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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Guy Pink, HR director of Addaction

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Knowing your company helps saves lives is a pretty good motivator for getting up and going to work each day.
 
Guy Pink, HR director of drug and alcohol treatment charity, Addaction, may not be on the front line providing counselling or advice, but he plays a vital supporting role, ensuring that the charity creates the best possible work environment to attract and keep talented individuals. By managing staff costs effectively, Pink also guarantees that the maximum amount of funds can be directed to those who need it most.
 
"Eighty per cent of our costs are staffing, so if I do anything extra, I have to be creative in how we use people to maximum benefit," points out Pink. 
 
The hard work has paid off. Addaction made it onto this year’s Sunday Times 100 Best Places to Work in the Public/Third Sector. The accolade is particularly commendable because the charity has undertaken a number of mergers and acquisitions. This activity involves absorbing employees from these organisations, which is not something that the transferring staff are necessarily always positive about.
 
The term ‘mergers and acquisitions’ is not one often heard in connection with charities, but Addaction is slightly unusual in this regard. It bids for tenders in the same way that commercial companies do – typically for facilities run by the NHS.
 
Part of Pink’s remit is to ensure not only that the transferring employees’ rights are protected under TUPE, but also that they make the transition smoothly. While some people find it liberating to escape the bureaucracy that organisations as large as the NHS inevitably breed, other find change tough.
 
"If someone has been in the NHS for 30 years, it can be a major cultural change and incredibly frightening as well," Pink says. "A lot of what I do is to help that integration and help them become assimilated into our way of working."
 
Career path
 
The soggy economy and austerity measures sweeping through the private and public sector alike have taken their toll, however: redundancies took place earlier this year and a pay freeze was introduced. But, for charities like Addaction, squeezing the most out of the pounds and pennies is business as usual, whatever the vagaries of the economy.
 
"I think one of the advantages of working in the voluntary sector is you’re always looking at how you can squeeze costs. I’ve been here for six years and this is the first year we’ve not been able to put a pay uplift in place," says Pink.
 
This focus on making the most of every penny is evident in a current project, which involves creating a new learning development programme. Rather than become a drain on funds, Pink says Addaction intends to sell the scheme commercially in order to cover costs and generate extra funds.
 
His own journey towards becoming an HR director began more than 20 years ago, over 17 of which have been spent at voluntary organisations, most notably Victim Support. But it was a stint working at a personnel department as part of his university sandwich course that convinced Pink HR was the right career path for him.
 
Soon after he joined, his boss left and much of the workload landed on his desk. Pink loved the challenge and so, after graduating, he joined a local authority personnel department and began working towards gaining his HR professional qualifications. Today, he is a fellow of the CIPD.
 
For Pink, there’s a big difference between being an HR manager and taking the next step up to become a director. "I’m a buffer between the board, CEO and senior team. You need a lot of political nous and that comes with experience," he says. "At the level I’m operating, it’s actually that political nous and the ability to think strategically that’s important. An HR manager is much more operationally focused."
 
But that doesn’t mean he avoids getting stuck in operationally. "Tomorrow I’m running an induction programme for new staff, so I’m more than happy to get my hands dirty," he says. 
 
Networking is key
 
The other thing about taking the step up from manager to director is that you need the ability to communicate effectively with other members of the top table.
 
"You have to have the capacity to socialise with that senior group, so if I’m talking about a difficult issue to the senior group, it won’t be the case that I’m going in cold to that meeting, without having had discussions already with my boss and other directors," he says.
 
This ability to communicate and network is an area that Pink thinks is key for HR professionals today and he is a member of London HRConnection, a networking and development group. "Networking is one of those skills that a lot of HR people are not good at or stay away from – but one of the reasons I got this role is I’m well connected in the voluntary sector and in HR," notes Pink.
 
His belief that networking is important fits into bigger ideas about the future direction of work: it’s no longer what you know that’s significant – that’s taken as read – but who you know.
 
Addaction is putting this philosophy into practice with its learning and development initiative. Once the product is developed, the charity intends to ask its commercial partners for their help in bringing it to market.
 
During his six years with Addaction, Pink has seen the charity double in size. Volunteer turnover has also dropped from 30% to 3%, but his aim is to concentrate more on supporting and increasing the size of the volunteer team. Ultimately, however, the reason that he loves his job has not changed.
 
“Why do I do this job? It’s about the people I work with and the fact that what we’re doing makes a distinct difference to people’s lives every day,” Pink says.
 
And finally…..
 
Who do you admire?
Ever since I was small, I’ve been a fan of Wimbledon Football Club. Nine years ago, the Club was forcibly moved to Milton Keynes and had to re-establish itself: it had no grounds, no players. It held trials on Wimbledon Common and entered the lowest league possible.
 
Today, it has risen up the ranks again. Eventually it found grounds and reclaimed its league status. There’s a real parallel with the organisation I work for: it’s a very well-run football club, operates within its means and is run by volunteers who are passionate about their cause.
 
Most hated buzzword?
Low-hanging fruit.
 
Best piece of advice?
On his sandwich placement from university, Pink was told: “You may not know what you want to do, but you will know what you don’t want to do.”
 
How do you relax?
Listening to music and walking.
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