Interview with Lucilla Kearsey, our Consultant Director for HR at People Business

The latest in our People Business interview series is with Lucilla Kearsey, Consulting Director – HR. Lucilla  heads up the HR team here at People Business and among other areas, she has a keen interest in organisational change management, diversity and inclusion, and believes that HR processes should be fair and transparent.

With energy, optimism and resilience on her side, Lucilla is also a strong advocate for HR having a seat at the ‘top table’, influencing corporate strategy, working within the leadership team to fulfil corporate vision and values as well as helping chart organisations’ paths through change.

Lucilla, what started you off on the path towards HR? Have you always worked in this space?

I started working in HR about 14 years ago when I joined a small European market research company that was about to be acquired by a global healthcare research panel. As a HR Generalist I advised and implemented several change management initiatives post sale, including introducing new employee benefits, policies and crucially supporting senior management on recruitment, retention, performance management, varying contracts, managing redundancy and a TUPE and ensuring compliance with latest legislation. After two years I was promoted to HR Director and shortly afterwards the company was renamed M3 Global Research. In that time, I did my CIPD qualification.  Prior to HR, I spent the first 18 years of my career in marketing, working in various senior management roles latterly as a General Manager for a Direct Marketing (DM) agency and heading up Client Services for the DM divisions of a number of global agencies.

So, you have worked in HR and business for several years, how have you seen the HR landscape change?  And would you say that all changes have been for the better?

Yes, the HR landscape has significantly changed – especially prompted by some big global and national challenges such as the pandemic, cost of living crisis, talent shortage and drop in productivity and innovation. But these challenges have also presented opportunities for the HR profession – with a shift in perception and increased appreciation of HR’s strategic input and value.

As custodians of having people at the heart of the business agenda, HR professionals are also enablers of change in the areas of job design, leader and manager skills planning and development, shaping positive cultures which are ethical, inclusive and values driven.  We facilitate new ways of working which embrace AI/technology and embed more dynamic career paths for our multi-generational workforce. There’s a lot to do and we should be positive role models of the profession’s ability to adapt and change for the better.

What particular HR issues do you notice our clients are facing at the moment and may find themselves facing in 2024?

I think the challenges our clients face are, unfortunately, not going away anytime soon.  Rising costs, disruption to supplies and a slowing in demand will continue applying pressure for operational efficiency and maintaining margins – especially for SMEs. Yet at the same time we continue to have a nationwide skills shortage which means there is an even greater pressure and expectation on existing staff to be even more productive (!) and our clients are struggling to hire people with the rights skills and agility.

Meanwhile employees want more flexible/hybrid working arrangements and are feeling less connected, more mistrustful of their employers (our clients), fatigued and unsettled – especially with the onset of AI. Paying attention to shaping and enabling a culture for the hybrid workplace that establishes greater connection (between colleagues, managers and leaders), drives engagement, enhances productivity and fosters a sense of belonging and purpose.

Additionally, employee wellbeing continues to be a priority and there is still much to do in the areas of DE&I.

In recent years HR has been developing its influence – not just a hiring, firing, policy-enforcing body of old, but one with strategic sway and real people interest. In your opinion, which areas have made the most impact on organisations and individuals?

Before HR used to operate to well defined parameters and rules. Now there are fewer rules and far more variables to manage – and master! Where I have seen HR make the most impact is in redesigning jobs to be more agile, competency-based and values driven.  We have helped improve manager effectiveness (not just through skills training but resetting role expectations and rebuilding manager pipeline), as well as shaping positive, healthy inclusive cultures and workplaces that drive greater engagement and productivity. And finally, in recent years HR has been enabling and managing change initiatives – considering change fatigue, as HR professionals we need to equip and factor in fatigue management to drive successful transformation.

What would you say were the most important qualities for a successful HR leader and how do they make it to the ‘top table’?

HR leaders don’t operate in a vacuum and are living through the same challenges of uncertainty and rapid pace of change. I think HR leaders need to be creative, confident to experiment and lean into change. They need to be agile and adaptable, have vision but also be pragmatic, all while having a firm grasp on commercial necessities in order to keep their place at the top table.

So, a HR leader needs to have the energy and determination to affect short term action as well as the foresight to consider the long-term consequences of any initiative. Not forgetting the growth mindset that is values- and ethics-led and outcomes driven. Oh, and a good dose of resilience wouldn’t go amiss either!

If you could go back in time and advise your younger, greener, HR professional self on their career, what would you tell her?

This is a tough one as I feel every experience is a learning opportunity so even as a greener HR professional, I think it’s important to try new things (within reason) and, if you fail, to learn from it. I think I have also come to be a better active listener and not place a burden on myself to have all the answers and have a newfound appreciation of the circle of influence and control. I would refer to the wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr to tell my younger self to have “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

At People Business, our HR consultants are on hand to help your organisation with day-to-day people requirements, through to a strategic change management programme and everything else in between. If you would like to know more about our HR offering, simply get in touch and we’d be happy to help.