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What does it take to become a HR Director at 30?

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At just 30 years old, Dan Forth became HR Director at Pilot Group, an international electronics and technology business. 

How did he rise through the ranks so rapidly? We asked Dan this question in our latest podcast.

He revealed valuable insights into the world of HR and how he successfully pursued his dream career. Dan also shared with us the key challenges of being a young business leader.  

We reflect on Dan’s story and his best pieces of advice for those looking to succeed in a HR career.

A Rising HR Star

Dan knew he wanted to go into HR when he was 15 years old. He got a taste for it while working for Morrisons as a shelf-stacker. His manager asked him to help out with payroll and disciplinaries and this piqued his interest. He thought to himself, I want to explore this further...

So Dan studied business during his A-Levels which included an HR module. He then attended the Manchester Metropolitan University to acquire a degree in Human Resource Management. His course included an industrial placement scheme at Lidl.

He started his placement as the Duty Manager and ended it as the Area Manager at 21 years old. In this role, he covered the highest area of revenue in the North West and was responsible for 60 members of staff.  

Dan explains how the experience “was incredibly challenging. But I loved it. I was the first individual to put an employee newsletter together for Lidl. I also got some exposure to operational HR which was invaluable.”

Swift progress

After completing his degree, Dan was offered a graduate scheme for his previous role at Lidl. But his passion lay in HR, so he accepted the role of Management Development Graduate at Amey instead.  

Over the next nine months, Dan networked himself into a more senior position. He was successful and became Amey’s HR Manager in 2013. One year later, he was promoted to HR Business Partner where he supported over 23,000 employees.  

Another year passed and Dan realised he’d gone as far as he could go with Amey. So, in January 2016, he moved to Wienerberger. Within 12 months, he was promoted to HR Director.

The desire to make a bigger impact

Soon enough, Dan was hungry for a bigger challenge. This led him to Pilot (his current role), where he was offered the position of HR Director. 

He was attracted to Pilot because the company lacked HR from a value-added perspective. Dan also explained how: “Wienerberger was limited by its own market. Whereas Pilot is only limited by its own capabilities. The potential to make an impact was huge, and while it was a big challenge, I found this really exciting.”

The key challenges of a young business leader

In all three jobs, Dan has been challenged because of his age: “I’ve encountered colleagues who have reservations about my capabilities. Initially, some even think they can get one over me.”

These assumptions have disappeared with time, however. It’s clear to everyone around him that Dan is incredibly commercially-aware and can really make a difference.

However, Dan stresses the importance of knowing when to hold back: “I’ve still got a lot to learn. Sometimes the best thing to do is stop, listen and take in as much information as you can.”

What do HR leaders need to focus on in the future?

 “HR leaders need to understand how leaving Europe will affect us in terms of time management, diversity, inclusion and how we continue to be seen as one of the biggest economies in the world,” says Dan.

Concentrating on improving equality and diversity is especially important. As he puts it: “We need to make our workplaces more accessible to different types of people and ensure we promote it in the right way. It can’t be about just looking good. It has to mean something to your organisation.”

Dan also believes in helping the younger generations invest in their futures. Empowering people to improve their financial wellbeing also benefits the business by improving staff retention.

How to nail engagement surveys

When Dan was working at Wienerberger, he created a campaign called ‘Have Your Say’ which involved asking employees to complete an engagement survey.  

The campaign increased Wienerberger’s survey response rate dramatically. Why? There
are two reasons, as Dan explains in further detail:  

“First, avoid using the buzzword ‘employee engagement’ because staff will become disengaged. Instead, send the message that your staffs’ voice will be heard through a powerful campaign name.

“Second, it’s not enough to just send out a form via email. As an HR Director, you need to be the face of the survey. For ‘Have Your Say’, I was going around Wienerberger’s factories with a box of
doughnuts, offering them to employees to spark face-to-face conversations. It made them much more interested in the purpose of the survey.”

Getting real results

 Ensuring the results of your survey have an impact is critical. Otherwise, you’ll lose your employees’ trust through empty promises.  

As Dan has experienced in the past, the mistake is failing to follow-through: “By simply leasing the information to the board, you’re saying, It’s your problem. And then the momentum disappears because the business has a million other things to do.  

“This is why you need to stay in control. Keep bringing it back up and ensure it’s always on the agenda.”

Want a future in HR? Here’s Dan’s advice... 

“Plan, and plan effectively. From the moment I knew I wanted to work in HR, I planned out my career, looking at the experience I wanted to gain from each role. Because of this, I knew when it was time to leave a specific position to gain a new experience and move forward.”

“Once you’re in a senior HR role, don’t just come up with solutions. Take the time to analyse where you are now and what the desired solution looks like, using concrete data to back you up.”

For more dynamite insight into the world of HR, listen to our podcast.