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By Human Capital Magazine | January 31, 2012 5:01 PM PST

Of the 12 HR professionals profiled in Human Capital over the past year, Peter Godfrey’s response as to why he enjoys working in the HR space wins out for succinct honesty: “I like its simplicity!” he says.

While he concedes that the term ‘simplicity’ is a little tongue in cheek, he adds that the perception is that ‘anyone can do’ HR. Not so. Godfrey has a slightly different view of what it takes, which takes into consideration the unique specialisation that HR is. He explains the scope of this role in full:

“You need to be capable of understanding the prevailing labour law framework, its key instruments and processes, and their application to your organisation, with an increasingly international complexion. Add to that an understanding of employment law fundamentals inclusive of employment contract matters. Overlay some psychology as it manifests in people’s behaviour at work, determines cognitive ability, and drives engagement and performance. Tie that to the sociology of workplaces as relatively complex social systems, and the plurality of interests that pervade organisations. Throw in an appreciation of contemporary change and project management and leadership theory and practice, blended with the political economy of the day, and inject your current organisation’s strategic plan, key measures, balance sheet, and market forces. Some technology and systems savvy, risk and compliance awareness, and there you have it. Simple!”

Yet it’s that tapestry that Godfrey admits he finds truly interesting and constantly challenging.

Path to HR

Godfrey’s path to his current role has indeed been rich and varied.

He is currently on assignment with managed services and facilities management company Spotless at Group level as general manager human resources. He previously spent 14 years with Australia Post, and 11 years with the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. He is also the principal of Starting 5 People Solutions, a boutique people management consulting practice.

In many ways Godfrey’s early career set up the direction his future roles would take. A set of circumstances in 1986 led him to a role as the research assistant on a state government funded OHS study into injuries affecting retail supermarket workers. The project was directed by a Professor from Monash University’s medical school, sponsored by the Shop Assistants union, and supported by the two major retailers at that time.

At the conclusion of that project the Shop Assistants union offered him a role in its state branch in the Research team. Over the next decade research grew into advocacy, bargaining, dispute resolution, and policy work on the full range of matters that are of concern to unions and their members including awards and agreements, unfair dismissals, state and national wage cases, safety, workers compensation, and superannuation. His last role with the Shop Assistants was as senior national industrial officer principally focused on enterprise bargaining with all of the major employers in the retail industry.

The bridge into Australia Post was Godfrey’s industrial and employee relations capability. Over the next 14 years or so Australia Post afforded him the opportunity to learn, grow and progress, as well as generalise into broader HR roles and focus on the full suite of HRM including organisation design and development, talent, succession, recruitment, workforce planning, performance management, and remuneration and benefits, while building and leading HR teams focused expressly on delivering business outcomes.

Godfrey notes that his ‘proudest achievement’ in HR occurred during his time at Australia Post (2003-2010), during which he firstly built and then led a high performing team and function.

“My HR team at Post consistently achieved customer feedback ratings at or above 80% satisfaction, while also returning their own employee engagement scores at or above 90%,” he says. “These results were achieved by an outstanding group of people providing an end to end HR offer for a business division of over 9,000 employees. As a further measure of the effectiveness of our HR function that division of Post also returned employee engagement scores of 80% and above, which exceeded many Australian and global employee engagement norms.”

The scale, unique trading and operating environment at Australia Post also equipped Godfrey with the skills to work and lead comfortably in “complex and often ambiguous environments”, he says.

It also places Godfrey in a unique position to comment on the skills, capabilities and knowledge that HR professionals must possess in order to operate in today’s complex work environment:

“At a high level, business understanding, customer focus, functional leadership, core HR process, program and systems knowledge, and the ability to innovate, execute and deliver,” Godfrey explains.

“If I was to articulate this in a different way I think senior HR leaders need to understand the value chain/s of the clients and customers of their organisation. Up-stream from that it’s essential to understand how their organisation helps the client or customers create value. Further up-stream from that is to understand what capability is needed in their organisation to maximise impact, and how to go about building it.”

