Business driven HR - interview with Melanie Osborne

Written by
Changeboard Team

21 Jan 2011

21 Jan 2011 • by Changeboard Team

How did you get to where you are now

While studying for a BTEC qualification after leaving school, my interest in HR was ignited. My first HR job was a maternity cover for an NHS Trust, which gave me a good insight into public sector operations and enabled me to progress to a permanent role in a US owned company, where I was responsible for setting up the UK HR function. This opportunity so early in my career posed a steep learning curve, but the experience gained in establishing and communicating policies and procedures still comes in useful in my role today. I then went on to work in the exciting communications sector for a total of 9 years, firstly at Energis Communications and then at Vodafone. 

The sector is particularly forward thinking and my time at Vodafone was particularly rewarding as the HR model there gave me an opportunity to work as HR business partner and then employee relations consultant and recognition and policy consultant. After having my son three years ago, I decided to reduce my commute and moved to my current role as HR manager for the ELT Division at OUP. 

What are your current responsibilities

As HR manager for the English Language Teaching (ELT) division of Oxford University Press (OUP), I am responsible for providing a full generalist HR service to 350 UK staff and an HR Advisory service to around 500 overseas staff in approximately 40 representative offices.

In addition, I manage the overseas pay review process administer the overseas salary and benefits schemes as well as managing all UK HR processes for the ELT division e.g. appraisal, pay review.

About your company

Oxford University Press (OUP) is a department of the University of Oxford employing over 5,000 staff in over 50 countries. It furthers the university’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. OUP Publishes over 6,000 new titles a year and is particularly famous for its dictionary and reference works. The Oxford English Dictionary is among its key titles.

OUP’s two main publishing centres are in Oxford, where around 1,500 staff are based, and New York. It also has publishing branches in Spain, Canada, Australia, India, Southern Africa, Pakistan, East Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Mexico and Tanzania. The English Language Teaching Division has its own extensive network of offices, covering over 40 countries.

Why is HR a critical business function

HR is a business enabler. The function should be a key part of any business decision. Too often, business decisions are made and then the HR team are berated for being a blocker to getting things done. If HR are part of the decision making team, then we can advise on the key HR issues up front in the same way that the finance expert will advise on the financial considerations.

HR in the boardroom

What value does HR bring to the boardroom?
The people perspective. It sounds like a cliché, but this seems to be lost in some business decisions.

What should the CEO expect their HR director to deliver on?
Maximising the effectiveness of the organisation, through appropriate people strategies, be they recruitment, development, exit strategies, the HR director is responsible for enabling the success of the organisation through its people strategy.

What types of questions should the HR director not be afraid to ask?
What is the 3/5 year plan for the business.

How do you develop your people

In today's rapidly changing publishing environment our competitive advantage relies on the skill,
knowledge, and adaptability of our employees. We invest in a broad range of training and
development programmes, widely regarded as among the best in the industry. We offer
in-house courses and learning resources covering leadership and management, business and IT skills, and personal development.

Learning from colleagues is also important and initiatives such as our successful mentoring scheme enable us to network and share expertise. You can access advice on how to plan your learning, and our well-established appraisal system allows you to discuss your performance and development with your manager on a regular basis.

How do you manage your talent?

• How do you fill your talent pipeline that runs into the business?
Our recruitment website was created and launched approximately one year ago, and we are able to source candidates almost exclusively through this now. We still use recruitment agencies when necessary and we have a PSL in place for this.

• What recruitment strategies do you have in place to build future talent pools?
In addition to our website, we have an intern scheme, which has a high level of applicants each year.

• How do you sell your organisation as a great place to work to attract talented people
OUP has a strong presence on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

• Why should future talent come and work for you instead of your competitor

Maybe some quotes from our employees would help here:

“Soon after I joined OUP I had a series of meetings with a prospective author who quite unprompted told me that OUP would be his ‘desert island publisher’. On the BBC Radio programme you can only take one book (in addition to the Bible and the works of Shakespeare) so this may have been overstepping the guidelines. But the accolade was clear: the collected output of the press was a richer and more important treasure trove than that of any other publisher – accumulated over many years, built and sustained by many brains and hands.”
Academic, UK

“I have worked for other ELT companies and know first-hand that OUP has an exceptional internal culture that promotes focus on excellence and getting it right for the teachers we are privileged to serve. This is an ethic that many, many OUP colleagues believe in deeply. One feels this inside OUP, and teachers feel it, too.”

“People have such trust in the Press. I once met a teacher who travelled by train for more than ten hours to come to a seminar from the village where he taught in China. Just imagine how you would feel having to sit in an overcrowded compartment with no air conditioning on a hot summer day. But the teacher said it was no big deal because he was attending a seminar held by OUP, a publisher that helps teachers to teach and students to learn proper English.”
ELT, OUP China

“One of the most motivating things that I feel about working for OUP is the passion and enthusiasm that comes from the top down.”
Oxford Education, UK

“I had no master plan to end up working at OUP, but I really wanted to work at a place where there was a synergy between my values and those of the company – where I could believe in the end product and feel that it added real value to the people that bought it. I think OUP
comes up pretty well on that score.”
Group IT

“OUP has given me some amazing experiences. I’ve met Nobel Prize winners. I’ve had meetings with some of the most important scholars of our time, people who have made the world see fields from cancer research to opera in an entirely new way. I’m proud to be a part of all of it, but it is when I realize how much I get to learn in my job and the relevance of what we are publishing in the academic world and beyond, that I feel the real excitement of working for OUP.“
Oxford Journals

Overcoming HR challenges

How do you overcome challenges of meeting expectations of a multi-generational workforce?

Our Dignity at Work policy goes beyond the requirements of the Equality Act and reinforces OUP as a respectful organisation where employees are given the opportunity to do what they are best at every day. All managers were recently required to attend a 'Managing with Respect' workshop, which reinforced the message and all staff will attend similar sessions over the coming months. 

What is your next big HR project

We are looking into transferring our well established appraisal process on-line. Having met with a number of suppliers, we know that the technical prospects for this are amazing but we need to balance the requirements of the business and so we will replicate the paper version online for now with a view to developing this further in future years.

Whats the future of HR

The future of HR is increasingly automated, unfortunately. The face-to-face element of HR is dwindling, which is a shame. As HR manager, I hope that the future of my role successfully incorporates a business partner and face-to-face HR expert service to the people I support.