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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Community blogger, Christina Lattimer


Christina Lattimer, owner of HR and leadership development consultancy People Discovery, has been tackling HR issues for all of her working life, even if she didn’t take up her first official HR position until 10 years ago.

“I’ve only been a pure HR specialist since 2002 and was a business manager for lot of years before that. I had the notion that if I went into HR, I could share my knowledge and help managers do well,” she says of her change in direction.

For most of those years, from 1978 to 1999, she worked as a business manager within the Court Service, ending up in the County Court system. It was a terrific place to pick up business skills because, although it was part of a government department, it was run very much along business lines, says Lattimer.

“The benefit of that is that it was very commercial, so I had to be able to be cost-effective – we had targets to draw even. Because it was so commercial and different from a lot of other departments, we had a clear business model with a measurement instrument to measure performance and make sure processes were robust enough,” she points out.

Running county courts meant that Lattimer needed to keep on top of every aspect of the business – and that included people issues. Actively involved in learning and development, she also set up and ran the organisation’s appraisal schemes.

If there were problems with a member of staff, Lattimer dealt with them herself and being in charge meant that she quickly picked up the basics of employment law. “Managing HR and strategic issues was part of my role. I was always a people manager,” she notes.

But she believes that too many managers are over-dependent on HR to deal with their people issues rather than tackle them head on themselves. The problem is that they simply aren’t encouraged to take enough responsibility and become too bogged down in ‘process’ to manage people properly.

Creating a vision
But because HR is often delegated to in this way, “what people see is HR putting barriers up rather than being facilitators,” Lattimer says.

In 1999, meanwhile, she left the county court system to go freelance, offering customers in both the private and voluntary sectors a mixed bag of training and management development.

Lattimer combined this activity with a bit of time out to look after her children but rejoined the criminal justice system in 2002, this time working for the Crown Prosecution Service, which had a very different culture from the Court Service.
She held a number of corporate services and HR roles there, before branching out on her own again in December 2011 when she set up People Discovery.

Although she is still in the process of developing the business, the aim is to launch it more widely in January or February next year by providing workshops, mentoring schemes and learning materials. She is also writing a book.

“All of these things are tied together and I can’t launch one without the others so it’s taking time to prepare, and I want to be able to offer great products and services that add real value and return on investment. So they have to be right,” Lattimer says. “I’m also building up my network with some brilliant people and doing some coaching and teaching on the side.”

The aim of the business is to help managers and leaders build the skills that they need to inspire people.

“Effective leadership and management and relationships are key, and clear thinking and emotional intelligence are all wrapped up in that,” she explains. “You need to be able to create a vision of what you want and have the emotional agility and thinking skills to go and do it.”
The Dunkirk spirit
Motivation and energy are qualities that a faltering economy has sucked out of many UK workers and employers over the last few years, however, Lattimer believes. This means that a new requirement for accountability is emerging and it is no longer acceptable for organisations to behave unethically or be inefficient.
“There are people getting bonuses when they’ve made the wrong decisions. What that does is create poor managers,” Lattimer points out. “In the County Court, if I didn’t deliver on performance or within budget, I would get a poor performance rating- if I didn’t do my work properly, my neck was on the line.”
But a number of reports recently have pointed to a lack of good leadership and management within the UK. “While I can’t but agree, my questions are: who is recruiting them, managing them and allowing them to stay?” she queries.

With the economy in a precarious state, good leadership and management are more important than ever to keep people motivated, positive and productive, Lattimer believes.

“It’s about making things interesting and exciting for people, to make them feel a part of something. A lot of people can’t see the point of what they are doing – they need a different focus,” she explains.
As a result, leaders need to “bring that Dunkirk spirit to the table.” “We should be getting on with it. Nothing lasts forever. It’s the journey that counts, and you need to keep that journey interesting,” she says.

Lattimer herself has certainly had an interesting journey to date and, with the launch of her new business in the offing, that doesn’t look set to change anytime soon.

And finally…

Who do you admire most and why?
Oprah Winfrey. She’s demonstrated that attitude, talent and hard work can overcome preconceived prejudice and she’s brought difficult subjects to light and thus freed many people from their own personal agony.
Significantly, she created a dedicated team who totally bought in and committed to creating one of the most watched programmes in the world.

What’s your most hated buzzword?

"Next generation HR". While I think we have to look for and shape the future, I believe, in HR particularly, that we are always moving into the next paradigm before we’ve perfected this one.

The result is that HR professionals are constantly changing expectations without getting it right in the present moment – we confuse our customers as well as the HR community. Instead of next generation HR, I’d rather we talked about "core HR bringing value in a changing world". There’s a subtle difference.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

The best piece of advice I received was to be my own best friend. That was the point that I stopped reacting and trying to please everyone else and started taking my intuition seriously.

How do you relax?

I love spending time with family and friends and I love being abroad in the sun.
My guilty pleasure is playing poker. It has a lot of similarities with life: you’re dealt your hand, you play your cards as best you can and sometimes you win and sometimes it doesn’t turn out how you hoped. Either way, you have to learn to have a good attitude no matter what happens. Otherwise, it affects how you play in the future.

One Response

  1. Please no!

     My father-in-law was at Dunkirk, and says he never wants to see such a disgraceful shambles in his life again.Men poorly-led by an officer class that climbed over the dying to get on over-loaded boats, there were bodies (and pieces of bodies) all over the place – terrible.

    He found the D-Day landings equally traumatic.

    Why does the writer feel it necessary to invoke this tired and untrue metaphor?

    Land why on earth does the Court Service need a "Business Manager"?

    Isn’t it a set of scales that Justice holds in her hand, rather than a cash register?


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