Barry Hoffman, head of HR at Charteris, believes HR professionals need a wide-reaching knowledge across sectors if they are to become business leaders
Barry Hoffman’s experience in management and consultancy work has played an integral role in his ability to improve the credibility of the human resources function, making it key to the business strategy of the organisations for which he has worked. In his current role as head of HR at professional services firm Charteris, Hoffman advocates the need for HR professionals to embrace a breadth and depth of knowledge both within the function and beyond.
He realises the importance of experiencing of business life outside HR having started his career in general management. It was while working as head of operations at Gedas UK, the technology division of the Volkswagen Group, that his interest in the HR discipline developed. He was then responsible for approximately 150 employees and the day-to-day running of the business unit required him to deal with predominantly people-related issues. “I got really interested in HR because I felt that although I was running a business unit, the key to success was effective people management,” Hoffman explains.
This experience encouraged him to embark on an executive MBA. Although the qualification was in general management, Hoffman focused on an HR-related project, making recommendations that would save Gedas UK significant costs.
Having secured the confidence of his bosses, supported by the business case he devised as part of his studies, Hoffman took on the role of head of HR. “It was a bit of a baptism of fire because HR had been run very much as a compliance function,” he says.
Hoffman went on to make a number of changes to the firm’s reward package. As well as launching a flexible benefits scheme, he also changed the structure of its bonus plan, linking it to company rather than personal performance. These changes helped to transform the HR department from a cost to a value-adding function.
As a consequence of this experience, he is quick to advise HR professionals to avoid simply policing organisational policies. Instead, he urges employers to implement a strategy that demonstrates a return on investment.
Hoffman left Gedas UK prior to it being sold in 2005 and went on to work as an independent HR consultant in the legal and public sectors. He recommends gaining experience as a consultant to other HR professionals. “The skills you have as a consultant are really relevant to being in HR. You need to be objective, you need to understand all the issues, you need to come to logical and cogent conclusions, [and] you can’t do what some HR people do which is just be the policy police,” he says.
Hoffman took up his current role at Charteris in July 2006 and now divides his time between talent and reward. “The market at the moment for talent is so buoyant. It’s really hard to get talent so having a sensible reward strategy is really important,” he explains.
High earners pose their own challenges when putting together a benefits package. They are typically expensive to recruit, so retention – largely driven through reward – is key. And ensuring benefits are relevant to the audience is vital. “People like benefits that are relevant to them, so life assurance, health insurance and share options, equity and independent financial advice. Those are the sort of things that appeal to people who are cash rich and time poor,” says Hoffman.
For employees who are at the top of their game, benefits that recognise individuality are still appreciated. Charteris rewards strong performance with experience vouchers, and uses line managers’ knowledge of staff to ensure the award suits their preferences.
A busy man, Hoffman is still finds time to gain experience of life outside HR with his role as director of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in the City of London.
2006 to present Charteris, head of HR
2005-2006 Legal Services Commission, head of HR consultancy services
2002-2005 Gedas UK (technology division of Volkswagen Group), head of HR
2000-2002 Gedas UK, head of operations
1997-2000 Gedas UK, head of competence centre ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)
1995-1997 Gedas UK, non-HR consultant and project manager roles
1993-1995 Local purchasing team Volkswagen AG, office manager
1992-1993 Volkswagen Group UK, graduate trainee
- What lessons have you learned? As an HR person, you need to have depth and breadth of knowledge not only of the organisation but also of other sectors and industries.
- What advice would you share? The more that heads of HR can be business leaders, the more valuable they become to an organisation.
- What are your positive attributes? I’m very outcome focused. I’m very driven to achieve results and I see that as a positive.
- What are your ambitions? I would like to [help] take Charteris to the next stage of growth and play an active part in its leadership team.