK. Lisa spoke to us about her career in HR. “Show an interest in learning about the whole business and how it operates”.