Justine Cooper (FCPHR), business coach and consultant, explains why she took up the reciprocal arrangement between AHRI and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
You’re a business coach and cultural change consultant for multinationals. In the United Kingdom you’ve been an HR director at Barclays Bank and worked in senior recruitment at Harrods. Why did you become interested in the partnership between AHRI and the CIPD, where CIPD members are eligible for AHRI professional membership and vice-versa?
This year is my 20th as a CIPD member and I’ve been a fellow for more than 10 years. The CIPD has been a tremendous platform throughout my career. In the earlier years it provided me with formal development across the broad spectrum of specialist disciplines, knowledge and awareness which have proven critical to me as a generalist. It has enabled me to ‘sharpen my saw’ (as Stephen R. Covey put it in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and continue my peer learning after my formal CIPD qualifications. Storytelling is very powerful in my role, to influence and coach leaders, and it’s important that I’m on top of best practices.
I thrive off productive networking, and I was thrilled when I read about the reciprocal arrangement just as our family was planning its relocation to Australia. AHRI is the professional membership organisation for HR professionals in Australia, and joining as a fellow, I’ve been able to credibly translate my skills and experience across the seas.
Since joining AHRI, I’ve attended the national convention, engaged with special-interest NSW networks, attended networking events in Sydney and had the great pleasure of mentoring two members through the AHRI mentoring program.
What are the biggest challenges in your current role?
My biggest challenge is also my greatest opportunity – supporting Westpac as it continues in differentiating itself in the Australian banking industry. Our success to date has been our ability to embrace and lead our people through change. For me, it was critical to identify the key initiatives and channels to continue to drive improvements quickly and effectively for our customers and colleagues.
As with any new role, information overload is a real challenge. To ensure we’re adjusting as we need to while retaining our alignment, I create opportunities for reflection for myself and my colleagues as part of our operating rhythm. This also helps to create learning environments within teams.
While change is business as usual for organisations today, I recognise that different people react to change differently. In my role, creating multiple pilots has enabled people to adopt change quickly and naturally become champions of continuous improvement.
How do the HR challenges differ between Australia and the UK?
Legislative differences aside, the principles around the employee framework are consistent. As an HR practitioner working in financial services in London, the global financial crisis shifted my strategic and operational focus overnight. The situation I’m in now is very different from the cost-cutting restructures at European banks.
This is a very exciting time for the Australian financial services industry. Westpac has posted another year of continued growth, providing us with opportunities to invest in our business and our people.
What major HR trends are on the horizon?
The pace of competition from where we least expect it is driving a relentless demand to innovate. Who would have imagined when I first entered the workforce that supermarkets would be consumer finance players? Our ability to create environments for entrepreneurial skills and innovation to flourish will be critical.
I can also see increasing demand for more ethical ways to manage, along with continued pressure from increased legislation and regulators.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt during your career in HR?
I started at Harrods, operating within the tight profit margins of retail, where it was critical that every employee understood the commercials of the business. Gaining transparency around the financials and business model is a discipline that has remained with me. I’m a big believer that HR needs to work closely with finance to diagnose the core levers to deliver a step-change in performance.
Harrods also taught me the benefit of customer connectivity. Every six months everyone in the company spent the first four days of the seasonal sales working on the retail floor, selling to customers. If I’m to attract, develop, reward and promote the best talent, I have to have an in-depth understanding of the job roles, responsibilities and customer needs.
I’ve specialised in leading change and know that the design principle for any change initiative must focus on the benefits for the customer. Customer advocacy drives employee engagement, which drives sustainable growth. Great leaders get this intuitively and research has proven the chain. In my experience, there can be conflicts in establishing and executing according to this principle, but remaining true to it is critical for sustainable success.
A people manager has the most influence in establishing a supportive local culture and creating true engagement in aligning individual contribution to organisational strategy. It is our role in HR to lead by example in demonstrating that leadership is a behaviour within everyone and not a job title. Providing a clear language around these behaviours shouldn’t be underestimated.
If an Australian HR professional was keen on working in the UK, what three tips would you give them?
Firstly, I’d promote the AHRI-CIPD reciprocal agreement to help build a network and knowledge.
Secondly, as I’d highly recommend for anyone working in a new environment: find yourself a mentor. Be very clear about your own talents and strengths, and how you can differentiate yourself. Build understanding of the different economic challenges and how this has shaped the reactions of leaders and HR.
Thirdly, as the UK is a member of the European Union, I’d encourage taking the opportunity to learn about the myriad differences in culture, economics and legislation across Europe. I’ve had the opportunity to study, work and live in continental Europe several times and it has given me not only a new language, but also a cultural sensitivity and adaptability to draw on.
To find out more about the CIPD/AHRI reciprocal arrangement, visit the AHRI website.