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  • Debra Cadman

Confessions of an HR Director (Part 1)

Updated: Jan 6


I love people. I love HR. I love business.


I started my HR career as an administrator and worked my way up through a number of organisations until I ended up in a company where I stayed for 17 years. It was a large global business and I worked in a variety of roles, culminating in the last few years as an HR Director.


I loved my job. I loved the ability to influence the people agenda, I loved the people I worked with and, if I’m honest, I loved the status I had in my role. I didn’t love the politics, the email volume, or being away from my family a lot. However, I was a part of something incredible and bigger than me, that made me feel amazing.


On the flip side, I was tired. I felt vulnerable. I was expected to be the person who knew everything about how to resolve all of the people issues, even though I didn’t have direct ownership of the majority of the people. Decisions were made at the top of the organisation that I didn’t agree with but had to implement and justify. It got harder. Harder to think of solutions, harder to understand how I was feeling, harder to find time and focus.


It is increasingly recognised that people are the key to a successful business. HR have always known that, and now it seems that the whole of the C-Suite gets it too. Talent is difficult to manage. Finding great people at exactly the moment you need them is tough. Global markets mean more competition, products and services are being commoditised, it’s difficult to see real differentiation in any sector.

Then of course there’s all the changes in demography, technology, politics. How do we juggle all of that? We can, of course, if we are thinking ingeniously and have the confidence to implement the changes that we know will create sustainable change and competitive advantage.


One of the most challenging aspects of being HRD was that in my corporation, everyone, from the most senior to the most junior had an opinion on HR and how it should be done! At Town Hall sessions I would be asked why L&D was so poor, when would I replace our performance management system as other companies were moving away from a rating system, why could I not sort out recruitment to ensure we had better people on tap, why had they not had a pay increase for three years when they were working really hard. Interestingly, my board colleagues wouldn’t get anywhere near the amount of questions I got as HRD, even when our business results were poor, or we’d just had won a fantastic, new piece of business.


I had no time. And this is the number one issue I hear over and over from my peers. I was in back-to-back meetings or phone calls all the time. I relished a train or plane journey as I was often uncontactable and able to get through my hundreds of emails. I was worried about taking holiday as there was so much going on. I was worried about failing and what would happen if I did. I was surrounded by people who were also worried about the same things but we didn’t have time to talk about it (or we were too scared to raise it).


I made some gutsy decisions and created some brilliant strategies to support the business issues and improve the lot of the people that worked for us. I made a positive impact on the business I was in and the people in it. But looking back, I think I could have done more if I’d had more time to think.

Four years ago I left. It wasn’t because I was desperately unhappy. I loved my job, the people I worked with and the company I worked for. But I still left. And when I told my best friend I was leaving, she said that it was a relief as I had become consumed by my job and was becoming a little boring to be with! Which was true.


I set up my own HR consultancy and learnt a lot about running a business and about myself (you could say I have been on a ‘journey’ - but that really is an over used term).

I realised that part of the reason for my resignation was that I just wanted some time, so that I could be my best, and do the thinking of a leader, while working on the thing that I am dedicated to. I think time to think, to step back, to consider and focus is critical.


This is why I have set up The HR Agenda – to give people what I needed but didn’t have.

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