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The changing face of HR

Why people are your greatest assest

The changing face of HR

Twenty years ago working in what was then called
Personnel might have involved administering payroll
and employee benefit schemes, and occasionally
planning company outings. Today human resources
professionals are more likely to be strategic partners
to their commercial colleagues, tasked with leveraging
human capital throughout the business.
Leadership programmes, talent management, career
development, these are the most important and
fundamental parts of HR, according to Paul Stobart,
CEO for Sage UK and Ireland, because HR is not
about policies anymore, its about making the most of
your people.

Increasing HRs skill set

Changes in the nature and function of HR have meant
that there have been major changes in the skills
required of HR professionals. They now have to deal
not only with traditional issues such as employee
relations and pay and benefits, they also need to
focus on organisational development, employee well
being, and corporate social responsibility. In addition
they also need highly developed strategic, financial,
analytical, and technical skills.
A true business partner
Sages Head of HR, Leisa Docherty, has seen many
changes in her time in HR. Ive worked in HR for
nearly twenty years, she explains. It used to be all
about administration, and there was a sense that
it could be rather confrontational. If someone was
unhappy with their manager they would be off to see
the personnel manager, who was there to protect
them from their employer and offer a shoulder to cry

According to Leisa the main changes in HR are

twofold. In the last 18 months the economic
downturn has meant that HR has had to be very
responsive and act quickly. Our role is to support the
commercial side of the business so we have had to
become more tactical. And, partly as a result of this,
HRs role has changed to that of true partner in the
Strategic decision making
At Sage the HR team are embedded in the business,
sitting on the leadership team and playing a key role
in commercial discussions. The value of people has
finally been recognised throughout the business,
explains Leisa, We now have a quarterly People
Matters session at board level, she says, at
which anything and everything to do with people is
discussed. When I started my career that would have
been very unlikely to happen.
The HR team is involved at the highest level in
discussions about strategy, markets and the direction
the business is taking. In increasingly competitive
markets with growing customer demands, there is
a growing realisation that people sit at the heart of
business success. At Sage we are committed to
creating an extraordinary customer experience and
that can only be delivered by our people whether
they are developing products, managing systems, or
dealing directly with customers, explains Leisa. This
means that it is essential to attract and retain talented
people, and ensure their experience of work is a
positive one.

Driving and managing change

In an ever changing business environment changes
that affect the work force need to be managed if
people are to perform to their optimum capability. We
work closely with the commercial divisions on their
strategy. says Leisa, So if a manager wants to create
a more flexible approach to handling customer calls
for example, we will work with them to achieve this.
We help to deal with the people issues associated
with work and organisational change so that we can
achieve the best result for both the business and the
A consultative role
This approach reflects the increasingly consultative
role of HR. As companies de-layer and decentralise,
the responsibility for managing all sorts of people
issues has been devolved such that line managers
have to deal with many people based issues, as HR
moves away from responsibility for every the day
to day interaction and takes a more strategic role.
HR ultimately has responsibility for developing best
practice in the recruitment and retention of the people
Sage needs to support its vision. according to Leisa,
Leaders in the business therefore come to my team
to discuss what they want to achieve, what this means
in terms of HR, and then well talk the situation through
and suggest ideas about how to move forward. The
role of HR is therefore one that supports, challenges,
and facilitates business strategy, Its very much a two
way discussion, says Leisa.

Managing talent
The HR team at Sage are heavily involved in many
different programmes and initiatives across Sage. A
primary focus is the need to get the right people into
the right jobs, explains Leisa, we have to ensure that
we can attract, reward and develop talent, so in HR
we have a core strategic role to play, understanding
the capabilities of the talent already in the business
and meeting the businesss future needs. This focus
is reflected in Sages investment in talent management
in order to both develop talent from within while also
attracting new talent, in a market in which there is
enormous competition for the brightest and the best

Engaging employees
HR is also very involved in employee engagement
initiatives, reflecting the extension of its remit far
beyond pay, rewards and policies. Engagement is
all about aligning corporate values with employee
ethics, so as the focus in HR moves more and more
towards the management of human capital, fostering
engagement is vital to our ability to retain talented
employees and create a more positive corporate
image, which leads to a healthy, competitive and
effective organisation. says Leisa.

