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Career profile: Howard Crabtree, interim head of HR & OD, MOPAC

Posted on from Changeboard

Get to know your peers in the global HR community through our career profile series. Today, we profile Howard Crabtree, interim head of HR & OD and MOPAC, where he reveals how the NHS helped mould his career path, his biggest career regret, and the benefits of preferring savoury over sweet.

Basic details

Name: Howard Crabtree

Job: Director – HC Human Resource Consulting

Current employer: My current assignment is interim head of HR and OD for the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) in London.

CV in brief:

  • Executive director HR, Peterborough Regional College, 2012
  • Interim HR project manager, Cardiff City Council, 2011
  • Interim HR project manager – industrial relations, Hull City Council, 2010-11
  • Interim HR project manager – local government employers, 2009-10

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation

I focus on undertaking senior HR interim roles, either to deliver specific projects or as the head of the HR function. My current assignment is with MOPAC, which is undergoing a major period of change and development. MOPAC has strategic oversight for the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and a remit to influence the entire criminal justice system in the capital. It is a small organisation but has a huge responsibility to deliver the first ever Police and Crime Plan in the UK.

Who do you report into?

Helen Bailey, chief operating officer at MOPAC.

Tell us about your team.

I don’t have one any more. Last December, we went live with an HR shared service delivered by colleagues in the Greater London Authority’s HR function. My hardworking and dedicated team of two transferred there.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

In this assignment, it’s seeing the new MOPAC organisation developing and making a positive impact in such a short space of time.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

Working for Helen Bailey, the chief operating officer. It is a great privilege to work for such an outstanding leader. She is demanding and operates at a very fast pace, so you need to keep up with her and anticipate her requirements to help her deliver MOPAC’s objectives.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It’s a case of getting through my action list. We have relatively few corporate meetings in the diary, which means there is time to focus on the things that have to be done. The meetings I attend, such as with the senior leadership team, partnership committee (with the PCS trade union), and shared services tend to be short and to the point, which is refreshing. I am based mainly at City Hall but my work takes me across London to our other office near Earl’s Court and to meetings at New Scotland Yard.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

I wanted to gain experience of a wider range of sectors and this was my first opportunity to work in policing. The MPS is the most high-profile police force in the UK, perhaps the world, and is critical in terms of government policy and London mayor Boris Johnson’s priorities for the capital. It is the kind of role that comes along only occasionally and is not to be missed.

Perks and downsides of your role?

Perks: Being involved in something with such a national profile.

Downside: Commuting daily from Leicestershire to London.

What skills are essential for the role you’re in?

As an interim, you need self-motivation, self-confidence and the ability to assimilate situations very quickly. You must be able to apply your previous experience and knowledge within the context and culture of the organisation you are working for, so you have to be adept at understanding these. The old cliché that an interim has to ‘hit the ground running’ is completely true. You would come unstuck if you were not comfortable with that.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

As head of HR or HR director in public sector organisations, I had recruited many interims in a variety of roles and saw how a good interim could really make a difference in a short period of time. In my last permanent role, a 360-degree process indicated to me that I could be successful in interim and consultancy work. I have often felt that I work as an internal consultant and that was certainly the case for a lot of my time in Royal Mail. So I took the plunge to become a career interim at the start of 2008.

What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?

Economics, English and geography (the worst was woodwork!). I studied Industrial Relations at Cardiff University, a strange subject for an 18-year-old, and I have been involved in it for the rest of my career.

What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?

My first job was as a graduate national management trainee for the NHS. There was quite a rigorous selection process but I managed to make it through – I was attracted by the rigour of the training scheme, exposure to all parts of the service and early contact with senior managers and clinicians.

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

Probably not, in that the NHS scheme exists to develop the directors and chief executives of the future. After several years’ operational management, I became HR director of a medium-sized NHS Trust. As my focus switched more towards developing my HR capabilities, I moved into other organisations such as the Royal Mail and on to local government and education.

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge has been the downturn in demand for interims since 2011, coinciding with the adverse economic climate. This meant I had to do a lot of networking, keeping up to date both professionally and with the market and being prepared to be flexible. Thankfully, that period now seems to have come to an end but those disciplines will always be critical.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?

All the jobs I have landed have been through the usual interviews, assessment centres. Starting interim assignments can be a little bit crazy though – with MOPAC I was interviewed, offered the role after a few delays and then had a one-day handover with the outgoing head of HR. I took up the reigns of the job midway through a major organisation-wide restructure I was now responsible for heading up. It is not unusual for assignments to begin this way.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

I am proud to have been successful working for myself.

Do you have any career regrets?

Yes. I would like to have had the opportunity to travel abroad with work. Not extensive periods away from home but short trips every so often. I would love to get some international experience and I hope that will happen in the next two or three years.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

If you are serious about wanting to be an interim, find out everything you can about what that means. Talk to interims, go to introductory workshops and study the websites. Have a clear plan for establishing yourself as a business and never forget that only one piece of feedback really matters – would the client hire you again?

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Develop and maintain your core strength. If I had done that more successfully over the past 10 year, I might not have suffered as many lower limb injuries in running career. It’s probably a good piece of advice regarding career management, too.

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Coffee. I can’t stand tea
  • Jam or marmalade?: I don’t like either
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?: The Beatles. It comes down to the harmonies and the lyrics of Lennon and McCartney
  • Mac or PC?: PC. I’ve never used a Mac, just my iPod
  • The Guardian or The Times?: The Times – it has better sports coverage, for one
  • BBC or ITV?: BBC – I avoid adverts
  • M&S or Waitrose?: Waitrose. We have one in the town where I live and I think they get the customer service just right
  • Morning or night?: Morning in the winter, but during the summer I love lighter nights
  • Rain or snow?: Rain – it’s better for running
  • Sweet or savoury?: These days, savoury. My dental checkups are now much better as a result!

Favourites

  • App: BBC News – still the best news service and the one I turn to first
  • TV show: Doctor Who. Fifty years on, it’s better than ever
  • Band: The band Paul Simon has recruited for the past decade or so. They are great musicians at the top of their profession
  • Song: Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. Sheer happiness!
  • Book: An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan. It describes the suffering and strength of the Beirut hostages in raw detail but with great humanity
  • Sports team: Manchester United and Team GB
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Put my feet up and have a rest. If I’m tired, I usually feel as if I have given my all during the week and can look forward to the weekend
  • Place to eat: Space Needle restaurant in Seattle. The food is excellent and on a clear night it has the most amazing views of the sun going down over Puget Sound
  • Holiday spot: The Pacific Northwest. I was a student for a year in Washington State and together with British Columbia and Oregon it’s the most amazing region to take a holiday
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: “Don’t promise what you can’t deliver and make sure you can do what you’ve promised”. That was the advice of my mentor on my first day at work in the NHS

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