Interview with Julie Harding, HR Director at the Co-operative Bank

Julie Harding

We spoke to Julie in September 2015 and asked her to give us insight into the challenges and trends faced by businesses sourcing and motivating skilled people.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Julie. You've spent the last two years at an organisation in a challenging state of flux. Can you tell us a bit about how you got there?

JH: I started out as a physiotherapist, but for some strange reason I had always wanted to work for an investment bank. My first financial job was with HSBC in Australia - as a junior in the Personnel Department. I had to live on half the salary I was used to, but working on integrations, acquisitions, and restructuring of business kept me busy and taught me a huge amount. I then had the opportunity to move office to Brazil. After four years there, my family and I settled in the UK for seven years before finally returning to Australia. My daughter was awarded a place at university in the UK, so we came back in 2012 and I joined the Co-op at a particularly challenging moment in its long history!

How do you think the role of HR Director has changed over the last five years?

JH: While the role of HR Director has changed over the last five years, the degree of that change depends, I suspect, on the business environment. My focus now is on the management of talent and risk with undertones of change, cost reduction, and transformation. Five years ago these were reversed. I think this change represents the growing importance of understanding how change, cost reduction and transformation actually impact the business with disruption to risk and talent. 

What are the key issues facing large financial firms when recruiting quality staff?

JH: I think the biggest challenge to recruitment in financial firms these days is to provide candidates with a realistic understanding of what it is actually like to work in the firm. A combination of rigour around process, thought and care around customers, a constantly changing environment influenced by new products, channels and regulation - all need to be understood. It is much more demanding than it used to be. Understanding your candidates is equally important. With access to sensitive information, your customers and the ability to impact your brand, each selected candidate carries your trust.

How much impact have the trends of home working and remote access had on things like staff engagement, morale, departmental cohesion?

JH: Providing flexibility around place and hours of work is welcomed and valued by everyone but there is some work required to ensure the solution is sustainable. High demand for working from home on one particular day of the week, emergent inflexibility as employees develop home routines that depend on them working from home on particular days, can cause tensions in the medium to long term. Early management of expectations helps.

Looking to the future, what do you feel are the most important trends in human resourcing: e.g. remote working; outsourcing; automation etc.?

JH: Increased understanding of the nature of the work being done and with this knowledge, making more specific decisions about not only who does the work (in-house, outsource, automate) but where the work is done. Recognising the work that touches the business brand, creates value for the customer and enables the business to continue to grow and develop is of increased "in-house" focus. The other trend is flexibility in how we lead and motivate our employees across different generations with different priorities and needs, all in the same workplace.

Have you found it difficult to find skilled people across the organisation?

JH: The hardest task has been finding people that are either experienced in, or able to adapt to, the challenges of digital service provision, which now cuts through an entire organisation. It seems particularly acute in Financial Services.