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View From The Top: Rob Davies

View From The Top: Rob Davies

Ian Gerard Market Insight

In the latest edition of our View From The Top series, we sit down with Rob Davies, HR Director for Asia and Europe at Livent, to find out his views on the evolving role of HR. 

Rob's HR career started as an Organisational Psychologist in Australia, consulting to a wide variety of industry sectors.  A move to internal HR roles coincided with a move to London and since that time, his roles have covered a range of HR functions and in more recent years Rob has held Regional HR Leadership roles covering EMEA, APAC, and LATAM.  In Rob's early career, he supported technology functions within Citi and Barclays before moving into technology focussed companies such as FIS (formerly SunGard), Groupon & Dyson.

Currently, Rob leads HR for Asia & Europe for Livent, a fully integrated lithium company that produces performance lithium compounds, butyllithium and high purity lithium metals for a wide range of applications, customers and industries and have done so for many years. In recent years the rapid growth and development of Electric Vehicle battery technology has relied on lithium as a core component. The pace of change and disruption of this technology is expected to continue over the coming years. This creates some exciting and complex opportunities and challenges for HR.

The evolving role of HR

How strategic a role does HR play within your organisation and in what specific ways are you working to become more strategic?

HR plays both a strategic and a transactional role within Livent.  HR is part of the senior leadership team and reports directly into the CEO.  We’re either leading or supporting decisions and initiatives that impact the long-term health and growth of the company.  However, to play in that sandbox, you have to make sure you have the fundamentals working effectively.  Also, having a strategy is just the start. You have to be able to execute at a tactical level to deliver a result or positive change.

For example, in a previous organisation, I was invited to present to the CEO a leadership development program my team and I had developed for high potentials in the region.  I proudly walked him through the strategy behind the program and the various steps.  About 10 minutes in I could see him glazing over so I quickly concluded so I could get some feedback and discussion going.  He said to me “it looks good, but don’t show me a great leadership program, just show me great leaders”.  My focus was on strategy and process and not on outcome.

What are the barriers to HR playing a strategic role within your organisation?

I don’t see that there are any barriers.  If there are, then it’s my role to get past those barriers.  In my experience, there are some common barriers, but seldom are they imposed by the organisation.  Firstly, and as I mentioned before, if you don’t have your fundamentals right, then you won’t create the bandwidth to focus on more complex, strategic initiatives.   Secondly, whatever we do in HR has to address a business problem and it’s the role of the HR person to ask the right questions, explore the available data and know the business to figure out what the most important problems to solve are

Do you think HR is viewed as an attractive career option and what do you consider its key selling points?

I’m probably at the wrong end of my career to answer that question.  It should be an attractive option and whilst the focus may change in the future, I don’t think its relevance will, provided it continues to adapt.  The career options within HR are broad and evolving – HR functions now and in the future will require professionals with skills as diverse as data science and technology through to leadership, engagement and coaching. 

In what practical ways do you believe HR can attract future talent into the profession?

To have relevance and impact as a function now.  HR leaders trying to attract talent should do so not just with a view of what they can teach and what needs to get done, but what are the skills, knowledge, new ways of thinking and perspectives that those individuals can bring to the HR function to help move it forward.  It has to be a reciprocal relationship.

The first half of 2020 has shown just how critical an effective HR function is. HR has been at the hub of responding to the pandemic, having to react rapidly and tactically to government policies (at times within a day), safeguard the health and well-being of employees and the communities within which they live, and often balancing this with creative solutions and sometimes difficult decisions to ensure the long-term health of their organization.  In the midst of this sprint, longer-term plans and strategies have been required to manage return to work and new ways of working. 

Please note that all commentary and opinions provided are those of the individual, and not the organisation/company.