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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Lisa Sarjeant, HR director at the CIPD


As HR director at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – Europe’s largest chartered professional HR body – it’s no surprise that Lisa Sarjeant sits on the executive team and is instrumental in setting organisational strategy.

While those HR professionals who are struggling to make their voices heard at the top table may envy her this position, working for such a prominent force in the HR world does have its downsides.
“I can’t get it wrong, I’m in the spotlight,” Sarjeant laughs. “Working at the CIPD means I’ve got a lot of support from colleagues and the board, but you’ve still got to know your stuff and stay in touch with what’s going on externally.”
Therefore, she is conscious that she has to keep her finger on the pulse, although she does have the CIPD’s “next generation research at my fingertips and external networks to help me”, she says.

Sarjeant fell into HR very quickly after college, but as is the case with so many, it was more by luck than judgement. Her dad had got her a job where he worked himself at the London Fire Brigade and so she began working in the personnel, statistics and information department, handling issues such as pay, conditions and recruitment.

Luckily for her, she discovered that she had found her niche. From there, Sarjeant moved to become an HR executive at a small computer consultancy, which included a six-month stint in California helping to set up an office over there.
Changing and developing
Although she could have stayed on longer on the US west coast, she chose to come back to the UK – even though she knew that the UK office was due to close down and that she would be out of a job.

But Sarjeant quickly landed on her feet again and, in 1990, joined the CIPD (or the Institute of Personnel Management, as it was then known), where she has been ever since.

This means that she has seen the organisation change and grow following its amalgamation with the Institute of Training and Development in 1994 to become the Institute of Personnel and Development. The body finally gained its royal charter to become the CIPD in 2000.

But Sarjeant’s job has changed and developed in line with the organisation. “My role kept growing and expanding until eventually I became head of HR and a member of the senior management team in 1997,” she explains.

Today, Sarjeant has three main areas of responsibility. Alongside HR, she also looks after facilities, which she sees as a natural fit because the physical working environment has such a huge influence on the wellbeing of employees.

“Ultimately, it’s about their working environment and that goes hand-in-hand with good people management,” she believes.

Because Sarjeant has a facilities team in place to handle day-to-day matters, she only tends to get involved in big projects – and few come bigger than constructing a new building.

The little things
This was created in Wimbledon seven years ago and as well as contributing to its design and development in areas such as physical seating plans, she was also responsible for helping people to adjust to the move and ensuring that they were happy with it.
To this end, she arranged for employees to visit the site and got them involved with matters such as which coffee machine to go for in order to help them feel included in the process.

But in 2008, Sarjeant also took on a third role, running branch development and the CIPD’s 1,000 volunteers. “This is a great opportunity for me as I’m a member and an HR professional myself, so I’m able to speak their language and understand what they are trying to do,” she explains.

However, there is also a fourth element to her job, Sarjeant points out, and that is being a member of the executive team. “I particularly enjoy working with the executive team and coming up with new ideas and initiatives,” she says.

And since being at the CIPD, she has introduced a fair few of them, ranging from the big, which includes a mentoring and leadership development programme, to the small such as a Pizza Club. In the latter instance, people from different parts of the business are brought together once a month, for the day to make, and eat, pizzas.

But, as Sarjeant points out, it’s often not just the big, expensive HR initiatives that make all the difference. Sometimes it really is the small and simple things in life that help to create a happy working environment.

And finally…

Who do you admire most and why?
All working parents – they have to be expert jugglers with exceptional time management skills.

What’s your most hated buzzword?
Game plan.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Treat others as you would like to be treated.

How do you relax?
Zumba. I find exercise is always best for getting rid of tension. Oh, and I can’t resist the odd spa day.


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