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How Did I Get Here? Dawn Jennings, HR Director, NHS Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology

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Dawn Jennings claims the private sector is less professional and lacks the integrity of the NHS, and explains why competition for talent divides the organisation.


1. How strategic is your current role and what does it involve?
My current role is Director of HR in Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology, a specialist hospital providing non-surgical care to patients with Cancer and related conditions. I am a member of the Board and contribute to the strategic agenda across the piece. I have a fundamental belief that every business decision has an impact of some kind on the workforce and my place on the Board reflects my organisation’s support of that view.

2.How is the HR function perceived within your organisation?
At Board level the value is recognised, but when I arrived, the function was suffering from a lack of leadership and investment and, as a result, credibility across the organisation was low. Following a re-structure, a back-to-basics approach and some quick wins, that position is now turning around.

3. How does your business use HR practices to get ahead?
By thinking outside the box – outside the NHS box, that is! It’s difficult to stand out and attract and retain a quality workforce if all that you are going to do is the same as every other NHS employer. The NHS is promoting creativity and independent thinking and my organisation is determined to explore the benefits of that.

4. Why is your company such a great place to work?
Because it’s packed to the rafters with people who care about and are proud of what they do. In my previous (private sector) life I never came across quite so many people behaving with such integrity and professionalism.

5. How does HR win hearts and minds in your business?
By listening to staff, whether that’s in meetings, open forums or through the staff survey, and demonstrating that you have heard.

6. Will HR survive outsourcing and changes to service delivery?
Move with the times, keep your eye on the ball and put your money where your mouth is. That way, you can survive anything. Outsourcing provides an opportunity for organisations to make a real cost saving and still provide a standard service.

If you don’t want to go there, make your service better than ‘standard’ and demonstrate that every aspect of it adds value. If it doesn’t, make the case for outsourcing yourself!

7. What’s the new skill set of HR?
Commercial acumen (that’s particularly new for the NHS), creativity and influencing with attitude.

8. What’s the worst thing about working in HR and the best?
The worst thing is apathy. Get some attitude and show your organisation what you can do! The best is the opportunity to influence and make a difference across every aspect of an organisation.

9. What are the key issues preventing HR professionals from getting a seat on the board?
A lack of self-belief and ability to demonstrate the value added.

10. If you have a mantra/motto what is it?
Get the basics right! If you can’t get the name right on the offer letter, switch the lights off and go home!

11. What are you currently reading?
The Kite Flyer, Khaled Hosseini.

12. What would be your desert island disc?
My Way (and colleagues at work won’t be surprised.

13. If you could have lunch with three famous people, dead or alive who would they be and why?
The first two would be Bob Geldof and Margaret Thatcher. Just what is or was it that drives and drove them, and what influenced their attitude?

Thirdly, Robbie Williams – because there’s nothing wrong with him that a good woman couldn’t sort out.

14. If you’d like to be remembered for one thing what is it?
Sorting Robbie Williams out!

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