CIPD Podcast 23 - An interview with Jackie Orme

Date: 01/09/08 Duration: 00:21:14

In this podcast Jackie Orme, the new Chief Executive of the CIPD, offers insights into the challenges as well as opportunities currently facing the profession and talks of her impressions of her first 100 days.


Philippa Lamb : Welcome to the CIPD podcast and today I’m joined by Jackie Orme, the CIPD’s new Chief Executive who joined the Institute in March this year. Now in last month’s podcast we put out a call inviting you to send us your questions for Jackie, and I must say, we had a huge response. So, we have sifted through and we’ve chosen the most frequently appearing questions to put to her. We’ve also got a couple of questioners on the line so that they can talk to Jackie direct. 
We’ll come to that in a moment but I’d like to kick off, Jackie, by asking you what is a very straightforward question and that is, what appealed to you about this job? Why did you apply for it? 

Jackie Orme: It really stood out for me. The first time I saw it was actually in The Sunday Times. I was sitting on the sofa reading it and I said to my husband straight away, “Wow! What a really interesting job”, and then I put it down. I didn’t think about it again and the next day I had a call about it and at that point in time I was asked, “Are you interested?” and my immediate answer was, “Yes, I am”. People will know, you get calls all the time from head hunters looking for you. This one was instant for me, and it was very simple. I felt it was one of those very unusual legacy jobs – you could go and do something and really leave a legacy – and in this instance the legacy was for the HR profession. It’s a profession I’ve been in for 17 years, so. 

PL: As you say, you’ve been in the profession a long time but this is a big change, because your career has been largely corporate hasn’t it? 

JO: A huge change. Well, it’s been a mix actually; it depends how far you want to go back. It’s true for the last 12 years I’ve worked with a huge corporation in Pepsi Co, and that’s been a fantastic experience. Before that I spent five years in the steel industry, which was again HR experience but very very different, in a very very different time, a very different environment. Then before that I spent a reasonably brief period of time in the Department of Employment and then some time actually working for another institute, for The Institute of Chartered Accountants. 

PL: Okay, so your experience is broad. 

JO: Yes, it’s very broad. 

PL: So you’ve been with the CIPD for about six months now, nearly. 

JO: Not quite, a hundred working days. I keep adding them up. Yeah. 

PL: Is it what you expected? 

JO: It’s exactly what I expected but probably just faster and fuller. One of the things that I’ve had to get to learn very quickly is the full range of what the CIPD does. It’s really hard to appreciated just how much it does, from the outside. On the inside you see how many different ways it impacts the profession that it supports. I’ve been amazed at times, actually, by just the full range of what it does. 

PL: Let’s move on to some of the questions from your members. The first one I’ve got comes from Dominic McGeown in Northern Ireland. Dominic has been in HR for 12 years but, I think like a lot of other people, he’s become very disillusioned with constantly having to battle to show that what he does (what HR does) makes a real difference to the corporate bottom line. What he wants to ask you is whether you can give him some pointers for measurables that he can use to convince the non-believers that HR does, indeed, make a positive contribution. 

JO: Let me talk about how I’ve always looked at this, because I understand exactly the question that he’s asking. There’s two things I would say. The first one actually isn’t about measurables at all, it’s about personal credibility. So, what are the things that you absolutely need (and it’s true of all professions and it’s true in this profession) is strong personal credibility. If you have that, it’s amazing what you can get done and it’s amazing how infrequently you have to answer those constant questions about measurement. If I say what do I think really matters for personal credibility I think I’d say three things. 
The first one is absolute integrity. You can’t be in HR and not be known for your integrity, your personal integrity. The second one I would say is just knowing your stuff. You have to be excellent at all the disciplines in HR, or the one that you’re working in for sure. The last one is just a bias for action; you need to know how to get stuff done. Personal credibility I think opens a huge amount of doors and I think we probably don’t talk enough about it when we start to talk about the importance of measurement. 
If I then go and talk more specifically about that question about what do we need to measure, I think what you need to measure is what’s most important to the people that you’re working for at the time. If I look back on my career (it started in the steel industry), it was incredibly important to know how many grievances and disciplinaries did we have. It was all about the labour relations climate of the day. If I roll forward maybe a decade, then actually one of the most important measures for me was vacancy fill. How long was it taking us to get people into their jobs? That was because what really mattered to the people I was working with, it was an environment of very fast growth. If I go back a couple of years I would say that probably the single most important measure that I was constantly looking at was what’s the kind of talent pipeline that we’ve got coming into the business? If I take the top ten jobs and I say who have I got who’s ready today to do that job? Who have I got who’s ready in two year’s? Who have I got that’s ready in five year’s? Now those measures are very very different but what united them was they were the single most important thing and concern for the organisation or the business I was working for at the time, and I think figuring that and focusing down on that is what you should do. 

