CIPHR’s new CEO, Andrew Carwardine, on his approach to leadership, and the most significant challenges facing HR professionals right now
“My entire career has been spent focussed on people; what motivates them, what inspires them and what enables them to contribute and succeed. For the last 15 years I have also been lucky enough to have been in a position to support organisations in gaining a clear understanding of what they are doing, how they are doing it, what people they are doing it with, what their skills are and what development needs they have. So while I’m not a pure HR practitioner, I consider myself to be a highly experienced user of HR tools and practices. That’s why I’m absolutely delighted to be coming to CIPHR, a company with an ethos best summed up as ‘all about people’.”
After a career spent initially in the British Army and latterly within the private equity technology sector – most recently as managing director at Dynama Solutions – Andrew Carwardine joins CIPHR today (7 January) as its new CEO. Here, Carwardine tells CIPHR what he considers the three biggest challenges facing HR professionals right now; how empowering staff is the key to leadership; and why his ideal working day won’t involve spending much time sitting down.
What’s brought you to join CIPHR?
I’ve known Chris [Berry, CIPHR’s former CEO and now deputy chairman] for a few years; we were introduced by LDC, which invested in CIPHR in 2016. We struck up a relationship, and we examined a couple of joint initiatives between Dynama and CIPHR. After a very successful six years with Dynama Solutions, including a move from plc to private equity, and a subsequent exit and re-purchase, I was looking for my next step. Chris asked whether I would be interested in being a candidate to take over from him as CIPHR’s CEO. From what I’d seen of the company, the product, and its people, it didn’t even take me a nanosecond to say “yes” – it was a very easy decision. After a competitive process with a number of candidates in the field, I feel very excited and privileged to have been selected as CEO, and I want to do that decision justice going forwards.
What do you see as the three biggest challenges facing HR professionals today?
I think the most significant challenge is the drive for HR to be more strategic. For a long time, people have focused on HR as delivering considerable administration and support to line managers. However, to remain relevant in a more technology enabled world, HR professionals need to make sure they have a proper strategic impact on organisations, both on the bottom line and at the highest level. It’s a twee phrase – one we used a lot in the Army – but people are our most valuable asset. The HR function needs to live up to its potential to add value to an organisation through the development and empowerment of its people.
Secondly, HR is grappling with the impact of technology on the HR profession itself. Does HR as a profession have a structure and culture that allows people to go in and learn their trade, and then very quickly become part of an HR function that is delivering on its strategic promise – rather than being restricted to the traditional support and admin role for the rest of their careers? There’s a balance to be struck between the human touch that HR brings to an organisation, and the technological facilitation of routine administration. That’s going to be a real challenge – how do you persuade the best people to come into the HR space, and make sure that your employees are properly looked after, in an age of ever-increasing technological sophistication where the focus is on self-service.
Thirdly, if technology removes some of the human interaction employees have with HR, how do we ensure that line managers are fully equipped to engage with their people? One of the things I’ve found moving into the civilian world is that there are some really talented business people out there, but there’s also a lack of proper authentic leadership skill development and support. I think we’re in for an interesting next epoch when it comes to HR and people leadership as technology starts to give the less able and supported leaders the opportunity to disconnect from their people. I think it’s going to be fascinating and I certainly think CIPHR should have a role to play in bridging that potential disconnect. I don’t know what that looks like at the moment, but it’ll be one of the challenges I’ll be laying down shortly: how do we make sure that we make the enablement of good leadership and strategic support a core component of our products and services?
Leaders are notoriously judged by their first 90 days in office. What’s going to be your approach to your first three months at CIPHR?
My personal strapline for CIPHR is ‘evolution, not revolution’. I’m not convinced you need to change things in 90 days just to make a mark. My focus is on delivery to our customers and my aims are to transmit my leadership style to CIPHR to embed a culture of enhanced empowerment through accountability and defined output. I’m not going to come in and paint the office pink or anything, but I would hope in 90 days that CIPHR finds it has someone in the CEO seat who is an authentic leader and who has given them a renewed vision, but also somebody who listens and empowers their people to crack on and do the very best job possible.
What does your ideal working day look like?
A good working day for me starts with some form of physical activity before I get into work, preferably running or rowing outside rather than in a gym. I’m a great fan of physical activity in the workplace; physical fitness is really important to mental fitness and creative thinking for me. Then, I’d ideally spend the working day engaging with different topics. I like diversity in my working life, I like engaging with people. I don’t really mind what the subject matter is – if I’m talking to lots of different people, whether they are customers or staff, I will be a very happy bunny. I’m not a great fan of lengthy meetings or being office-bound for extended periods of time. An ideal working day is also full of humour and ends with the ability to get back to see my family before they are all in bed. I’m really looking forward to running a UK-focused organisation, because in my previous role I was spending a good 40 days per quarter travelling long haul. I won’t miss that.
How do you prioritise strategic work over the intricacies of the day-to-day running of a business?
I find that if I empower people and I let people get on with what they are good at, generally speaking that destroys any sort of culture of people thinking they have to gain my approval at every tactical step. There is a great quote from Stanley McChrystal, a former US Army general: “Delegate to the level at which you are uncomfortable. Then delegate one level beyond that”. And that is my mantra. I am constantly surprised – though I shouldn’t be – at just how well people react to that. The benefit for me is I’m not having to engage with the intricacies of everything and I have time to think: I have time to engage with the forward thinking rather than the day-to-day business, which is very much where I see myself sitting as a CEO. That said, I’m not shy of rolling my sleeves up when tactical issues require it, and I love being customer facing.
What keeps you busy outside work?
My two daughters keep me busy: they play hockey and netball, so I spend a lot of time travelling to competitions and watching them play. I also enjoy cross-country running and I’m lucky enough to be able to go out of my front gate, down the road a bit and then have access to 1,200 acres of public woodland and mud.
I like to try to continue to learn, principally through understanding the lessons of history and keeping up with the latest thinking, and I like to read to do that. I’m currently reading two books: Arnhem by Anthony Beevor and The Advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. I’m quite into Netflix these days, too: I like Game of Thrones, Jack Ryan, that sort of thing. I’m also still a member of the Army Reserve, albeit in more of a non-executive-director capacity than an operational role these days.