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How Did I Get Here? Laraine Levin, Head of HR, QA


Laraine Levin discusses HR as the guiding force behind business strategy, falling victim to unpopular managerial decisions and motivational musicals.

1. How strategic is your current role and what does it involve?
There is a strong strategic element to my role and, as an important part of this, I work closely with our CEO to identify the key issues within the company and suggest how the HR function can support these moving forward.

I add value because I’m able to stand back and see the big picture across the whole business and suggest ways that the people within the company can make an impact.

2. How is the HR function perceived within your organisation?
HR is an integral part of the culture of our organisation. As we are a services company, our whole business is built around our people. It is, therefore, critical how we manage that resource. The HR function guides and shapes how line managers go about achieving business results through their people to ensure that the company’s strategy can be achieved.

We are seen as being very approachable, and at a senior level are perceived as a part of the business that managers want to involve. We have worked hard to get to this stage so we therefore ensure that every time we are involved, we retain our focus on adding value; thereby securing our managers’ continued willingness to get us on board at an early stage of decision making.

3. How does your business use HR practices to get ahead?
I believe that achieving a fluency in emotional literacy underpins a business’ ability to understand what makes its people tick – where they are coming from and why they are behaving the way they are. This facilitates meaningful two-way communication channels at every level, which in turn fuels an environment that is motivating, entrepreneurial and inspiring, and therefore ultimately results-driven.

If managers can be coached to manage their people to use these skills as part of their everyday life, both in and out of work, it will underpin every aspect of HR at work, and nurture their support network at home.

4. Why is your company such a great place to work?
We run a very results-driven business, where people can see that they are having an impact. It’s also a very friendly place to work, where people work hard but also see the impact of their personal input and gain recognition for their contribution.

As a learning organisation QA is a people business, and we recognise that investing in people is critical to business success. This is reflected in the culture of our organisation.

5. How does HR win hearts and minds in your business?
I think HR wins hearts and minds through accessibility, efficiency and business fluency. By having regular meetings with key managers it’s possible to understand their objectives and make sure that HR policies and processes support and facilitate these as far as possible.

Of course, to gain the credibility to do this administration needs to be excellent so that people have confidence in what you do and you have their respect. Time is precious in a competitive market and managers need to see a return on investment for the time they are spending with you.

6. Will HR survive outsourcing and changes to service delivery?
This really depends on the reasons for outsourcing and how much is outsourced. For example, is it just the administration side being outsourced or will outsourcing remove the whole department?

In my experience, HR needs to be really immersed in the business to understand what is required, both on the administration and professional side. Without this, there is likely to be a reduction in quality where HR slips from facilitating the achievement of the business’ strategy to being a functional personnel division.

It is also more difficult to motivate staff who do not feel a sense of belonging to the company they are supporting; the same level of commitment to go above and beyond won’t be there.

There are some areas where the outsourcing of specific HR functions offers very clear benefits. One of QA’s core competencies is the management of our clients’ training function. We can offer clients tangible benefits – cost savings, economies of scale, improved administration and reporting services, and greater choice; all the while ensuring that the managed training service fits the culture and structure of the client’s organisation.

7. What's the new skill set of HR?
Gone are the days of HR ‘policing’ the company and telling people what to do. I believe that a modern HR department needs to guide people to see challenges, opportunities and the risks associated with various options and to help them to understand the best way to address these and make informed decisions. HR practitioners need to be speaking the right language and make sure that the relationship with the rest of the business feels like a partnership.

8. What's the worst thing about working in HR and the best?
I really enjoy the variety of the role, the challenge of both theoretical and pragmatic debates with intelligent colleagues and being able to see the positive impact of my involvement on the people in the business.

Sometimes HR can be used as a scapegoat when managers don’t want to be the bearer of bad news or aren’t able to progress something, but with strong working relationships and effective communication and understanding this has become less and less of an issue.

Why denying HR a seat on the board is damaging your business.

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