The Journey: from a Human Resources Director to an Interim HR Professional

 
Eugene Van Jaarsveldt
Robert Archer, Regional Director, Human Resources and Head of Retail at Michael Page, spoke with Eugene Van Jaarsveldt (Interim ER and Transformation Executive) currently interim at Amazon, for an insight into an HRD moving into a role as an interim HR professional.
 

Please share with us your career to date?

 
I started my working career with Volkswagen (VW) as a graduate entrant and after 4yrs I moved to Barlow Rand, a conglomerate company which was the real catalyst in my career as a HR professional. I was moving every 18 months into new roles  and was given the opportunity to complete an MBA and really start to learn. I was given a chance to influence, set the agenda, challenge and establish strong stakeholder relationships across the business with HR as a value added function.
 
At the age of 26 I had been appointed to the Board and my final experience in South Africa was running my own consultancy business for 4yrs. My UK experience has principally been in manufacturing, working at British Bakeries, Toyota and Princess Yachts. Each of those businesses required me to draw upon generalist HR skills with a leaning towards employee relations and transformation.
 

Who have been influential people in your career and why?

 
The first  person was my first line manager at VW who told me to get out of the office, go onto the shop floor and “...talk, walk and listen {to the people} and back this up by doing what you say”. To this day I have not deviated from this statement.  The second person was the MD of Barlow Rand who gave me my first break as a Director. He nurtured and mentored me, and got me to think about and embrace the ever changing business world we live in. At a young age having all of this, really set me up.
 

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt in your career?

 
From an operational point of view as a HR professional you must talk operational language and have the metrics that are totally aligned to the objectives of the business. You must always know what it takes to get from A to B. From a personal perspective, knowing when it is time to move on.
 

What has been the most defining moment in your career to date and why?

 
To transform employee relations at British Bakeries and develop a partnership approach with seven trade unions. As a result of this partnership both British Bakeries and I had a forum with which to engage the politicians (and an invite to No 10). We also presented at the TUC Congress on how we went about achieving this collaboration. 
 

What business priorities are you focusing on in your current role?

 
I have come into the business to ensure basic HR processes are followed to deliver the operational results in a specific fulfilment centre. It was identified that absence was running at 5.8% when a best practice target was set at 3%. I had to translate what this meant in real terms from operational effectiveness to line managers but in doing so, also create robust processes and KPI's in place that gave both line management and HR clear accountability. The absence rate has dropped to 3.5% by focusing on input and output KPIs translated into productivity gains.
 

What has led you to  become a professional interim, and what have you learnt so far in taking on this journey?

 
I had reached a point (both influenced by career and personal factors) when the time was simply right. I wanted to have more flexibility, a chance to spread my wings but being just as focused (if not more so) in getting the job done. I have also learnt that my determination and resilience has been truly tested. I have come close a number of times in securing my first interim role but no one could have prepared me for the challenges I would have to face but, I have got there.
 

How do the expectations differ as an Interim?

 
You have a short period of time to deliver the requirements of your brief and in that time you can't get emotionally involved. Line managers need to see what you are doing and you must demonstrate you are aligned to the business objectives quickly.
 

What have you been doing to build your profile as a professional interim?

 
 I have invested time in building my own website, a small number of relationships with recruitment consultancies, regular online posts and contributing to other people's comments and insights.
 

What do you see are the general challenges for HR professionals in the workplace?

 
To create an environment that has long-term stable employment, organisations need to contribute to the employee feeling that they can be successful. To do this HR processes need to embrace talent management, employee engagement, value to the employee, and ensure individuals feel accountable and responsible for the role they play within the business. HR also have a unique role to play in working with all the other functions in helping to create a culture of continuous improvement where  ideas and  opportunities are encouraged, so that the people strategy sits firmly at the centre of business objectives.
 

How do you see recruitment consultancies supporting and adding value to an Interim professional’s career?

 
 As a candidate you want to know that your skills, experience and the right environment, are reflected in the roles you get considered for. As a candidate, using a recruitment consultant in today's market is one of a number of methods available to secure that next role. And my experience of using Michael Page HR to secure my role at Amazon has been mutually beneficial as a result of feeling that they had my interests at heart. This has counted more than ever before towards my quest to start and build my portfolio as a professional interim.
 
Robert Archer
 
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