PL: So no generic answer to that question. 

JO: No, and I don’t think it’s about having a generic score card of 51 different measures. Personal credibility and knowing what’s most important at the time and being able to drive hard after that I think gets you a long way. 

PL: Let’s move onto our first caller. He’s on the line now and his name is Elton Heanue. Elton, I know you’re an organisational development consultant with The Prudential. What’s the question you wanted to put to Jackie? 

Elton Heanue: It’s really on the subject of HR’s contribution to business performance. I’d love to hear Jackie’s views on what she thinks in terms of how do you see HR adapting to the ever increasing pace of change in today’s competitive business environment, and also, how do you see the CIPD leading HR professionals to develop the profession, to really drive businesses not just to survive but also prosper in this environment? 

JO: Okay, hello Elton. I think you sneaked two questions there in one, but let me try and separate them so I can answer them both, I think, fully. 
The first one was about how does the HR professional need to continue to adapt in what’s a very fast changing environment. I think the first way I’d answer is I’d reflect back on history and look at some of the history and say I think that’s what we’ll continue to do in the future. How long have you been in HR Elton? 

EH: Coming on eight years now. 

JO: If I look back over my 17 years, I would say the HR profession has adapted hugely. As I say, I’ve seen it move from being a profession that’s very largely focused on employee relations, making sure that businesses weren’t slowed down and weren’t disrupted by relationships with unions. I’ve seen it move dramatically into a profession now that spends probably disproportionately more of its’ time looking at where do we find the very best people, the very best talent? How do we find it, how do we bring it in and how do we grow it? In your job I suspect you probably see quite a lot of that. 
Now the reason for that massive shift is because the context that HR professionals are operating in has changed significantly. What’s wanted from them from organisation leaders has shifted and have changed and they’ve adapted, really significantly. They’ve built new skills, built new expertise and learnt how to drive agendas in completely different ways. Nobody ever talked about employer branding when I first started in HR. They may not have done it when you first started, but how often do you hear it talked about now? I think it’s a profession that’s been hugely successful at being adaptive, so I would say if I looked at the past I’d have huge confidence for the future about our ability to keep adapting. 
To the second point you raised about the CIPD and how is it going to help people survive, particularly in today’s economy? One of the things that I really admire about the CIPD is its’ capacity to reach large numbers of people in very different ways. If you look at the usage of our website, over 90% of our members use our website. If you look at our communities, we have communities on our website which I think have – I might get the numbers slightly wrong here – between 20,000 and 40,000 (that’s rather a wide band) but there’s a huge number of people who engage in our communities and are having an ongoing debate. When you look at the amount of research that we publish and disseminate in a whole range of different ways (whether it’s through conferences) we have the ability to get best practice out and to touch people with it. I think that builds capability and it drives topicality on issues, and that’s one of the key roles I think for the CIPD as we go forward. 

PL: What’s your feeling about this Elton? Do you feel you’re getting enough support from the CIPD in that respect? 

EH: Yes, I mean I think over the years, particularly as I’ve seen adapting to the business changes really meant HR becoming more and more strategic and that’s really stretched all of us in the profession and in my experience, so that’s a key priority for me. 

PL: Yeah as you say, it’s the key point, but thank you very much for the call Elton. 
Staying with CIPD matters, we’ve had a couple of questions about the membership structure. One member described it as Byzantine and wanted to know what you were going to do to simplify things. We had other questions from experienced HR professionals who’d never got round to upgrading to chartered membership, they want to know how you plan to help them move into the chartered grades. 

JO: Well I’m a huge fan of simplicity, I’ll say that first of all – a huge fan of simplicity. If I look specifically at the membership structure, I think our membership structure needs to do three things. It needs to set really high standards for the profession that we are. It needs to meet the needs and be relevant to people at the different stages of their career. I think the third thing it needs to do is it needs to reflect the way that people move in and out of the profession, so the career ladder, the career structure that the people are following. We’re well aware of the fact that particularly those last two things have been changing a lot over the last few years so we are very far into a piece of work that’s looking at exactly those things. What are the career structures and the path? What are the things that members want at different levels, and how do we make sure we’ve got a membership structure that exactly reflects the needs of the profession? 

PL: Would you agree it is over complex as it stands now? 

