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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Dan Grant, head of HR at Dell UK


There’s a saying within Dell: ‘It’s not just what you do that’s important, but how you do it…’

It’s a maxim that Dell’s head of HR, Dan Grant, strives to live by. If you’re honest in the way you deal with people and keep your promises, then you can’t go far wrong, he believes.
“I try and keep things very simple and try and make sure I deliver on commitments. If I commit to something, I do it,” he says.
And that commitment has seen Grant come a long way for having just been in the industry for 10 years or so. But not only is he a hard worker, he was also able to identify HR as his career of choice early on while still at university, studying for a business studies degree.
After graduation, Grant took on an entry-level HR post at the University of Westminster and began studying for a Masters in Strategic HR Management. Eighteen months later, he moved to a more senior role looking after IT people at the Metropolitan Police Service.
When it became time to look for a new challenge, however, the fact that he had really enjoyed working with techies meant that he was keen to jump into the high tech sector.
As one of the largest PC companies in the world, Dell fitted the bill admirably – and doubly so because Grant was already an admirer of the Michael Dell story – the college kid who had set up a business from his dorm and created a multi-billion dollar company out of it.
He joined Dell in 2007 as an HR generalist, supporting the firm’s finance people across Europe. “I saw it as an opportunity to work with some senior leaders and wanted to get that experience and have a pan-European role,” Grant recalls. “That role gave me a much greater understanding of how the business works from a financial perspective.”
More strategic HR
He moved into the UK’s top HR slot two years later, assuming responsibility for employees across Europe, and has since driven the introduction of a massive flexible working project. The ‘Connected Workplace’ initiative was a recognition that the traditional office-based 9-to-5 working day does not necessarily fit well with modern lifestyles.
Working entirely or partially from home is not only beneficial to staff juggling home commitments, but is also seen as highly desirable by Generation Y workers who expect more autonomy than other generations. Introducing flexible working hours also makes life easier for staff dealing with people based in other time zones.
Therefore, Grant put in place a framework to formalise flexible working practices, which has to date been taken up by 60% of the UK workforce.
But the implementation of the scheme been far more complicated than expected – as large-scale change initiatives invariably are – particularly in persuading managers of the benefits and ensuring that people are properly kitted out with the right technology at home.
The sheer scope of the initiative is indicative of how much more strategic HR has become over the last decade or so, however, Grant believes.
“I think the role of HR has changed over the last 10 years. Now HR is about embracing change and driving what you need to deliver it rather than being about ‘personnel’, which was about cradle to grave ‘onboarding’,” he says.
Moreover, being an HR director today is about “wanting to understand what the strategy is and keeping executives and leaders honest in the way they deliver that strategy,” Grant adds.
Another key piece of advice is to be careful about not becoming too blinkered by focusing overly closely on the HR remit at the expense of understanding the wider organisation. To this end, it is useful to build both internal and external networks in order to gain a better insight into how business works.
For anyone wanting to make the jump from manager to director, however, Grant recommends trying to identify a couple of good mentors – maybe one inside the business and one outside, in order to provide different perspective on their career path.
And finally…
Who do you admire most and why?
The person that I admire most is Michael Dell. He had an idea and he took that idea and made it happen.
What’s your most hated buzzword?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
‘You’re never more than five days away from a weekend.’
How do you relax?
From Monday to Friday, I’m inside and in meetings. So, for me, it’s about being with my kids and us getting outside together.

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