Tell us about the work you do at Tailored HR Solutions?
I’ve got an unusual work life in that I work for myself, the Australian National University and I’m completing my PhD at the University of NSW. I’m answerable only to myself, which is really important to me. I started Tailored HR Solutions back in the late 1990s after I left Deloitte. I’ve always been in the HR field – that’s my passion. I’ve been on the consulting side since 1991, so I have plenty of experience looking at the role of HR. People are the organisation, so as an HR practitioner you have to get across so much stuff, from balance sheets, critical capabilities and productivity through to workplace safety. These days, I’m based in Canberra and I’ve consulted to a lot of government clients, including the Australian Public Service Commission, the Australian Federal Police and currently the Department of Health. It’s important that I understand what the real issue is, to make sure we’re solving the problem rather than wallpapering over a bigger issue. I have to be very analytical in my work, which can be challenging because I feel a lot, but I have to be a critical thinker in order to balance people and organisation outcomes. I have to draw on evidence and be clear about what I’m doing and why. I like having a lot on my plate – I enjoy the diversity of what I do.
What does your PhD entail and how does it influence your work?
I began by looking at how we can develop the capabilities of HR practitioners, as there are so many HR competency/capability frameworks out there. But I’ve turned that around and I’m now asking the question: can ‘just anyone’ do HR? There seems to be a perception that anyone can, and I think that relates back to the fact that we aren’t a profession that genuinely measures, nor communicates our successes. That’s why it’s so critical that AHRI is pushing for professional standards. If I want a learning and development person, I want them to be professionalised. There are too many people who found themselves in HR because they know how to process a leave form. There’s a body of knowledge that underpins the profession, and it’s important that those standards are upheld.
How has HR changed over the past 20 years?
The biggest change has been the context in which we work – we don’t live in a homogenised world, and just because an organisation has an HR policy doesn’t mean it applies to the whole organisation. It needs differentiation because parts of the organisation exist to deliver different outcomes. The challenge now is working out how to attract and retain the best talent across generations, genders and other diversity groups. When I was working with Deloitte in Sydney in the 1990s, our clients were largely Japanese organisations, and that was a very different world. I’d rarely see the client because I was a woman, so I’d do the work behind the scenes and then one of the male partners would present it. In my life, that’s one of the biggest learnings I’ve had: you have to park your ego at the door.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received, and what would you tell your MBA students?
First, know yourself – what makes you tick? What are you passionate about? What do you believe in? If you end up in a business were those values don’t align, you won’t succeed. My life hasn’t turned out how I planned, but I’ve had great jobs because I stuck with a career I was really passionate about.