No Image Available

Site Admin

Read more about Site Admin

How Did I Get Here? Paul Kearns, PWL


Paul Kearns entered the HR profession in 1978 working in industrial relations and then moved through training and development into generalist HR work. Since 1991 he has been running the PWL consultancy – specialising in HR measurement, HR strategy, evaluation and performance measurement and management. He has published 6 books to date on employee performance measurement, training evaluation/ROI and strategic HR.

All the previous career profiles can also be seen in the special How Did I Get Here? page.


Current job title

Director, PWL, a consultancy specialising in measuring the bottom line impact of HR and training.

Describe your initial training within the profession

I often refer to my early years from 1978 (when I first came into HR) until 1990 (when I left my last ‘proper’, corporate job) as learning how not to do it. Companies got the industrial relations they deserved by not engendering trust in their employees; training courses were usually a knee-jerk reaction to operational problems that should never have arisen; job evaluation placed a strait jacket on individual initiative and innovation; appraisal always looked good on paper but never delivered in practice.

It was this growing scepticism that led me into researching what really effective HR practices should look like and what should constitute the development of future HR professionals.

What positions have you held?

IR Manager
Personnel and Training Manager
HR Director

Is there a significant event you can tell us about which had an impact on your career?

The last job interview I ever had was for the position of HR director at a subsidiary of Shell (in 1990). Their CEO thought ‘HR’ was just another name for personnel administration and the outgoing HR director only asked one question during the entire interview “what percentage of disabled employees should you have by law?”(!). I realised then that there was something seriously wrong with HR and how it was perceived and set out to change it.

What has been your greatest achievement?

Convincing my HR clients that copying ‘best practice’ is a pointless exercise.

Which of your colleagues played the biggest role in you getting where you are today?

No HR colleagues – the people I have really learnt from were the other board directors I worked with who taught me what running an organisation is really about. They showed me what impresses them – results, ROI and value in £’s – so that is what I have always focused on. Once HR offers that the board never want anything else.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of entering the profession?

The future for HR administrators is bleak – the opportunities for business focused HR specialists who add value is getting rosier by the minute.

Previous How Did I Get Here? features:
Susan Stevens, Toshiba Information Systems
Irene Burwin, HMG Paint
Trevor Lakin, IPPM
Alison Clarke, Quantica
Laurence Collins, Ceridian HR Consulting
Paul Kearns, PWL
Fiona Knight, KPMG
Adrian Glynn, Wilkins Kennedy
Joanne Darling, Cooper Parry
Sue Matthews, Coventry City Council
Nichola Nair, European HR Strategic Programmes Manager for Xerox
Alison Lewis, Corporate Learning & Development Manager, Oxfam
Jessica Diggins, HR Manager, Chartered Management Institute
Linda Klassen-Brown, Group HR Manager, The Logic Group
Keith Hanlon, HR Manager, Quantum Business Media
Andrew Mayo, frequent speaker and writer on HR issues
Jim Brooks, HR Manager for ServiRail Ltd
Jean-Bertrand de Lartigue, Chairman of HR2all
Karen Caddick, Head of HR, Channel Five
Madeleine Tate
Keith Luxon, HR Policy and Reward Director, The Laurel Pub Company
Jeremy Thorn, Chairman and Director of QED Consulting
Roger Pattison, HR – Training & Management Development Consultant
Verity McVarish, HR Manager for Sift Media
Rus Slater
David Kelly, Head of Development and Training for Aventis
Jenny Kevan, UK HR Manager for Abbott Laboratories
William Martin, HR Manager, Telewest Broadband
Craig Truter, HR Manager, The Body Shop
Martin Stockton, HR Transformation Leader, Towers Perrin
Nick Heap, Consultant, New Directions
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 The new Housing Association
Iain Young, Head of HR for Cofathec Heatsave

Have you got any useful insights or cautionary tales regarding your career? If you would like to contribute to the 'How Did I Get Here' feature please email our employment correspondent: Dawn-Marie Dart





Career resources


  • If you're looking to recruit, save yourself hundreds of pounds in advertising and agency fees by talking to CareerZone manager Louise Nicholls or ring 01179 159 625.

4 Responses

  1. Response to John Mitchell
    Your comments have led me to believe that I may not have articulated my comments as intended. I have faced the issue of added value and the commercial contribution of HR throughout the last twenty five years in Senior Exec roles with National Grid, Dunlop and other household names across Europe. I have had exposure to many CIPD Branches and the most recent have been hijacked by self-employed Trainers and Consultants who have never been near value added HR. In fact their whole Branch Programme seems aimed at providing networking opportunities for new business! This is not a criticism of CIPD as an Institution but possibly the reason why many businesses think HR is irrelevant. Which is why, in my opinion, the Paul Kearns’ debate is worthwhile.

  2. HR, added value and CIPD
    Paul is clearly right and I am pleased to see it on hrzone. However he isn’t saying anything that is new – many have been saying this for years; and that includes CIPD. What is surprising is to read James Brooks suggesting that CIPD isn’t banging on about these issues. I cannot speak for his local branch but the Institute’s Professional Standards are crammed full of the Kearns perspective. (So much so that many of those studying for membership of our professional body complain that it has gone much too far – they want to see less strategy and more hands-on operational stuff.)
    I notice the Devon and Cornwall branch had a conference last year on this and another on the Kearns perspective next spring.
    Please: credit to CIPD where it is due.

  3. Best Practice?
    As a HR Software Salesman i am receptive to the views of Mr Kearns. I find it refreshing after years of telling HR professionals all over the world that “copying best practice will get you nowhere except to the beginning again ” that i finally have come across someone who would not raise an eyebrow to this if i suggested it to them in conjunction with an approach to mapping HR systems and Processes.

    Far too often, i come across HR Professionals who have absolutely no idea what is happening in their departments. This from the department which sets roles, job descriptions, and appraises individuals against these duties. I once attended a site where i had heard the HR director boast of “best practice”, but when i attended his meetings and attempted to map his HR processes it was clearly evident that his “best practice” was clearly not “best practice”, in fact it was hardly “practice” at all.

  4. In agreement withn Paul Kearns
    I am very pleased to see some sensible business focus associated with HR. Paul’s experience mirrors my own and to this day I suffer the regular frustrations of a CIPD Branch network made up of officers with no real value added HR experience, mitigated only by the pleasure of delivering commercial returns through HR in the various companies I have served. Anyone stirred up by Paul’s views shouldn’t be in the business!


Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.