What steps did you take to get to senior level?
Jeannie Edwards, director of human resources, Europe Africa, MWH Global [JE]: I took time to learn about the business, the financials and the business model, as well as to see what needed assistance. I didn’t impose HR models on the company. I set about fixing things for managers to make their lives easier. I then started to create measurements, providing metrics that helped them to manage their teams more effectively.
Leigh Lafever-Ayer, HR director, UK & Ireland, Enterprise Rent-A-Car [LLA]: I started my career with Enterprise more than 20 years ago, spending the first 10 years in operations. I was responsible for core business activity, including delivering profits, generating growth and providing excellent customer service.
I started to realise how important the selection and development of employees are in making the business a success. This was the part of my role I really enjoyed. I also realised that my operational skill set could help HR be more than about compliance. I understood the business. When the opportunity came up, I took this interest further by moving to the HR team.
My success in the business operationally led to conversations with the managing director about the business-wide strategies that Enterprise was trying to roll-out, which helped to clarify the strategy that we should take for HR. This has helped the wider business and senior leaders in the UK view HR as a partner and a resource for strategic planning and driving business performance.
Ceri-Anne Connolly, HR director, group functions, Aviva [CC]: I joined what was then Norwich Union Direct as an HR graduate in 1998. Two years later, I took a secondment as business manager for the UK General Insurance CEO. This helped me build my commercial picture of the organisation and have my first insight into organisation strategy, handling customer complaints and understanding the operations of an executive team. In 2001, I moved into HR account management and two years later took on a change consultancy manager role, where I built my leadership skills. In 2004 I was promoted to head of HR business partnering in UK General Insurance. I then relocated to York to join the UK Life business and lead the HR strategy of a major assisted transformation programme into our finance function alongside Deloitte. In 2008 I was promoted to HR business partnering director for the UK Life COO and three years later moved to Aviva Group, as HRD for the Group COO. Last July I was promoted onto the HR executive team as the HR director for all group functions across Aviva and I’m now accountable for the HR strategy and plans across eight global functions.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way to earn recognition and respect?
JE: Nobody will remember it was late, everyone will remember that it was wrong. I will not release data or a communication unless I am completely confident in its contents.
LLA: Be aware of your personal brand. It’s important to understand how other people in your organisation view your expertise and skill sets. Don’t be afraid to shout about what you excel in and show how you are adding value, but also remember to lead by example and try to mentor others to develop their own skills.
CC: Stay true to yourself and your natural style. Knowing who you are and what you stand for builds self-belief and others’ confidence in you. By trusting your instincts and choosing your battles wisely, when you make your case for change you will do so with impact, purpose and real conviction. Always take decisions that can be implemented in line with your personal principles.