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David Fairhurst

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David Fairhurst’s decade in HR: How HR earned its place at the top table


David Fairhurst gives his opinion on how the last 10 years have changed HR and where we will go in the future.


The last 10 years have been some of the most formative for HR in recent history. The so-called noughties have seen our profession go from strength to strength, from an also-ran in companies’ biggest decisions, to an integral part of the strategic leadership of even the largest corporations. Through good times and bad, HR has continually found a way to assert its importance as a key ingredient of board-level strategy and, as we face equally turbulent years ahead, it’s set to become even more relevant.

Setting the pace
The pace of business has exploded during the last 10 years, and it’s had a major impact on the way HR practitioners operate. At the turn of the twentieth century, it took radio 38 years before it reached 50 million people. Half a century later, television took just 13 years to reach the same size audience. Fast forward to the start of this decade, and it took the iPod only three years to reach 50 million people … and Facebook just two.

As we’ve witnessed this acceleration in the speed of business and communications, HR has played a key role in helping organisations adapt and, as a result, its place at the top table has become more and more assured.
With employees accessing information about their organisation ever faster and from numerous sources, HR teams in progressive organisations have worked extremely hard to set in place clear, ingrained values and make sure employees not only understand them, but that they resonate strongly with the employees’ personal values as well as the needs of the business they work for. The result is that managers are empowered to make quick, values-led decisions and employees find their work personally rewarding, while simultaneously delivering what the organisation needs.

And with the world we operate in becoming increasingly information-rich and joined-up, HR professionals have systematically broken down traditional silos to build and manage diverse teams, further establishing their position in the strategic leadership and offering multi-faceted solutions to the key challenges their organisations face.

From employer to educator
Perhaps the biggest innovation in our sector has been in raising the bar in the quality and consistency of training delivered in the workplace. In 2008, McDonald's was one of the first three employers to be granted awarding body status. Since then, we’ve built a structured learning ladder for our people, mapped against nationally recognised qualifications, from an apprenticeship to a Foundation Degree in Managing Business Operations.

Numerous employers are adopting this approach and for us, it’s having considerable success in boosting employee confidence and pride, building loyalty and commitment and improving performance. For our business, this translates into better customer service, higher customer satisfaction and longer staff tenure.

With such clear benefits for both employees and employers, I strongly believe that there should be a revolving door between education and employment. Leaving school at 16 shouldn’t be the end to someone’s education, and employers can play an important role in encouraging people back into learning while they work. At the other end of the spectrum, why shouldn’t students top up an academic degree with a valuable vocational qualification that demonstrates the skills they’ve learnt from their part-time job?

A tough two years
The financial storm that hit in 2008 changed many things, and the last two years have thrown some huge challenges at HR departments. As recession took hold and bottom lines came under scrutiny, the downturn threatened to derail a lot of the progress our profession had made.

During this time, many HRs have had to be short-termist and pragmatic, focusing on retention, engagement and risk management, protecting training budgets where possible and reducing investment where necessary.

However, this economic volatility has sharpened our focus on where HR can deliver most value for an organisation. As times got tough, we proved our worth and became even more integral to the operational core of the business. Developing leaders and nurturing talent, engaging employees during unpredictable times and acting with agility in challenging circumstances – all of this was honed and developed during the slump.

Emerging from the storm
From boom to bust, the last few years have undoubtedly been extremely tough and there are signs that we could be in for another challenging decade.

Nonetheless, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. The last decade has been transformational for HR, and we have the wind in our sails to keep building the momentum.

Take the hospitality sector. It’s clear to me that this is an industry with great prospects, looking forward to a golden decade. From the London 2012 Olympic Games to the arrival of the Rugby World Cup and Commonwealth Games in the UK, we have countless opportunities within our grasp – opportunities to innovate, drive standards even higher and create new opportunities for the individuals working in the sector.

From revolutionising training and development to changing the way traditionally siloed businesses operate, we have learnt a lot and achieved even more during the last 10 years – we mustn’t let adversity make us forget it.

David Fairhurst is senior vice president and chief people officer (UK and Northern Europe) at McDonald's Restaurants Ltd.

2 Responses

  1. Future of HR

    Nice PR Fluff.  Part of the problem, rather than the solution to HR’s problems as a "profession".

  2. The rhetoric is the same but where’s the evidence

    David Fairhurst appears to characterise exactly what has been happening to HR over the last decade – plenty of rhetoric about HR’s ‘achievements’ without any evidence to substantiate what value it is supposed to have added. Education,education,education has been one of the worst policies of the last 10 years resulting in an unaffordable HE sector, producing many qualifications not in demand by industry that therefore add nothing to the economy. Germany produces a much lower proportion of graduates than the UK and yet performs better.

    For a more realistic take on whether training and development has been ‘revolutionised’ or not he doesn’t have to look too far


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