A stint in the army taught Sharon Cooper the valuable lesson that it’s not rank that earns respect; read her story and find out why Margaret Thatcher would be on her lunch ‘wish’ list.
1. How strategic is your current role and what does it involve?
I am Director of Human Resources EMEA at IPC Information Systems, a US company supplying specialist telecommunications equipment to the financial services market. We have offices in Milan, Frankfurt, Paris and London and as such I work closely with the President of the region to put business strategy in place. When our Paris office opened for example, I was involved in writing the business plan for it and rolling it out. I get involved in more than HR.
2. How is the HR function perceived within your organisation?
Much more widely than it was a year and a half ago when I joined, it used to be seen in the old-fashioned sense of being about employee welfare and policing policies. Today it’s starting to be seen as a function that exists to help line managers achieve their business objectives.
3. How does your business use HR practices to get ahead?
We are in the process of implementing good HR practices to get ahead. I’ve picked up a lot of legacies from previous management but I’m now working with the executive team to be pro-active about using best practice. It used to be about picking up a stone and finding a hornets’ nest, I hope that is no longer the case.
4. Why is your company such a great place to work?
Our size is an advantage. We are 200-strong so it’s small enough to facilitate an informal approach, there’s no hierarchy as such and I believe this helps us to get things done. There are no artificial barriers preventing growth and communication.
5. How does HR win hearts and minds in your business?
By trying to understand the business and spend time in it. Being nosey helps! You’ve got to work with people to help them get the best from their staff.
6. Will HR survive outsourcing and changes to service delivery?
Yes, without a doubt. You can’t do what I do at the end of a phone. It’s ok to outsource standard processes like payroll for example but you can’t do the other strategic aspects via the outsourcing route.
7. What’s the new skill set of HR?
It’s wider. You’ve got to be an all-round business person. I started my career in the army which has helped a great deal with management skills. I had to deal with people at all levels. When I was 21, I was in charge of 75 people, there were ten nationalities within that group – I learnt a lot. I also discovered that just because I had rank on my shoulder it didn’t mean that I was automatically respected, you’ve got to earn it just as you do in business.
8. What’s the worst thing about working in HR and the best?
The worst thing is people dumping their problems on you i.e. line managers and expecting you to sort it out. The best thing is having an overall view of what’s going on in every corner of the business.
9. What are the key issues preventing HR professionals from getting a seat on the board?
The biggest problem is being seen as an over-head. You can’t put an exact figure on the value of HR and for people who can only work within a P&L it can be an obstacle if you don’t produce a £sign.
10. If you have a mantra/motto what is it?
I never regret anything I do – I learn from experiences but you’ve got to move forward.
11. What are you currently reading?
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!
12. What would be your desert island disc?
Either “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen as it is very uplifting and I am having such a good time in my life or the soundtrack from the Sound of Music so I could have a sing-along if I got bored.
13. If you could have lunch with three famous people, dead or alive who would they be and why?
George Clooney because he’s nice to look at and I can be shallow like that, Margaret Thatcher, because even if you don’t agree with her politics you have to admire her for what she’s achieved during her career and my sister who lives in Australia as we don’t get together very much so it would be good to see her.
14. If you’d like to be remembered for one thing what is it?
For doing what I said I’d do.