We put the spotlight on HR Zone member Nick Heap.
What’s your current job role?
I am an independent facilitator of change and development. I use counselling, consulting and facilitating skills to help managers (mainly) solve people problems and develop themselves and their staff.
I do a lot of work one to one, helping people think more clearly and act more decisively on issues that they think are important. Sometimes HR people use me to help individuals with career crises or who need coaching or support to develop particular soft skills, like time management or presenting effectively.
Another important chunk of my work is helping teams of people work better together. I do lots of other things, it’s always challenging and rarely dull!
What did you do before this job?
I worked as a career counsellor with CEPEC for a year -helping senior people move into a more satisfying work and life after the shock of redundancy – before setting up my own business, as above.
Before that I was an internal consultant with ICI. I had a
tremendous job with a virtually free hand to “do anything I could get away with that was likely to be helpful” (my words!). I had to make all my own work by making friends with managers, finding out what they wanted to do and then suggesting ways we might be able to work together to make progress.
One highlight was some work to improve customer service on a product. To get an order from a customer, produce the stuff and get it to the customer required nine departments to work together. When I started, the service was very poor and the departments all blamed each other. I interviewed the key people, summarised what they had said to me and asked them to agree to discuss what to do without blaming each other. This worked, they started co-operating well and solved the problems. We all enjoyed it. It was real and fun.
Before that I was a research chemist with ICI.
Describe your route into HR?
I joined ICI as a senior research scientist with a PhD. The
laboratory had some consultants in who advised that the scientists should have some developmental training to help them work better with other people. Industrial research is a team effort. Science is inevitably very “techie” and most PhD work involves just a student working with a supervisor.
The lab ran a series of “T-groups”. We spent five days in a small group looking at our behaviour as it happens. This was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about myself but also realised that most of our problems in the industry and in the wider society were about people not listening to each other. Although I enjoyed science, I decided that I wanted to spend my life helping people to listen to each other and perhaps make the world a better place.
It took four years to find a new role in ICI. I had an informal mentoring relationship with a manager who befriended me. I sought developmental opportunities outside ICI by becoming a Samaritan and later a Marriage Guidance Counsellor (now Relate) partly to prove to ICI that I was serious. I also got a place on a part time task force looking at career development in the lab. We eventually set up the first internal career counselling service in British Industry. I enjoyed the creative work and the “political” process of getting our stuff accepted. I applied for every developmental job I could, failed, sought feedback, thought about it and tried again. Eventually I was successful!
Did you always want to work in HR?
No, I had not thought about it until the T-group experience above.
What would you say has been the most significant event in your career to date?
Definitely the T-group, it changed my career direction entirely.
How do you think the role of HR has changed since you began your HR career?
It has become much busier and more pressurised because of information overload, the impact of legislation and higher expectations of employees. I think more HR professionals want to add value to their businesses by helping managers manage now. More people are looking to systems or outsourcing to deal with the “transactional” parts of the work, so they can concentrate on facilitating learning and change by acting as internal consultants.
What single thing would improve your working life?
Being much more effective at marketing, so I spend less time looking for work and more time doing it.
What’s your favourite part of the HR Zone site?
Have you made contact with any other members?
Yes, by e-mail.
Do you have any advice for those looking to embark on a career in HR?
Spend as much time as you can on your own development. The most important and difficult bits are soft skills, especially listening and influencing skills. Read good novels to develop your empathy. Find someone who will listen to you.
If you’re willing to share your experiences of working in HR to date with other members, we’d like to hear from you
– e-mail us to receive a copy of this questionnaire.
Previous ‘Introducing…’ features:
Crispin Garden-Webster, HR Specialist, Asian Development Bank.
Sandra Walsh, HR Delivers.
Carole Leslie, Director, IT Learning Ltd
Shaun Dunphy, Project and Process Manager, EMEA HR Service Centre for MCI
Debra Artlett, HR Officer, NGJ
Dianne Miles, HR Manager, Rollalong Ltd
Jacqui Mann, HR Manager, Integra NeuroSciences
Isabella Montgomery, Human Resources Officer at Thenew Housing Association
Iain Young, Head of HR for Cofathec Heatsave