Frontline Intelligence: HR Recruitment - Change is no holiday!

by 04 Dec 2012

Helen O’Keefe outlines what senior HR leaders are doing about the expectations placed on them and their teams as their respective organisations undergo significant business change.

In businesses everywhere, transformation has become the rule rather than the exception, with human resources practitioners increasingly required to keep one step ahead of the game.

In this month’s article we explore the thoughts of Senior HR Leaders around the expectations placed on them and their teams as their respective organisations undergo significant business change. What skills do HR practitioners need to develop in their career with change as a backdrop?

The common themes

Addressing participants at an executive breakfast seminar hosted by The Next Step in Melbourne, a panel of HR Leaders comprising of Susan Tonks, General Manager of Human Resources at Kmart, Catherine Walsh, General Manager of Human Resources at Australia Post and Andrew Lafontaine, Group Head Workforce Capability at ANZ, shared their insights into the ever challenging role of HR as they steer change agendas through their respective organisations. They discussed HR’s response to transformation and the challenges for HR to stay relevant and add value during times of major change.

Whilst all three organisations vary greatly in employee numbers, industry and profitability, they are all on significant transformational journeys with some clear commonalities appearing in their HR strategies.

These included:


  • Simple strategies and ensuring the fundamentals are in place
  • Appointing HR teams who connect to the business strategy
  • Measuring HR’s impact on the bottom line


Supporting the change

At this event, Susan Tonks shared insights into Kmart’s transformation from a “weekly specials” to “always lower prices” culture. With an employee base of 26,000 and an HR team of 46, key to Susan’s team’s success is focusing on two to four key objectives that are aligned to the business needs. Right now, they are focused on recruitment and team member training. By getting this right, not only do they contribute to the bottom line by ensuring productivity, they contribute to Kmart’s vision of ensuring they attract the best people in retail and are a great company to work for.

Likewise, with Australia Post preparing for the digital age via their “Future Ready” program, Catherine Walsh indicated that her team has three clear and simple priorities which centre around capability, performance and talent. By doing this well, they are ensuring that the right people are in the right roles and the structures support this fundamental enterprise-wide change.

At ANZ, Andrew Lafontaine advised the group that being a ‘Super Regional Bank’ with a large number of employees now based in Asia and virtual teams more common, HR’s core focus is developing a workforce capability that connects across borders and can drive business outcomes for the bank.

The commercial smarts

Craig Mason, the Managing Director of The Next Step who facilitated the panel, reflected upon some of the findings in the Global HR Viewpoint survey. In particular, Craig highlighted that there continues to be a significant gap between the rhetoric of needing to be commercial and HR professionals’ acceptance that development in this area is essential. Only

9% of the 3,000 HR practitioners surveyed across Australia, NZ, Asia and the UK considered developing their commercial/financial skills as a critical part of their professional development.

All panellists were unanimous in their belief that leading transformational change requires HR professionals who demonstrate commercial acumen and can readily measure how their role impacts the business.

Andrew Lafontaine shared how this is increasingly important at ANZ, where projects will not gain approval without a solid business case highlighting ROI. Susan Tonks shared how her team initially struggled to see how they could impact productivity, but now they ‘get it’ and for them, it’s excelling at the basics. Catherine Walsh and Andrew Lafontaine both agreed.

Catherine Walsh added that she believed it important for HR practitioners within changing environments to demonstrate agility and be able to deal with ambiguity.

The final word

So, how can HR practitioners stay relevant, add value during major business change and maximise their career opportunities?


  • The effective HR leaders are those who develop and link their strategy to the business and keep it simple.
  • The effective HR team members are those who understand how their role impacts the bottom line.
  • The effective HR function is one that demonstrates their return on investment and clearly assists the business deliver its end result.


Appreciating and learning from these simple but clear messages will help accelerate any HR career

 About the author

Helen O’Keefe is a Senior Consultant in The Next Step's executive appointments team in the Melbourne office. For more information call (03) 9664 0900 or email Website: