The Engage HR Forum Interview: Lynn Barker, HR manager of Poole Housing Partnership

Lynn Barker is HR Manager at Poole Housing Partnership (PHP). Since joining in 2008, originally to look after recruitment and training, her previous experience and skills enabled her to quickly develop a comprehensive generalist service and she now supports the business right across the HR spectrum.

 

How did you initially get into HR, and what aspects of the job do you particularly enjoy?

“I started my HR career at United Advertising Publications in Poole. Having worked in a couple of other roles within the company, including managing the IT Training Department, I moved to HR in late 2004. At that time there were only 2 HR Advisors for 800 employees at offices all over the country, so you could certainly say I was thrown in at the deep end, but I loved the role and the variety of work I was involved in.

“It didn’t take long before I knew that HR was the career for me and I think I took to it naturally.  I particularly enjoyed organisational development and employee engagement, which became two areas of particular interest for me.

“As part of the leadership team at PHP I’m involved at a strategic level and I have a great relationship with the senior management team who are always open to new ideas. I certainly feel I have ensured that HR is seen as a vital function within the business.”

 

Do you hold any professional qualifications and if so, do you feel that has helped you advance in your career?

“I really enjoyed studying for my Masters part time at Bournemouth University’s Business School, which I started in 2009, followed by two years of hard work while also working full time (I’m sure a lot of people know the feeling!). On the back of that I became a Chartered Member of the CIPD. The qualification and CIPD accreditation is valued within our industry and I gained skills and knowledge that have certainly helped me to develop my career, but I also know some fantastic HR people who are not professionally qualified, so it’s not the ‘be-all and end-all’. I took on the Masters as a personal challenge as much as anything and I also gained some great friends.”

 

 

What do you find particularly useful and inspiring when it comes to networking?

“Being a standalone HR manager can leave you a little isolated if you’re not careful, and although you can do the job without networking, why would you?  When attending The Engage Forum I always come away with something really useful, such as a good contact, some valuable information or a great idea that I can pinch (giving credit where it’s due of course!).  It’s also really nice to be able to share experiences, problems and questions with others in your field at events. As well as networking, I also attend as many employment forums and seminars as I can fit in, as these are a terrific way of staying current.”

 

What makes the Engage HR Forum stand out from others, in your opinion?

“I think it’s fantastic.  It stands out as it’s very different to other forums in that it is not like a training session and instead very much focuses on inspiring people.  I’ve found that at the Engage Forum, everything is relevant and I never fail to come away buzzing with ideas!  You can tell from the atmosphere in the room that everyone is engaged and inspired.  I thoroughly recommend it.”

 

Has there been a particular Forum which stands out for you?

“The presentation by Niall Cluley, global HR director of Fitness First, was immensely interesting and entertaining and I could really relate to what he had to say, particularly about looking at organisational and personal values and how they align.  Although his organisation is much larger than mine, his ideas were scalable and I’ve already been able to implement similar initiatives at Poole Housing Partnership. For example, we have involved the entire company in redeveloping our values and we are promoting our new model, designed by our employees, even displaying it on the back of the toilet doors!”

 

Niall Cluley’s presentation at the HR Forum was of particular interest to Lynn.

 

 

Are there any challenges you think HR will face in 2017?

 “Absolutely.  Recruitment is becoming increasingly challenging and the effects of Brexit may start to come in to play in the not-too-distant future, if they’re not already. Not so long ago we were inundated with applicants but currently we are seeing far fewer high calibre candidates. We are an organisation that has always valued clever people, but for us that doesn’t necessarily mean academic achievement. We love motivation, enthusiasm, innovation and passion for the work we do. We can support people to gain qualifications and skills, as long as they have the PHP attitude. So, we try to open up our candidate pool by being as inclusive as possible, and perhaps attracting people who might not necessary have specific role or sector experience, but who have transferrable skills, and importantly, the right attitude.

 

 

“Another challenge is the ‘multi-generational’ workforce with many organisations having a mix of Generation X/Y and Millennials, with Generation Z hot on their heels. We need to attract good employees, keep them engaged, motivated, performing well and communicating effectively, bearing in mind that they may be motivated by different things and so want and need different things from their careers and their employers.

“Looking further ahead, as Gen Z comes to realise that these days a degree, previously seen as so important, doesn’t guarantee a job, it’s possible that graduate schemes may increasingly be replaced with apprenticeship-type schemes.”

 

Can you tell us a bit about your working relationship with Sally at Engage?