Creating an environment in which people achieve their

optimum potential, with its focus on the relationship
between employer and employee, needs to be
championed at board level. HR uses metrics from the
Engage people survey to reinforce its importance to
performance, staff retention, and health and wellbeing.
The results of Engage show us how our initiatives
are affecting how people feel about the company
and their working environment. Its very important
to us that people enjoy working at Sage, because
then, hopefully, they will stay and build their careers
here. according to Leisa. While its not possible to
mandate engagement, HR takes the role of facilitator,
supporting the needs of the organisation and providing
the tools and resources it needs.
Changing behaviour
Another area in which HR has a major impact is that
of behaviour change. HR involves looking at the
kind of behaviours the company wants its people to
exhibit and how this can be facilitated, explains Leisa.
This is of particular relevance in the area of corporate
social responsibility, or CSR. For many CSR is a public
relations issue, which means that responsibility for
this highly strategic function sits within the marketing
department. But the kind of CSR that makes a real
difference requires behavioural change throughout the
whole organisation, which means that it is primarily an
issue for HR. We realise that CSR is all about people,
so it sits within HR, explains Leigh Thompson,
Sages Corporate Social Responsibility Consultant.
We want to enrich our peoples experience at work,
and for them to feel proud of our brand, and being a
responsible business is vital to achieving that goal.

Facilitating innovation
The importance of encouraging behaviours that will
drive the organisation forward comes to the fore
when considering innovation, a core value at Sage,
and fundamental to the companys current and future
success. According to Ian Clarke, Research and
Development Director for UK and Ireland, innovation
is an evolutionary process. HRs role is to ensure
that we have an open, free, and empowered culture
and that we recruit, retain and nurture talent in the
organisation, he says, If there was too much form
filling, or we made the process too cumbersome
people would be less likely to come forward with their
And the HR team itself are also part of the Sage
innovation culture. HR has recently introduced its own
innovative online system to enable staff to customise
their benefits package via a self-service website.
explains Ian.

Developing leaders
The HR team is also very involved in the development
of leaders at Sage. People dont leave companies,
according to Leisa, they leave managers. This means
its very important that we develop a leadership
standard that everyone adheres to and which
supports the needs of our people and the goals of our
organisation. Sage believes that people are looking
for leaders who inspire, coach and develop them. We
have developed the Sage Leadership Standard, or
SLS, that all our current and future leaders go through.
It comprises much of what is traditionally associated
with HR including performance reviews, career
development and 360 feedback, but it also goes
much further.
There are six elements to the SLS which everyone
needs to buy into, explains Jayne Archbold,
Managing Director for Sage Accountants Division, and
someone with personal experience of the SLS. We
want all our leaders to be passionate, accountable,
collaborative and enterprising. They should bring
Sages values to life, creating the conditions for others
to succeed, but how they do this will differ across the
business. We are not trying to create clones, people
must play to their own strengths.

Measuring success
Another major change Leisa has seen is in the
measurements applied to HR. Paul Stobart believes
that HR directors should be incentivised and
remunerated on commercial factors that affect the
success of the business, as Leisa explains. Our
success is measured on a variety things, and were
starting to introduce more commercial factors into
the way we measure how were adding value. This
greater focus on the commercial aspects is also
reflected in the make up of the HR team, which
is increasingly includes people who have a mix of
commercial and HR experience. We look for the best
people first and qualifications second, says Leisa. I
have enormous respect for CiPD, Leisa continues,
they offer excellent research and their articles and
website are very good, but we dont consider CiPD
qualifications essential for a job in HR.

A change of name?
This approach very much reflects the views of Paul
Stobart, who believes that the very term HR may
come under pressure in the future. HR still sounds to
many people as if its about process, administration,
policy, discipline and rigour. Of course this is still
an important element of the job according to Paul
but, he continues increasingly the more important
part of the job revolves around making the most of
ones people, giving them the best opportunities to
succeed. I wouldnt be surprised if the HR directors of
the future are pulled from all aspects of the business
because their job really is to harness, nurture, develop,
and support the most important asset that most
businesses have, their people.
Paul also endorses the increasing importance of
commercial metrics on HR. I think all HR directors
should be incentivised and remunerated on the
commercial factors as well as on how well they do the
job of process and policy. The HR Director at Sage
is absolutely accountable, along with the rest of the
executive team, to deliver on Sage UK and Irelands
numbers and I know she feels that deeply and

Sage (UK) Limited


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01993 709 300

Registered in England No. 1045967 and with its

registered office at North Park, Newcastle upon Tyne NE13 9AA
Sage (UK) Limited 2009 01/10

Ongoing change
Despite all the changes that have taken place in
HR to date, Leisa thinks there is still much more to
come. We are always looking to see what other
organisations are doing, and we are focused on
finding innovative ways to ensure we are the very best
employer we can be. After all, Sage is only ever going
to be as good as the people that work for it, so we
need to make sure we get the very best out of our