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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Community blogger, Tara Daynes

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As a freelance HR professional, employment law consultant and corporate trainer, Tara Daynes needs to be confident presenting to large groups as well as on a one-to-one basis.

Luckily, she learned the art of presenting early on as she went to stage school. “I was all singing and dancing”, she remembers.
 
Media success came early as Daynes she was a member of the St Winifred’s School Choir, which had a Christmas number one with There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma‘ in 1980.
 
And while standing up in a front of a crowd of HR professionals may not have quite the same buzz as being on Top of the Pops, it is something that she enjoys nonetheless.
 
“The performing side of my background has stood me in good stead for training, presenting seminars and being a guest speaker for places like City Business Library and the CIPD – I’m very comfortable speaking in front of people,” explains Daynes.

But rather than pursue a career in the performing arts, Daynes – a regular and well-respected HRzone blogger – graduated with a degree in social policy, before completing a CIPD diploma in personnel management.

 
Then in 1994, she secured a place on the graduate training programme of Technology, the sales arm of ICL, a computer company that is now owned by Japanese tech giant, Fujitsu.
 
Learning HR-craft
 
Unfortunately, redundancy knocked her off track somewhat, but she quickly found another job at Delavan Spray Technologies, which proved a great opportunity to learn HR-craft.
 
Devalan had never had an HR department so Daynes was handed a huge amount of responsibility, which she relished. “I set that up from scratch, which was great,” she remembers.

By nature, she tends to be logical and process-driven so putting in place all of the policies and procedures that the company required suited her. “People think if you’re in HR you’re a people person, but I’m not that fluffy!” she laughs, although she counters it by saying that she knows how to handle people.

Daynes’ next move, meanwhile, was to one of the big four accountancy firms, Ernst & Young which, in contrast, already had well-established HR procedures in place. But the post enabled her to broaden and deepen her HR knowledge.

 
“It was a large department, but they gave me lots of responsibility running the graduate programme for the North of England. It really broadened my HR horizons,” she says.

A subsequent relocation to London saw her become HR advisor at newspaper and magazine distributor, Dawson Holdings, however. Although it was meant to be a generalist HR role, she ended up handling grievances and disciplinary proceedings.

 
“They had two warehouses and they’d only call me in when they had someone in trouble so people associated me with problems,” Daynes explains.
 
Going freelance
 
From there, she joined not-for-profit organisation, the Association of Accounting Technicians, otherwise known as AAT – the UK’s leading qualification and membership body for accounting staff – as HR manager.
 
“I had a real opportunity to make a change and introduced new HR and initiatives and revised a lot of things and thoroughly enjoyed it,” Daynes recalls.

But after five years, she felt that it was time to move on again. This time, rather than move up a rung on the HR ladder, however, she chose to go freelance.

 
“I realised that my next step would be as business partner or director level, but I enjoyed hands-on stuff. I’m good at managing other people, but very poor at being managed myself. I like to do my own thing,” Daynes explained.
 
She also knew that, as a freelancer, she would have the discipline to “get stuff done” and not just end up watching daytime TV.
 
Daynes planned her move well in advance and built up a suitable array of contacts. But she was also lucky enough to land a role as an advisor and assessor for Investors in People, which involved evaluating companies’ processes and objectives as well as how they could get the most out of their investment in their people.

“I go into organisations and assess their people management strategies and act as an advisor and help organisations maximise performance,” she explains. “A lot of organisations see HR as a bolt-on to the business, but I feel very strongly HR can benefit an organisation at a strategic level and Investors in People has a strong focus in that.”

 
Measuring success
 
But Daynes finds that a lot of organisations act without planning or evaluating things properly and implement systems without looking at how they intend to measure success. “They may put in success measures around an appraisal system, but they are not thinking about how ties into performance management,” she points out.

She also does a lot of work with not-for-profit organisations, however, which are continually trying to do more with less. But she believes that a lot can be done on a budget and without necessarily splashing the cash.

 
The point is that, giving people big financial incentives can make a difference to their lives outside of work, but not inside. To do that, it is necessary to improve their day-to-day working environment.
 
“It comes down to communication and making sure people are valued,” Daynes explains. “A lot of organisations cut back on rewards and training.”

Training that isn’t targeted, however, will not produce results. “You can spend a lot of money sending people on training, but unless they remember what they have learned, they won’t be more engaged and productive,” she says.

In 2007, meanwhile, Daynes added another qualification to her list, gaining a specialist paralegal certificate in employment law. She had been advising companies on legal HR and found that they would subsequently go and check her suggestions with their solicitors.

 
“I took the qualification just to prove that I know what I’m talking about,” she says.

Daynes has now been self-employed for four years and can’t see herself returning to the traditional Monday to Friday office environment as she loves the freedom and variety offered by the freelance lifestyle. And it’s this that still keeps her interested and excited in what she does.

 
And finally….
 
Who do you admire most and why?
Margaret Thatcher – nothing to do with her politics but because she was the definitive woman making her mark in a man’s world. I’ve often found myself on male-dominated management teams, sometimes with men who pigeonhole HR as a ‘women’s thing’, so I empathise with the professional and personal challenge of proving yourself in that situation.

What’s your most hated buzzword?
‘Upskilling’ – we have three perfectly good words in ‘training’, ‘learning’ and ‘development’ so why make up a new one?

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

Always make your own security so you don’t have to be dependent on anyone else. I now pride myself on my independence and it’s very liberating.

How do you relax?

I find it hard to sit and do nothing so I have a monthly facial and massage where I can’t get up and start doing laundry or emails. I get so chilled out, I usually doze off half way through.

 
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