JO: I think it is complicated and I think it’s evolved, and it’s like many things that evolved, so I don’t know that I’d say it’s over complicated but it is pretty complicated to look at. Like I say, the critical thing for us is to make sure that it’s relevant to the needs of people today, at the different stages of their careers and that’s what we’re looking at. That’s the starting point we’ve taken and what we’ll do is to make sure the membership structure absolutely ties in with that. 

PL: What about the issue of members wanting to upgrade to chartered grades? 

JO: Yes absolutely, and again going back to that comment I made about people coming into the profession in different ways now, so it’s really important. Historically the majority of people have come into the profession at a junior level and worked through and the majority of people have come into the qualification route and that’s worked, but that’s changing. People are, what we call zig-zagging in and out of the profession, and absolutely we need to make sure that we can capture those people and they can join us at later stages of their career, coming in with different backgrounds. We have been piloting (actually over the last couple of years and continue to pilot this year) a range of different routes that bring people in without having to look at the formal study and qualification that has been the traditional main route in. 

PL: The role and recognition of the CIPD globally was also the subject of many questions, which loosely links I think to what you’ve just been saying. Some people wanted to know what the CIPD is doing to extend its’ global reach and secure international recognition for CIPD members. Others wanted to know whether there were any plans to create parity agreements or introduce a globally recognised brand, so keeping that international focus in mind, how do you plan to respond to this increasingly globalised world that members are operating in? 

JO: It is an increasingly globalised world for sure and I think one of the big things about HR in the future it’s going to be increasingly borderless, so how are we responding? It’s interesting, our qualifications, our certificates and our professional studies are already taken in 17 different countries. We provide short-course training in over 25 different markets. They’re the facts which I guess aren’t particularly well known; there’s no reason why they should be. So, we’re starting to build an international presence. 
If we were sitting here in two year’s time and you were asking me the same question, I would pretty confidently say to you I expect that number to have more than doubled. More than doubled, because we’re very serious about understanding what we need to do to build a really strong international presence – we need to make sure there’s enough access to it for people. 

PL: That’s the point isn’t it because it’s all very well saying that but it has to be there and the question of parity abroad and people moving in and out of different countries, the organisation is only as relevant as the qualification is is accepted isn’t it? 

JO: Absolutely it is and so building that knowledge and experience of, because it is an fantastic qualification we have, taking that and again making it relevant to different markets I think is the way ahead. We’re starting to do quite a lot of work in the Gulf and in Eastern Europe, in both those markets and we’ll continue to do that. The thing is the world is so big you’ve got to pick the places that you start. 

PL: Yes I take the point, you can’t tackle the whole thing in one go. 
Now we have talked about various professional issues but, of course, as Chief Executive of the CIPD you’re also running a commercial business offering a wide range of products and services. We have had a variety of queries about the pricing of some of the courses and conferences, and you alluded to some of those just now. Some members, particularly those from smaller organisations, want to know how you would feel about tailoring prices to fit their budgets. 

JO: Yeah I’d like to answer the question in two ways actually. The first thing I’d say is we are unapologetically high quality and we sit very much at the very high quality end of the market. 

PL: But you have to be affordable don’t you? 

JO: Absolutely you have to be affordable and so one of the things that you will see if you look at the range of products that we have is there’s a huge diversity of products on offer, and that’s very deliberately aimed to meet the different means and pockets of the different people who are engaged and involved in us. One of the things I first heard, a lot of the times when I joined the CIPD were the words ‘broad church’, and we are a broad church for sure so we deliberately look to try and pitch products which are going to appeal to different people, different groups but we’ll always go for a high quality product, always. 

PL: So you don’t feel there’s a place for actually charging different sized organisations at different rates. 

JO: No, I think the answer is to provide a range of different products, often around the same subject areas, so that people can basically pick and choose and say actually this is a product that we want. We can take it and we can use it. 

PL: Let’s look at the future now because we’ve had a question from Shirley Dockerill, who is a learning and development profession. She is interested in your strategic vision for human resources development over the next ten years and she’d like to know where you personally see things going. 

JO: I think talent is going to be an enduring issue and by talent what I mean is a supply of great people into organisation. I don’t think that’s going to go, I think that’s going to continue to dominate. I think that’s not going to go away, it’s going to be a big focus going forward. We’ve talked about the globalisation. The HR industry is increasingly global and I talk consistently to people about borderless HR, because that’s what it is. Linked to that I think that employees and employee base are going to get much more diverse. When you look at migrant labour, you just look at the full range of issues that are going to drive the make up of our workforce is going to be increasingly diverse. So, the world of HR is going to keep on changing for sure. If I look at the role of the CIPD within that, I think there’s three things we have to do. 
We have to shape the future of the profession in terms of how the profession works and how to make sure it’s the most successful. We have to build the capability that’s needed in the profession and then we have to attract the very best people into because I think it’s that important for businesses to have great HR people. 

