Australia's Best HR Teams

by Iain Hopkins10 Sep 2013
Bob Hogarth, general manager, HR, Heritage Bank 
Approx. 800
The 2012 Australian HR Team of the Year award went to Heritage Bank. Evidently, Bob Hogarth knows a thing or two about marshalling his troops and getting the very best out of them. But what sets them apart from the countless HR teams scattered around Australia?
“The HR team at Heritage has a very clear intention to make a meaningful contribution to the company and to the staff who work for Heritage Bank,” says Hogarth. 
“This is something that dominates and drives the things we do. The HR team itself is made up of people who genuinely love what they do and who are focused on building their skills and positioning Heritage for the future. If there is anything special about our HR team it is that driving intention to make a demonstrable difference in what we do.”
Uniquely among top HR teams, the Heritage team outsources very little and has a significant investment in L&D due to being a registered training organisation that offers qualifications for both existing staff and to organisations within financial services. The HR team at Heritage includes payroll, traditional HR functions, L&D, and specialist managers in employee relations and health and safety. 
What’s changed in Hogarth’s time in the job (some 16 years)? 
“As work has become more complex, fast paced and challenging, so have the roles in human resources,” he says. “To reflect the challenges they face in a diverse industry such as financial services, so too HR has had to evolve. What I’ve seen in my role is that HR people have to become both more skilled in HR but also have a clearer connection and understanding of the business they serve. At Heritage Bank I’ve seen the need to have expert specialists in certain roles such as L&D and employee relations while at the same time needing HR generalists with very broad skills to complement the HR strategy.” 
When it comes to the vexatious question of whether there’s a ‘best’ structure for an HR team to hold, Hogarth mirrors the opinion of the other HR professionals profiled in this feature. He notes a common trap HR can fall into is assuming there’s one best approach to suit all organisations, cultures and circumstances. “While generally speaking I’m a supporter of the Ulrich business partner approach I recognise that various circumstances such as company structure, geographic spread or philosophy may define a different approach for a HR team structure that would be more effective in that context,” he says.
He also believes the structure is an essential element in providing the capacity to deliver real value, but it’s just one component to consider. “Obviously connected to this is the  clarity of purpose, the resources, skills and the intent of the HR leader and team to deliver these services,” he adds. 
Does Hogarth go in for the clichéd team-bonding exercises that should rightfully be relegated to the history pages of the 1980s? Not really – he takes a holistic view of team building and concedes that while it’s important to enjoy working together as a team (and like many HR teams Heritage does the occasional fun team-building activity), Hogarth’s view is this: the best way to build team spirit is to provide meaningful work, to provide meaningful development for the individuals in the team, and to ensure they have a real sense of purpose and see value in the work that they do. 
“I believe everyone wants to work in an environment where they are valued, where the work is meaningful, where day to day you can enjoy working with each other, and where they have some pride for the organisation they are working for. We try to have a laugh in the workplace, to not take ourselves too seriously but to take what we do very seriously. This approach, to me, has far more impact than any team-building exercise.”

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