 “Sally really took her time to find out what Poole Housing Partnership was really about and built up a lot of loyalty, trust and respect by listening to our expectations and taking them seriously.  Above all, Sally and Engage were able to come up with the goods!  Every single candidate that Sally found for us was appointable, which is very rare.  Through Sally, we found our new FD who, as well as being excellent at her job, is an extremely good fit for the company.  Sally is both professional and personable, which makes the working relationship we have with Engage a very pleasant and productive one.”

 

The Engage HR Forum Interview: Dorothy Westerman, HR director, Aish Technologies, Poole

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I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Dorothy Westerman, HR Director of Aish Technologies Ltd based in Poole.  As a member of the Engage HR Forum we were keen to learn more about Dorothy’s role and, in particular, how she was able to put into practice some advice from Global HR director of Fitness First, Niall Cluley, after being inspired by his experience during his presentation at the Engage Forum.

 

Having spent the majority of her career in the financial services industry, Dorothy decided in a change of direction and joined electro-mechanical engineering SME, Aish Technologies Ltd, in October 2011.  Over the past 5 years Aish has seen significant growth in the number of staff employed across the company; almost doubling from 130 to 250 employees.  This ‘people growth’ alone has meant the necessity of a clear HR strategy which would be key to the smooth running of the company’s HR department.

 

Dorothy explains: “Starting with a blank piece of paper I set up the human resource function for Aish, including process and procedures, personal development reviews, training plans and role progression.  I am now involved in working towards a new HR system which is on the agenda for 2017.”

 

Dorothy’s passion for people development is evident, and she has been actively involved in apprenticeship programmes during her time at Aish.  Apprenticeships have been offered in engineering, IT, business development, and HR.  This has brought with it its own challenges, as at the time apprenticeship frameworks were not available for the business development and HR roles.  However, Dorothy’s hard work is starting to pay dividends as she has seen employees qualifying through the Peter Jones academy and CIPD. Two years ago Aish was recognised for their apprenticeship programme when they received The Dorset Business Award for Apprenticeship Training 2013.

 

Aish is committed to working with its managers to help develop their leadership skills, and The Board is leading the way to review the company’s vision and values.  What is particularly satisfying to hear is that Dorothy was able to take away ideas on how to communicate Aish’s values to its employees from Niall Cluley’s recent HR Forum presentation.  Taking inspiration from Niall’s own experience, Aish asked its employees for suggestions on how to visualise their own vision and values, resulting in a very positive response.  Suggestions included; merchandising on the stairs and messages on coasters and posters.  This exercise in itself has been engaging and the best idea will be rewarded.  Employees at Aish have also been encouraged to think about how, if they changed their behaviour in-line with their new values, this will impact the bottom line.   It is satisfying to see a great example of HR integrating and helping to impact upon the success of the organisation.

 

Aish have also taken steps to ‘shout’ about how successful they are by entering a variety of awards, and are delighted to announce that they have won the Solent Business Award for Dynamic Growth, as well as being shortlisted for the DCCI Emerging Business Award in the ‘growth category.’

 

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The Engage HR Forums have become a very popular and respected breakfast forum over a very short space of time.  Attended by HR directors and leaders, the Engage HR Forums stand out from its contemporaries by its interactive nature and relaxed approach, whereby like-minded executives are able to discuss their issues and triumphs, boost their contacts and make high calibre connections with other HR executives.

 

Dorothy concluded: “I have found the Forum sessions very helpful, especially as the subjects have been relevant to what we have been experiencing at Aish. It has also been helpful to use the techniques discussed in one Forum on ‘building resilience’ in my own development, and shared with colleagues. I always try to take something of value from the sessions which I can apply in my day to day.”

The Engage HR Forum Interview: Maria Seabright, Greendale Construction Limited

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Maria Seabright is Finance & HR Director at Greendale Construction Limited; the Poole based chartered building company established in 1990 by Rob Hooker and Chris Kane, specialising in a wide spectrum of construction projects from luxury private houses, NHS, schools and colleges, to internal office refurbishments and commercial builds.  Amongst the company’s many acclaimed achievements is holding a Gold IIP award, and winning the FMB Chartered Builder of Year 2012 for its work renovating Durlston Castle in Swanage.

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Maria is a regular at the Engage HR Forums and has found the supportive and relaxed format something which makes the breakfast meetings highly enjoyable and something to look forward to.

“The speakers are always really inspiring and their presentations are consistently relevant to situations I have to manage on a regular basis.  I love the interaction and being able to candidly discuss HR topics in an open and friendly way with people at my table, and there’s always lots of laughs as well which is a bonus!”

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Maria joined Greendale on 1st October 1997 as an office administrator/receptionist, having previously left Poole High School in 1985 with, by her own admission, ‘a handful of very low grade CSEs.’  Over the next 19 years, Maria worked her way up within the Company, eventually being appointed to the Board of Directors on 1st January 2013.  Greendale now employs around 58 people and last year turned over £15 million.

