Gareth Bennett: HR Thought Leaders Series

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On the couch with Gareth Bennett

At Thought Leadership Partners we often rub shoulders with some the biggest names in HR. The amount of knowledge and expertise we have access to is genuinely exciting. Because we can’t take you along with us to our meetings, we’ve created the HR Thought Leaders Series.

Every couple of weeks we’ll sit down with an HR thought leader and ask them the questions you want answers to. Stuff like: ‘What does the future of HR look like?’ ‘What’s the best way to market to HRDs and CEOs?’ and ‘just how DO you get a lifetime achievement award in HR?’

If you’d like us to pick the brains of someone in particular, let us know by email at or on Twitter: @TLPdigital

Meet Gareth Bennett – winner of the 2012 lifetime achievement award in HR

Gareth has had a long and illustrious career in HR. His high-profile positions have included: human resources director at AMP, AGL Resources and Freehills.

Currently Gareth advises a number of HR businesses. Despite being at the top of his game, Gareth is enjoying the equal exchange of learning that this offers. Areas that particularly interest him at the moment are leadership, organisation structures and change, compensation systems, succession planning and CEO and executive team development.

The interview:

Elizabeth: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me Gareth. Ok, let’s start off with a difficult question: How did you get awarded for a lifetime achievement award in HR?

Gareth: I really appreciated that award because it was up to my peers. To be honest it was probably because I’ve been around a long time! I’ve had record of getting things done and delivering on complex strategic agendas in areas of real transformation change.

Elizabeth: What excites you most about the future of HR right now?

Gareth: First off, the speed of change. It doubles every ten years. Now there’s no such thing as a steady state.

Increasingly, it’s a world of knowledge workers. That makes the people agenda – if it wasn’t integral before – absolutely front and centre now.

It’s where there’s the largest amount of development too – and where data analysis comes into HR. The traditional skills of understanding people and coming up with solutions is being augmented by the ability to discern patterns in data. That’s probably the most exciting area that’s offered up and it means that HR has to change track.

Elizabeth: Okay, so the measurability of people?

Gareth: Yes, but it doesn’t take away the need to be able to interpret the data and do something about it.

Elizabeth: In conversations with your peers, which of your opinions causes the most debate?

Gareth: I believe that HR faces a risk. It risks continuing down the same path of not understanding the business well enough, not understanding data well enough, and not understanding the need to market what they do. If this continues, HR will become a side function and irrelevant to the needs of the business.

Elizabeth: Drawing on your experience as a HRD, if you had one bit of advice for companies marketing to HRDs, what would that be?

Gareth: I think the traditional weakness of HR is that we’re great believers in what we do. But we’re not often able to prove it. So I’d say: get out there and demonstrate to the CFO, to those who control the purse strings, that this has a return on investment by measurable factors. Then you can demonstrate that it pays off.

Elizabeth: Let’s talk a bit about the survey we’re running at the moment. It’s on HR marketing trends of 2015. We’ve got some early results that it’d be great to get your opinion on. It looks like customer referrals and word of mouth seem to have the biggest increase in importance for HR businesses this year. From your experience as a HRD, how did people do that particularly well?

Gareth: Face-to-face contact is always the best, providing that you have very solid content to deliver. I’m quite pleased to see that people are getting out there talking to people, as long as they are not relying on marketing over content.

Elizabeth: Looking at marketing investment now. Upwards of 60% of businesses have said that they’re increasing their marketing investment for 2015, and none of them are reducing marketing spend. Does that reflect what you’re seeing on the ground?

Gareth: People realise that there’s more and more competition in the space, so they can’t rest on their laurels. The worrying thing to me is how many HR strategists there are, far too many people want to sit and look over the top of everything and tell you how you should do things. But you have to have the basics to be able to deliver that. This becomes even more important when it comes to marketing. Then you have to prove a continuous record of achievement.

Elizabeth: In such a competitive market, how do you think people can differentiate themselves?

Gareth: The biggest differentiator for me is a proven track record and having a clear area of expertise. If I’m the managing director selecting somebody to come in and help my business: 1) I want to see that they’ve been there, done it. And 2) that they’ve worked in different sorts of sectors. I want to know that they will adapt to my business needs and be responsive to my needs.

Elizabeth: So it’s a combination of focusing your offering very sharply but also backing it up with broad experience?

Gareth: Absolutely.

Elizabeth: The biggest challenge that people have reported in being able to deliver their 2015 marketing plan is finding the time to get things done. How do the businesses you work with find the time?

Gareth: I actually advise them on this. It all comes down proper allocation of time. I use Mehrdad Baghai’s Three Horizons of Growth model:

The first horizon is the cash cow. It delivers revenue for the business and allows you to operate day-to-day. That’s great, but any business that’s purely about that will fail because your competitors will catch up with you or the market will change.

Horizon two is all about areas which are good bets for the future. In fact, they may already be starting to deliver a revenue stream. They are going to be what you move into next.

Then the third horizon is the one which often takes different people to run. It’s where you put small investments and see which one might come to fruition.

You have to be able to give time to all three. If you’re only operating in horizon three, you’ve got no revenue stream, so you’re dead. If you’re only operating in horizon one, some competitor will come in and steal your lunch. So you need that spread. And to devote time accordingly.

Elizabeth: So finding time is all about allocating it properly?

Gareth: Exactly.

Elizabeth: According to the early results from our survey, the area where people are placing the least importance is webinars, podcasts and video marketing. Why do you think that is?

Gareth: You could argue that people are relying too much on face-to-face contact because that’s their strength. But they’re missing out on what technology can do for them.

Elizabeth: That’s interesting actually because video marketing and webinars seem like the next logical step. Taking face-to-face contact online.

Gareth: Yes

Elizabeth: So you think there’s an opportunity for HR businesses to use podcasts and video marketing?

Gareth: Huge. The other thing is how cheap, available, accessible all that stuff is these days. A lot of small companies, whether HR or otherwise, don’t seem to realise that.

Elizabeth: Great. Thanks so much for joining me on the Thought Leadership Couch Gareth.