Bio: Michelle Stevens is a reporter for People Management magazine.
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I studied for a music degree with the intention of becoming a teacher, but decided against that at university and didn’t know what career path to take. I worked at McDonald’s while I was a student and one of my supervisors suggested I consider the company’s trainee management programme. I joined as a graduate and found it to be a fantastic scheme. It exposed me to a lot of responsibility and a full range of management tasks at a young age, from recruitment and performance reviews to managing budgets and cash flow. It took me under two years to become a restaurant manager, and by that point I knew it was the people aspect of management that really appealed to me.
Being seconded into the HR team at McDonald’s was a brilliant opportunity. It was a wonderful training ground as a generalist and in my three years there I was involved in the company’s national recruitment programme, L&D delivery and rewriting its people management courses. But I would have eventually had to return to operational management, and by that time I’d decided that I wanted to stay in HR and develop my skills in the profession.
I moved to the Automobile Association as an HR officer, and was an area HR operations manager by the time I left. During my time there, the AA was bought by Centrica, and then subsequently demerged from them. I went to work for Centrica and was part of the team that supported and delivered the new HR shared service model for 40,000 employees across three or four big brands. The AA was then bought by venture capitalists, and one of the last pieces of work I did there was recruiting the staffing team and setting up the processes for their HR shared service.
The role I grew most in was my first HR director post at Craegmoor. As an organisation that supported vulnerable adults, it had a very different environment to my previous jobs. I worked with a superb CEO and COO, who between them balanced a strong vision with manageable stages to move the business forward. It took me from being an HR generalist to someone who could help change the performance of a company. We operated in a highly regulated industry in terms of recruiting and screening staff, and conducting ongoing appraisals. A lot of that responsibility fell to line managers, so it was important that they were given the appropriate skills and development.
I love live events and enjoy performing, so working for the NEC Group was a really attractive proposition when I joined in October. The company has a vision to be the best in the sector, build its portfolio and grow internationally, so I’m identifying what is needed from HR and how to engage with our people to make that happen. The organisation introduced core values two years ago, and I’ll continue to embed those along with a new recognition programme started last year, which has measurably improved engagement. I’ll also be looking at what L&D interventions can be used for our most talented staff to quickly and effectively take them to the next level of performance.
I enjoy the challenge of moving sector, although I’m always surprised by the similarities across industries. A guiding principle for me is to learn about your business before introducing change, because there are often good reasons that things are done in a certain way. You will make change effective, and yourself more credible, if you understand current operations and the arguments for improvement. The acceptance of HR as a vital part of the business team can only be a move for the better, and as HR people we have to accept that our remit is not just HR, but an understanding of – and interest in – all parts of the organisation.
Education: University of Wolverhampton (CIPD); Bath College of Higher Education (degree in music)
Previous roles: HR director, Craegmoor (2010-11); HR operations director, Craegmoor (2007-10); head of HR, Craegmoor (2005-07); HR operations manager and various HR generalist roles, Automobile Association and Centrica (1996-2005); HR officer, McDonald’s (1993-96); restaurant manager, McDonald’s (1987-1993)
Hobbies: Family time, gardening, singing in a choir, playing viola in an orchestra