HR impact at AMS - David Heath, global director of HR

Written by
Changeboard Team

18 Mar 2011

18 Mar 2011 • by Changeboard Team

How did you get into HR

My route into the HR industry was certainly not a traditional one. I left college after completing an economics and politics degree, and initially planned to go into the police. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so for medical reasons, so ended up working in the civil service where I performed several different roles for about five years. Having looked at a HR qualification as a possible alternative to the police after college, I decided this was the right time to revisit that possibility, so enrolled on a part-time night course at Wigan Technical College, where I studied two nights a week for three years.

From there, I was able to secure a HR role in industrial relations in the civil service where I specialised in change management, before making the move to IBM where I remained for ten years, working in, and leading commercial HR teams before becoming HR director for IBM UK, Ireland and South Africa.

Today, I am at Alexander Mann Solutions where I lead our solutions for clients across the Technology, Telecoms and Healthcare Sectors as well as keeping my HR experience up-to-date in my global HR role.  

Background on AMS

Alexander Mann Solutions (AMS) builds world-class talent and resourcing capability for organisations and is the recognised global leader in Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO).

Alexander Mann Solutions is a trusted advisor that delivers its services through innovative outsourcing and consulting services that include permanent, contingent, internal mobility, graduate and talent resourcing programmes. Alexander Mann Solutions was founded in 1996 by Rosaleen Blair, the Veuve Clicquot 2007 Business Woman of the Year.

Some fast facts on AMS:

  • Established in 1996 by Rosaleen Blair who is still CEO
  • Their services span the entire employee lifecycle
  • They deliver global service, operational excellence and strategic insight
  • They have more than 1,000 people delivering services for clients in over 60 countries
  • AMS never sleeps – they’re active in every timezone
  • They speak over 30 languages
  • In 2008, they recruited over 50,000 permanent hires and made 205,000 contingent transactions on behalf of clients
  • They have proven capability in delivering services to every continent (apart from Antarctica)
  • Acknowledged as the global leader in RPO

What value does HR bring to the boardroom

In terms of what HR should bring to the boardroom, I think there are three main points to address.

Firstly, HR should be the catalyst for change within any business. It’s HR’s role to drive changes and any big ideas from board level downwards, particularly when these relate to changing people’s behavior. In my opinion, HR should be at the heart of any cultural or organisational change within a business. Unfortunately, in many boardrooms HR is still seen as an administrative function rather than something that should have a say in realising the future of a business.

Secondly, and although it may not be very popular to say this anymore, I still think that HR has a role to play as the conscience of an organisation and as the custodian of a business’s values. HR practitioners should be ensuring that decisions made in the boardroom are in line with the overall values of the organisation. In organisations where this doesn’t happen, we have seen the impact over the past few years.

Lastly, I think HR should bring ideas and creativity to the boardroom on how to evolve an organisation into a working eco system. If that all important interaction between a business and its people is to be realised, it’s vital that people come to work understanding where they belong, the part they play in delivering an organisation’s vision, how they will be rewarded and how they will be led. HR plays a pivotal role in putting a framework in place that will optimise the key assets of the organisation.

If HR is going to bring true value to the boardroom, the function must work hard to be seen as critical to the strategy of the business rather than just a function that is consulted once a decision has been made. There is also a job for the HR function to ensure that it doesn’t allow itself to become solely focused on transactional processes, but involves itself in driving strategy and change with the board.

How has the economic climate changed the rules

The economic climate has definitely made us realise that we are operating within a global economy, and has made the interaction between different geographies much more transparent than it ever was before. It’s also really helped organisations to realise that there is a global talent pool out there, and that they are not just operating within their own town, city or country.

Also, the fact that the economic climate has become more challenging over the past couple of years has meant that really talented people are thinking much harder before moving companies, which to some extent, means that people are no longer just moving for money or short-term gain. Things like job security, an organisation’s values and the opportunity to develop yourself as an individual are topping people’s list of job priorities more than they have previously.

Graduates and Gen Y

We’re seeing a definite shift in attitude among the generation leaving school and university now. Brand loyalty to an organisation seems to be fast disappearing. Instead, graduates are looking to work for a company from which they’ll get something back for their time investment.

Also, I think young people have a different set of priorities compared to their parents or grandparents. Be it due to a global economic crash, or acts of terrorism such as September 11th, young workers have a very different view on the world of work, choosing to place their loyalties with their personal life rather than an employer brand.

Even looking at just ten years ago, there were very clear paths for people coming out of university, and I think that world has now changed significantly. There’s no real certainty anymore, so graduates are having to be much more savvy about what they want to get out of employment and their professional development.

HR impact

If HR was to be removed from a business, it would have a significant impact. Without a HR function, business decisions would risk being made without considering the broader impact on both the people and the business culture. Also, going back to the point about HR being the custodian of an organisation’s values, if no one is there to perform that role, you will tend to see bad decisions being made within the boardroom. Of course this is not always the case, as a great CEO should also be a great HR practitioner, but I think in many cases, this is the kind of thing you would see if you removed the HR function.

For me, the real value of HR specialism is to really focus the minds of the board, act as a catalyst for change and encourage the board to focus on the ‘people impact’ of decisions made. 

In a world in which the capabilities of people are often the only real assets of an organisation, it is critical that organisations make people the “foundation for their success”, as we do at Alexander Mann Solutions.