“Make sure that you’re always thinking about the future and fostering good coaching and mentoring relationships so you’re prepared when the right opportunities come up.” – Lindsay Beresford, HR Director at Royal Mail, speaks to us about developing a career in HR Leadership.
As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited some HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.
This week, we had a great conversation with Lindsay Beresford at Royal Mail, who began her career as an Operations Manager (later as a Mail Centre Manager) before moving into HR Business Partnering. She became Head of HR for Logistics Operations, and later led the deployment of a Management Reorganisation Programme. She took on a number of HR Programmes from 2015-2018 before becoming Head of Employee Experience, followed by assuming her current role as HR Director for Operations in March 2019.
Can you tell us how you got into HR and why?
My HR career was really a combination of something that I planned to but an opportunity that came up by chance. I started in Operational Management, and whilst I enjoyed managing big teams, I definitely took more to the engagement side of the role. I really enjoyed talking to my team about how we could make things better, and I was increasingly finding myself gravitating towards doing activities with my management team on leadership and engagement. That led out into a number of other activities surrounding maximising the skills of other people and how they could progress those skills.
I didn’t immediately make the link between that and needing to go and work in HR, but there were a couple of pretty inspirational HR Business Partners working with our team at that point, and during career discussions with my line manager, we started to join the dots.
An HR Business Partner role came up in the Logistics part of our organisation, which worked really well with my history in Operations. They didn’t so much want people with a lot of HR experience as those who understood how what HR were trying to do transpired in the actual operational line.
I absolutely loved it. We were able to make some really significant changes, and we undertook a big review of our whole network, which I did alongside the day-to-day business partnering activity. I found having organisational experience before I moved into HR really worked well for me, and helped from a credibility perspective. I think I’ve just been hooked ever since, really. I found that I really buzz off of being the HR voice in a team and keeping the People agenda at the forefront.
Once I realised that was the place I wanted to stay in, I did my Master’s, and during that I really enjoyed working with people from other organisations. Having only worked in one organisation, I’m always conscious of how much time I spend trying to keep up to date with what’s happening in the HR world. Since then, I’ve just tried to move across the HR sector and do a number of different things to broaden my CV.
Can you tell me about the challenges that you’re seeing across the HR sector?
As an organisation, Royal Mail are always investing in and reinventing ourselves to keep pace with the competition. The parcels market is growing, but it’s also very competitive and some of our competitors have very different labour models to ours, so a challenge for us is the balance between wanting to provide good-quality jobs and keeping pace in a really high-pressure sector.
We do that by trying to play really heavily on our brand. Our employee value proposition is that we offer the best-quality product and the best-quality people. We work really hard to make sure that everyone knows that this is a commercial organisation but we try to keep a link to our traditional roots.
HR always used to be about making sure you had a seat at the table, but that’s never really been a major issue in our organisation, which is really great from one perspective, but at the same time our biggest challenge is making sure that our frontline managers feel like they have the power and ownership in certain elements, and they don’t rely on an HR function to come in and fix everything for them.
I think there needs to be a balance between having credibility and being able to show that you’re experts in your support functions but not doing the doing. I have a big team of Business Partners who are mostly doing that Operational HR work, and I think treading that line is a big challenge for us.
Being in the digital era, I think everyone is trying to work out how to make the best use of technology, and we’re no different, but creating digital relationship with people who are out delivering post can be quite challenging, especially when trying to attract the younger generations and improve employee engagement.
What career advice would you offer to someone either working towards a career like yours, or someone just getting started in their HR career?
Work smart not just hard. So many people fail to prioritize what’s going to have the biggest impact on their lives. You should identify the key metrics that you’re trying to drive and what success looks like for you on different horizons, whether that’s a week, a year, or five years. Once you’re there, you need to try and remain focused on those and what you do to get to them. There’ll always be another person you can help or another thing that you can get involved in, and it’s all valuable work, but you’ve got to be focused on what’s going to make the biggest difference.
When I started, I thought I’d have a management career, but I started to feel like my drive and resilience was being tested but my brain wanted to explore new things, so I decided to move across to HR, and the roles since then have always been what I wanted to do. I think that for me, it’s never been about making the next move up, but getting a breadth of experience.
Make sure that you’re always thinking about the future and fostering good coaching and mentoring relationships so you’re prepared when the right opportunities do come up. I’m a good example of opportunities arising by luck, but for that to happen you have to be ready for them.
Lindsay has been working as HR Director for Operations since March 2019, and oversees Operations HR for Royal Mail across Northern England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and North Wales.
If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.