Written by
Tom Ritchie

Published
11 Aug 2017

Career profile: Laura Harrison, director of strategy and transformation, CIPD

11 Aug 2017 • by Tom Ritchie

CV in brief

  • CIPD, 2011 - 2017
  • Aviva, HR director in European business, 2004 – 2010
  • Ernst & Young, HR consulting, 1999 – 2004
  • PwC, HR consulting, 1996 - 1999

A day in your life

Tell us about your job, organisation and team

I lead the CIPD’s strategy and transformation programmes. My leadership responsibilities span from our research, policy and communications teams to orchestrating a transformation programme across the organisation.

What is the most rewarding and challenging parts of your role?

The most rewarding parts are when members and customers tell me they’re seeing (positive!) changes in the CIPD, that our voice is becoming more progressive and we’re putting our heads above the parapet, focusing on the ‘human in human resources.’ 

The most challenging aspect is probably in common with most of the working world – lots of plates spinning and trying to avoid too many crashing to the ground.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Meetings, aaaarrgggh, usually back to back all day.  I try to mix in as many external commitments as I can, to ward off ‘ivory tower’ syndrome and stay connected to the HR profession.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

I’ve always been fascinated by the world of work – I never get bored of hearing about how different organisations are run, the experience that people have at work and so on.  Most kids complain about their parents talking about work, but I used to egg mine on! 

Our purpose at the CIPD is to champion better work and working lives, so working here seemed like a great opportunity to influence thinking around HR practice and try to re-engage the organisation – and the profession it represents – with the idea that work can be a force for good, if it’s organised, developed and managed by a profession that has public good, as well as financial success, at its heart. 

What skills are essential for your role?

There’s a whiteboard in the tube station near where I live that one of the staff updates from time to time with a quote or an aphorism. A few months ago it said “To be a leader you need three bones; a wish bone, a back bone, and a funny bone.” I loved that! So I’d say the essential skills for me are a bit of an ability to create visions, a bit of an ability to hold my nerve and, critically, a sense of humour.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now? Have you followed the career path you expected?

I had no idea what I was going to do when I finished studying and spent a few years doing rubbish jobs and living like a student (I like to think of them as my wilderness years!).  Price Waterhouse offered me a job in their tax team and I sort of wiggled and meandered from there.  There was never a master plan, but always a fascination with the world of work, how people tick and how organisations can be amazing or dreadful places to work.  So I suppose I must have had HR in my sights, without really knowing a huge amount about it.

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

Probably my greatest (and enduring) challenge is working full-time, being married to a husband who works full-time, and trying to be a good leader, employee, mum, sister, wife, friend… You get the picture!  I’ve lived by the mantra ‘done is better than perfect’ for a long time as even with 36 hours in the day I still think I’d feel time poor.  My kids are at an age now when (very occasionally) they show an interest in my work, and that sort of makes up for some of the pain along the way!

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far? 

Crazy though it sounds, it’s probably the offer letter I got from Price Waterhouse in 1996.  I just couldn’t believe that this massive organisation would offer me a job, despite all the things that (in my mind at least) made me a poor bet.  I still have the letter, I can’t describe how elated I was to get it.  Until then I think I’d always believed that I would end up doing something very dead end and boring, living in a small town, going slowly bonkers.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Work hard, be kind, value relationships, learn how to spot and avoid narcissists and Machiavellians.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Stop dossing about and get a job!  And don’t buy that burgundy mid length skirt suit from M&S, your friends will never let you forget it

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Coffee
  • Sweet or savoury? Savoury
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Neither, I’m too young (tee hee)
  • Apple or Android? Apple (with ethical reservations…)
  • Introvert or extrovert? Am I allowed to say ambivert?
  • Early bird or night owl? Early bird
  • Winter or summer? Winter
  • City or countryside? City, the bigger the better

Favourites

  • App:  Twitter, I’m a late adopter and find it horribly addictive
  • Film:  Any film by Richard Linklater
  • Song:  St Swithin’s Day by Billy Bragg
  • Book: Anna Karenina
  • Childhood hero: George Orwell
  • Guilty pleasure:  The Archers, I was ill in bed over Christmas  and got completely hooked.
  • Place to eat: Anywhere if I’m with good friends or family
  • Holiday spot: Yorkshire Dales
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: “The only way out is through” (my dad) or “just get on with it” (my mum); similar sentiments!