PL: Since we’ve been talking about the future, let’s just touch on the degree of influence wielded by the CIPD. I mean obviously as we’ve said it’s a big membership organisation, I think it’s about 130,000 members now. They’re clearly all keen to have their voices heard by policymakers, for that to happen, the CIPD needs the ear of government, it needs a seat at the table when policy is being discussed. How are you going to make sure that continues to happen?

JO: Well there’s been a huge amount of work down over the last, probably about 18 months, and I think it’s continuing that good work. If you look at the engagement of our research and policy team, in with the government, so they’re in with different Ministers, with different key civil servants all the time. I mean they actually produce a list, on a monthly basis, of key meetings they’ve had and after my first couple of months here I said don’t give it to me anymore because it’s too long. So I know you guys are out there meeting people and talking all the time. I was in the position early on when I was called by a government Minister one evening because of some legislation that was coming out the next day, they wanted to get our point of view. That’s going on all the time. We’re very clear about what are the big issues we think in the workplace that we want to get engaged in and what are the issues that we want our voice to be heard on. 

PL: We’re getting towards the end of our time now but before we finish Zoe Rocholl has nice question. She wants to know what your biggest bugbear about the HR profession is. But before you give me your answer, the sting in the tale is that she also wants to know how you plan to fix it. 

JO: I don’t think I have bugbears actually – it’s a bit of a strong word. There’s two things that I would really like HR professionals to do. Two things that I think are important for the kind of role we want to place; two simple things. 
The first one is around language actually, and it’s just speaking every day language, not getting too wrapped up in our own jargon, which we’re all capable of doing at times, so it’s taking out, speaking in every day language. 
The second one is just be confident. Be confident about what it is you bring and the contribution that you make. Be confident enough sometimes to be a great business partner but also sometimes to lead the business and to say “Do you know what? We’re going the wrong way. What we need to do is this…”, so I’m in the camp of partnership and leadership from HR people. So they’re not bugbears, but I think there are two things: let’s keep the language simple, let’s not be afraid to lead. 

PL: Finally, we have just got time to talk to Kate Wilding. She’s a tutor at the CIPD’s Certificate in Personnel Practice at Riverside College in Cheshire. Kate, what did you want to ask Jackie? 

Kate Wilding: Jackie, I’ve got a new cohort of students starting in September and I wanted to know if you had a message for them in terms of a new group embarking upon their HR career and their first education in HR. 

JO: Let me say a couple of things. Again, the first one is, it’s a fantastic profession you’ve joined. I’ve been in it 17 years, I’ve probably earned the right to make that comment. I’ve never been tempted, anywhere along that 17 years, to go and do something different and that’s about a couple of things I think. One is there is massive variety in HR, so you can be somebody who loves learning and development or you can be somebody that loves numbers and gets into the reward area. You can be somebody who wants the creativity of working with some of the organisational development space or you be somebody that actually likes working in a factory and the day to day contact with hundreds or thousands of people. There is space for all and actually, the very best thing is to do some of all because you’ll just develop yourself hugely. The variety I think in HR is fantastic and I’ve loved it. The other thing I’ve loved about it, for me personally, is the opportunity to make organisations better than they were and to give individuals the chance to also be bigger and better than they were. That’s a fantastic combination and I found it hugely motivating, so I would say to them welcome to a great profession. 
Then the last thing I’d say is be really really clear about your reasons for joining, so I’m not advocate for people saying “Oh I’m joining HR because I like working with people”. The function is about driving excellence, building capability, making organisations exceptional and making individuals exceptional. Be really clear about your reasons for coming in. Don’t come in with soft answers. 

KW: That’s great. My students will start in a few weeks time and I’m hoping to play this podcast to them on their first evening with me, as the new group, so that’s great. Thank you. 

JO: Well I know what they’re going through, I was there about 15/16 years ago so wish them all the very best of luck. 

PL: Kate thanks very much for that, and Jackie, many thanks indeed for joining us today, and thanks too to all our questions and callers for raising what I think has been a really interesting range of issues. 
Next month, we’ll be reporting from the CIPD’s annual conference and exhibition in Harrogate. This is the biggest HR conference of the year and I’ll be talking to some of the biggest names in the business and bringing you the very latest in learning, news and views. Don’t miss it. Until then, goodbye.

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