HR at Spotless

In his current role, Godfrey is charged with leading and driving a number of initiatives with and for the global head of HR. HR at Spotless is multi-layered inclusive of group, country (New Zealand, Hong Kong and the UK for example), division (business partners), and state. There are also HR resources embedded in various parts of the business and in specific commercial contracts.  

"Spotless, although a completely different business, is very much like Australia Post, in that it is a great story of success via a large scale diversified and important business offering, and where much of its success is directly attributable to a critical mass of great frontline people - circa 40,000 of them globally. Organisations with this scope, scale and reach require a sound people management framework that can evolve and flex with the business," he says.

Although he has only been with Spotless for less than six months, Godfrey is well aware of the HR challenges on the agenda: resourcing, safety and sustainability, workplace relations, talent, succession and learning, EVP and engagement.

To address these challenges there is a robust strategy in place, a strong HR leadership team forming, and a plan to deliver. In addition there's a large scale technology replacement and integration project underway which upon deployment will progress employee and manager 'self serve'. "I think the 'HR at Spotless' story will be an important one to watch over the next 12-24 months," he says.

The future of HR

Indeed, looking to the future of his profession, Godfrey comments that HR will continue to grow in its sophistication, and its contribution. He also sees it further aligning to and influencing broader organisational strategy.

"The keys to enhancing HR's reputation and influence through my lens are, developing and delivering effective programs, designing efficient processes, and stepping forward to take accountability for the people agenda. Plus, HR has to be 'easy to do business with' intra-organisationally."

There are naturally skillsets that Godfrey believes HR professionals will need to develop: understanding of metrics and analytics, and measuring the effectiveness of HR's overall contribution. "It's a challenge but one well worth pursuing," he says. He also believes there's a constant quest to innovate, "but simultaneously avoid the latest fad".

Godfrey's final thought, that increasingly people want to see visible and tangible connection between their organisation and the community in which it operates - which subsequently has major implications for EVP and related programs - is confirmed by respected management consultant Christopher Tipler. If Tipler's claim that the prevailing paradigm and a "huge frontier" for business at the moment is sustainability and CSR, Godfrey and the organisations for which he works are well placed to succeed.

Personal file: Peter Godfrey

Family: Mother (Marie) and father (Brian) both heading for '80'; they are the foundation stones of my life. My sister Marion is married to Craig and they have three great children. My wife Merrill and I met in 1986, she is the 'yang' to my 'yin'. The other lights of my life are my girls, Gabrielle and Carryn, who is married to Chris, and they have a son Bailey, with another on the way.

Favourite movie or TV: Movie = Shawshank Redemption; TV = NYPD Blue, Rockwiz, Switzer and Modern Family.

Best advice ever received: Read the business and finance sections of the newspapers every day.

How do others describe you? From a 'personal brand' exercise I did earlier this year the consistent themes were: insightful, loyal, intelligent, humble, pragmatic, knowledgeable, and a good listener. If I was to add one myself I am driven by achievement.

Favourite sports/hobbies: Basketball has been a life-long passion playing watching and coaching; I swim for physical and mental health and have done for 30 years or so; I ride a motorcycle, and we like to travel, go to the theatre a few times a year, as well as entertain at home, and escape to our surf coast property when time permits.

First job and/or worst job: First job at about age 14 was as a casual shop assistant at Alexanders Menswear.

Qualifications: A Bachelor of Arts, a Graduate Certificate in Business, and a Masters Degree in Industrial and Employee Relations from Monash University's National Key Centre in Industrial Relations. I'm also a Member of the Industrial Relations Society, Chartered Member of AHRI, and a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

If not in HR: That's a tough question given that I've had a number of 'sliding doors' moments throughout my education and work life. If I was to write my own script I might have been a professional basketball coach at junior collegiate or collegiate level in the US. There's a clear connection here with what I do in the HR context as at its core 'coaching' is about the pursuit of excellence and the development of others. Winning is a product of that effort.

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