As a successful woman in a very male dominated industry, and one who didn’t take a typically academic route in her career, I was fascinated to hear Maria’s story, and how her experiences have shaped the person she is today – in and out of the business environment.

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Maria, you’ve achieved so much, but, if you had your time again, what, if anything, would you do differently? And, with hindsight, is there anything you think you could have done better?

 “I went through some personal tragedy in my life when I lost my son, George in 2004, who was born prematurely.  Looking back, I felt that I couldn’t really be with him in hospital over the 6 months and 1 day he was in special care.  As much as I wanted to be with him during the end of his life, I felt guilty being away from work, and in such a male dominated company, I felt other people wouldn’t understand how I was feeling from a ‘mother’s point of view.’  When I look back I wonder how I did it; balancing work with visiting George in hospital and then going home to be a mum to my then 10 year old son, Jordan.

“I know I can’t change this now, but as I try to focus on the positive in life, I can see the experience made me grow as a person and has made me a better employer, as now, I always try and see personal issues any of my staff has from their point of view, and be sympathetic and understanding from that position.”

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Being a Finance/HR Director holds a lot of responsibility.   You’re responsible for keeping the Company financially fluid and also, the welfare of your employees and the smooth running of the company on a ‘people’ level. How do you deal with stress and have you achieved the all too often elusive work/life balance?

 

 “I go to the gym twice a week before work where I have a personal trainer, Marvin, who is amazing at keeping me motivated, which focuses my mind and in turn sets me up for the day.

“I also really enjoy spending time in my garden and renovating my home – a cottage we moved to in the countryside near Wareham in 2013.  I love to take our dog – a border collie called Lacey – for long walks in the countryside with my husband, Andrew.  I also enjoy cooking using vegetables we’ve grown in the garden, and I love to bake.  I think living in a house I love, surrounded by beautiful countryside really helps with the work/life balance, although inevitably, a stressful week at work still manages to creep home with me more often than not, so like most people, I’m still working on it!

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Only 1 in 10 Executive Directors in the UK are women and not only have you achieved a Board position, but you have done so in a male dominated industry.  What is your advice to women who are hoping to achieve the same?

 

 “You need to be prepared to stand your ground.  From a personal point of view, when I was appointed Director at Greendale, it was a massive step up from being a manager – in both responsibility and workload. I am the only female Director on a Board of 4 and the only senior ranking female in the company.  I think that women given executive and board positions have to prove themselves more than  men given the same role – particularly with the older male generation who might take exception to being answerable to a lady boss.

“I’d tell other women that it’s not going to be an easy ride, but you have a voice and you have to make sure that it’s heard above the other male directors.  I think a woman always looks at things differently and this has gone in my favour when dealing with delicate/tricky issues in the business.  Never exploit your sexuality as it just degrades you.  Get to where you want to get to on your own merits – through sheer hard work and determination.  Every problem has a solution – look outside the box and take time to make decisions, don’t fire from the hip.  Plan ahead.”

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As a South Coast employer, what are you concerns for the future talent/ employment/training/apprenticeships for the region?

 

“I am passionate about training for the future of the construction industry and this is something as a company we are very pro-active with. However, I have concerns that not all employers in this industry feel the same as Greendale, or are as committed to investing in training, as we are.

“At Greendale we actively encourage apprenticeships and work very closely with the local college and schools.  The construction industry is a place where, as long as you have passion and drive, you can have a successful career regardless of your academic ability.  Many years ago it was seen as the choice for those who were less academic, but the truth is, it’s an industry which needs those with talent and ability across a wide spectrum.  We have employees who have taken the career route through university to become QS/Contract Managers, and we have young people who have come to us straight out of school on an apprenticeship or training scheme and proved themselves to be highly talented and in demand within their chosen trade.

“I think that because I disliked school so much I like to really help students that are struggling and I want to encourage them and give them a chance.  I attend various events at schools and do lots of talks about the construction industry and the careers that are available within it.

“When I left school I was told by teachers and also by my parents that I would never make anything of my life.  These words have stayed with me throughout my whole career, and been the driving force pushing me on. Today, I can say I am exceptionally proud of what I have achieved.  I know that I am very lucky in the fact that I joined a great local company that has grown over the 19 years that I have worked for them – enabling me to grow in terms of my career.  I know that I wouldn’t have got to where I am today if I wasn’t at Greendale’s.  Although I have been able to forge a successful career without great academic qualifications, when talking to students I try to get across the importance of working hard at school and striving to get the best you can achieve as it’s a different world today than it was 20 years’ ago.

“All in all, I love what I do and I love the company I work for…..99% of the time!”

 

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