HR · 20 April 2018

Home Office HR chief on human relationships, technology and the gender pay gap

Home Office HR
Why is the people agenda so important in 2018?

Whoever said HR doesn’t deserve a seat at the top table? At a meeting of some of the UK’s leading HR gurus, Business Advice found out the key issues facing employers and HR professionals in 2018. This is what Paula Leach, chief people officer at the Home Office, had to say about the people agenda.

Leach spoke on her role as the Home Office HR chief and the culture instilled there, before touching on the impact of technology on human workplace relationships, the gender pay gap and advising employers on how to build an effective HR team.

Home Office HR culture

We have been doing research in the Home Office about wellbeing, and we have a new phrase that we are using: “It’s not all about pilates and fruit”. As great as they may be – and it’s lovely to show that we are caring – the research evidence from the Institute of Employee Studies is that when you look at the indicators of wellbeing in a business, those things aren’t actually what make a difference. The things that make a difference are about leadership.

Although the public sector can sometimes feel different in many ways to the private sector, we have pockets of entrepreneurship as any other large business does. I think there is a rise of importance in both for the people agenda and I think that’s the case for a few reasons.

Human relationships and technology

There is very much a shift at the moment in the environment around relationships, and how do you get the most out of people in an environment when technology is the big discussion.

We are all talking about tech but you don’t get away from the fact humans have to interact with that tech, and the differentiating factors around it.

Actually, things don’t change. As we see in our research, its coming back to people. We all get technology, but when you’ve got technology the thing that feels amazing is human interaction. What we realise is tech won’t replace relationships. Relationships are more important to the effect of human system. People will always be important to organisations.

Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap issue is not going away. No one has got it easy [in the public sector] now all eyes on us as to what we do and what actions we’re taking. That’s core to the people agenda. If you don’t get to the core of how you’re solving these problems right up front in strategy, you can’t solve them down the stream. It’s the cause of some of these problems that are very systemic in organisations, and again gender is just an example. I think collectively these things are probably the factors which is causing the rise of the people agenda.

If we as HR professionals don’t step forward with more confidence into these conversations, and putting some of the agenda onto these CEOS and boards who have been irresponsible, then shame on us because someone else will fill that space.

Whilst I find this sobering in some respects, I also find it as a duty for us to find the business rationales and find the discussions to get into the conversations.

So, what is our role then? At the end of the day we need to make sure we know the language of business. So increasingly, thinking about how we gather together the stories and data which help us tell the story that provides the insight to the organisation, which helps them figure out the decisions they can take to find out what works and what helps them achieve the outcomes they need to achieve.

Building an HR team

Make sure you’ve got the best team around you. The best HR teams aren’t full of HR professionals. The best HR teams have fantastic programme managers, fantastic analysts, great IT specialists and great comms people in it.

The world of the people agenda is not clean and we cannot do it on our own, so I absolutely encourage us to network. Then show our network to our organisations. Then can we solve problems together.

If you have the best CEO in the world and you are working with a board who are interested in the people agenda, challenging them as a critical friend creates a curious environment in which the people agenda can flourish and be explored and looked at through the right lenses. I would really encourage us to take lead by demonstrating that vulnerability in ourselves as leaders. 

Paula Leach was speaking at “Whoever said HR doesn’t deserve a seat at the top table” event, hosted by Perkbox at The Brewery, East London

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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