In Conversation With…Heather Garrett, Menzies LLP

Heather Garrett 440x440Heather Garrett, HR Director at Menzies LLP discusses change and how to navigate through and come out on top.

Could you tell about your background Heather and how you came to the role of HR Director at Menzies?

My career path has involved working with a diverse range of companies throwing their own unique and individual challenges along the way.  I started my HR career with BAA as a graduate trainee at Heathrow Airport and moved to become personnel officer at Terminal One (otherwise referred to as POTI!). After cutting my teeth in this fast paced employee relations environment, I  moved to British Gas as a training manager and change consultant during the company’s reorganisation. Three years later I took up my first head of HR role with Ultra Electronics.

I was later approached by Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) to take on the HR leadership of a large outsourcing deal with a major utilities organisation.  Accenture was a great grounding for me in a professional services environment and during my six years there I held a number of senior HR positions with EMEA and Global remits. In 2003, I left Accenture for Sun Microsystems and spent seven very enjoyable years in senior business partner roles before being appointed HR Director for the UK and Ireland.

Sun Microsystems was then acquired by Oracle and once the business transfer process was completed, I was ready for a new challenge – and Nokia was certainly that.  I joined Nokia as HR Director for the UK and Ireland in early 2010 some nine months before the business appointed a new CEO and went through global organisational change.  I led the UK element of Nokia’s change programme – divesting businesses, leading complex redundancy consultations and site closures.  I then spent a relatively short time as global talent and leadership director before Nokia was acquired by Microsoft.  I later joined Legal and General as HR Director for Insurance before joining Menzies in January this year.

What is your take on the relationship between employee engagement, customer engagement, performance and profitability?

Employee engagement can drive business performance and profitability.  I have long bought into the concept of the psychological contract that was really the precursor to the work on employee engagement – which asserted the link between ‘emotional engagement’ and increased employee performance and business profitability. We now know that happy employees are more productive and happy employees make customers happy.

It has taken the HR profession a while to get this message home to businesses.  Some still need to be convinced.  However, in this VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), disrupted world we now know that people are the best differentiator any business can have.

Do you think there has been a general culture change in terms of professional services organisations over the past few years in the way they view their employees and customers?

In professional services you are effectively selling the skills, knowledge, experience and insight of your people.  If you want to create value for your clients and customers then it pays you to create a culture of high performance and engagement with your employees. That means taking the time to invest in people – particularly the relationship building skills.  Whether you are a lawyer, an accountant or a business consultant, your technical knowledge may give you permission to play but it is the people skills around being a trusted advisor to your clients that will differentiate you from the competition.

Could you give us a flavour for your mission at Menzies and where you see the organisation in two years from now?

I want to help Menzies to further develop its business, ensuring that we are well placed to embrace every opportunity to further enhance employee engagement and drive a culture in the Partnership that promotes autonomy, mastery and a strong sense of purpose. One of my responsibilities will also be working with marketing to develop the Menzies brand and the associated employer brand.

We are operating in a VUCA world and to quote Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”  I’m looking forward to being part of the dynamic team at Menzies as we navigate our way through the industry changes.

What do you think is the single most important challenge facing the global HR community in our brave new digital age?

It is all about the talent agenda. HR needs to be hand in glove with anticipating the talent you might need for a business that might not even exist right now. This is the key challenge for us all in this digital age.  Businesses are looking to HR for leadership. They need insight from HR practitioners on how to source talent, develop and retain the best.  Keeping pace with this digital agenda is not easy but it is certainly very exciting..