As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited several HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.
This week, we had a great conversation with Hannah Atack, HR Director at Alamy. Hannah was Head of HR at Volo Commerce, and also served as HR Manager at Barnett Waddingham. She started her HR career at Cheltenham and Gloucester upon finishing her CIPD qualification soon after finishing a degree in Marine Geography.
How did you get into HR?
‘I did my degree in Marine Geography, which I loved but the career options weren’t really a fit with what I was looking for from a career on graduation. Whilst deciding on what I wanted from a career I got a temporary role straight after university, and I happened to be sat next to the HR department. I got to hear what they were saying and learned more about it, and it all seemed really interesting. So I investigated how I could get into it, and got my Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resources Management.’
‘After receiving my CIPD qualification, I interviewed for a role as a Compensation and Benefits Officer and got hired. It wasn’t really where I intended to start, but I took the opportunity and having that experience has proved very beneficial throughout my career. I did that for a year, but was keen to try different areas of HR. There was a Personnel Advisor opening within the branch network, so I went for that role and got it.’
‘I think from the get go, right after finishing my post graduate qualification, I knew HR was the career for me. I’ve always been fascinated with how organisations can enable people to achieve the most that they can and how businesses can structure themselves to ensure that they’re gaining the most from their workforce.’
Did starting in such a corporate environment help you in your career?
‘I definitely think so. I don’t work in a corporate environment now. It’s a smaller, albeit global, entrepreneurial organisation. But the skills gained from the experience and training that I got from Cheltenham and Gloucester and HSBC has been helpful throughout my career.’
‘I think having diversity in your career is important. I’ve always made sure to be involved in several different areas. I would say my HR experience now is robust and well-rounded. I’ve learned something in every single role I’ve done. It’s either I’ve built a new skill or tried something new. For every role that I’ve gone for, I’ve always looked at what I can gain from that role and what I can offer.’
What do you think is important in terms of key skills to be successful in an HR leadership role?
‘I think it’s a mixture of having a very commercial focus and using data to achieve the best outcome, but equally being really creative and innovative about the way you think about things whilst ensuring that your product is relevant, and adds value, to the business. These are some of the things I encourage my team to focus on.’
‘Leading from a position of trust has also been something I’ve always naturally done. It’s really important to me and I think it’s good organisational practice and enables you to lead an empowered and successful team.’
What key themes and challenges are you or your peers facing at the moment?
‘It’s a really interesting time in HR. I think the idea of moving away from annual appraisals and ensuring you have a continuous performance approach is an important factor in enabling high performing teams. We are focused instead on moving to quarterly objectives and making sure we have regular conversations, feedback and check-ins. One question that I consistently hear from people with regard to removing the annual appraisal and rating system is, “How do you ensure that you maintain a fair assessment of performance, for example in terms of how to pay out on a bonus?” This is a question we are trying to answer at the moment.
‘Another thing I’m focused on increasingly revolves around the employer brand. You have to make sure that you are utilizing all the resources at your fingertips to get your employer brand out there from a candidate point of view, as well as from a customer perspective.’
‘Employer brand and company culture should naturally feed through everything because that’s what makes it authentic. If you have to protect it or if you have to try too hard, something is misaligned. It should be there naturally because you’ve enabled it to develop over time. It’s also critical that the external employer brand matches the internal one. That’s what I mean by being authentic. What you’re saying externally shouldn’t be too hard because it’s what you’re living internally; it’s genuine.’
Do you have any advice for someone hoping to step up to HRD?
Learn from things that didn’t go as expected and focus on continually developing your technical, business and leadership skills. Consider what the skills and attributes are of a great HRD and identify any gaps in your own experience and proactively seeks ways to gain those skills.
‘It’s important to know your topic, no matter what role you’re in. Make sure that in every step you’re building credibility and that you’re delivering value add people initiatives and ideas. You should also be actively listening to what the business needs at that point in time, and thinking about the future. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Some of the best ideas come from stepping out of your comfort zone.’
Hannah has been HR Director at Alamy since July 2018 and leads the HR function.
If you would like to have a confidential conversation about your career or would like to understand how Human can support you in growing your team, please get in touch today.