Neil Armstrong, Talent Manager, Talent Programmes, Boots, Neil Armstrong, Talent Manager, Bootshas almost 10 years of recruitment experience across a range of industries and skill sectors, and joined Boots in 2011 as a Recruitment and Talent Manager. He is also passionate about youth unemployment and works with the local community to support skills development to help young people enter work with the necessary employability skills. We thought you’d like to know about his own HR experience, so we asked him all about it.

What attracted you to a career in HR and what do you enjoy most about working in HR

I started my HR career in recruitment, and was attracted to the sector following my previous experience in the pharmaceutical sector. I trained as a scientist and was interested in a career where I could use my knowledge of science coupled with an interest in human behaviour. The reward of impacting people’s lives by helping them find new and often better career opportunities really appealed to me.

Though I don’t do any “hands-on” recruitment anymore, I still love the feeling you get when you are making a positive difference to people’s lives. The work we do in our team is truly inspiring, supporting young people understand themselves, helping them find a career that is right for them, and then developing their potential. We in HR are at the heart of the business, as a function we recruit and develop talent to drive the business forwards, and without great people we wouldn’t be as successful as we are – it’s a great place to be!

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in HR

There are a number of achievements; it’s difficult to pick one. In 2014 I led a piece of work with Nottingham Trent University called Grads4Nottm, working closely with Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham City Council. The programme was like nothing we had done before. The ambition was to raise the awareness of opportunities for graduates in Nottinghamshire, particularly across small to medium size businesses, as research told us that following graduation, the talent grown in the county were leaving the area to go to London, or to seek opportunities closer to home.

We developed a week long challenge, and placed over 30 students into 15 different businesses across the county. The results were outstanding. We inspired a lot of young people, giving them a picture of what businesses in the area look like, and improved their working skills and confidence to support their careers following graduation. The collaboration between businesses across the county, from various different sizes and sectors was great and we are playing a big part in supporting the youth unemployment agenda. The pilot will be progressed this year, and will be a key part of the council’s Employment and Skills strategies.

How would you say the HR function is changing and what do you foresee as the next big thing?

At Boots UK, it’s about adapting quickly to our forever changing business. We are becoming more global and therefore the requirements of HR as a function are to lead the people agenda that ultimately supports the business growth strategy. The speed at which we work needs to be quicker all the time, and the way we work needs to be more efficient to ensure we are not reactive to the business, but indeed proactive developing solutions and leading the way on how we recruit, retain and develop our people.

The next big thing for us will be strategic efficiencies across the group, and how as a global business we can be stronger.

What is the next HR objective for your business / what are some of your business challenges and HR priorities?

Our customers, communities and people are changing at an increasing pace, and we need to ensure we are equipped to let everyone do their jobs effectively in the digital world. We need agility in the business, and management who inspire colleagues and drive performance – it’s a key priority that we get people in this place. We also need to create a strong employment brand that has our true values at the heart, based upon care.

What are common mistakes you see in HR and what’s your 1 best HR tip?

Sometimes things are made too complicated, and processes can get in the way. We can fall foul of involving too many people, and slow down the pace of getting things done. Best tip? Really trust and empower people to do their jobs, and take risks.

Who do you look up to most in the industry?

Business leaders who are willing to move things forward taking risks along the way, and grasping hold of opportunity.

How are you harnessing HR innovation in your organisation?

We have connections with many different organisations to ensure we are always learning about new practices and ways we can improve what we do.

As a business, we are creative and run ‘idea-thon’ events (creative thinking) in certain functions to generate new thinking. We have led the way in new thinking around supporting other businesses develop their own too – for example developing eBooks to share our knowledge with other businesses to show them how to develop a successful apprenticeship programme and the positive impacts it can have on your business.

We have also led the thinking on how we attract entry level talent using social media with award winning campaigns. We often find other companies wanting to learn about how we do things.

Employee engagement often tops the HR agenda, what are the main challenges in engaging your workforce and ensuring you maximise the contribution of employees?

It’s important to provide a good structure in how good performance is rewarded and supported when development is required – we focus on rewarding good performance in colleagues, and we have demonstrated how our focus on leadership and development promotes healthy conversations regularly about personal performance and progression.

We have a strong employment engagement strategy that listens to our colleagues and supports making their comments heard. It can be a natural challenge to get people across all the functions to support in this work in a busy and demanding environment, however we have a long history in supporting our colleagues, therefore it’s in our DNA and is a natural part of the culture at Boots UK.

Neil Armstrong will speak at the Symposium Graduate Recruitment and Development Forum 2015.