AIB Guest Lecturer: Marisa Fyfe

AIB Guest Lecturer: Marisa Fyfe


As the practical business school, AIB invites industry leaders to speak to students at its local Adelaide campus. On-campus students studying the Human Resources Management subject recently learnt about why HR practitioners should have a seat at the table according to Transformation Program Manager Marisa Fyfe from SA Water.

With more than 14 years’ experience in change management and strategic human resources, Marisa spoke to students about busting the myth that HR representatives don’t have a seat at the table.

Human capital is the number one thing that Chief Executives (CEs) believe will make a difference to business performance, according to a recent report by the Conference Board cited in Marisa’s presentation.

“Where I think HR is coming undone is in our ability as an industry to articulate intangible benefits back to the Chief Executives,” Marisa said.

“They know we [HR] make a difference to the bottom line – we can’t measure it for them, but we don’t always get a voice at the table as that is the way we do business,” she said.

“92% of companies in the UK now have a People and Culture Manager sitting on the executive team taking a direct reporting line to the CEO – that is huge, but it’s one thing to have the ear of the CE, but quite another if he actually listens to you and sorts you out.”

Implementing proactive HR management during her time with Medibank Private was another example Marisa shared, showing how this approach managed to help bring the company out of debt.

“We used to go out, talk to our customers or usually a manager, find out if there is a problem, go all the way by ourselves, solve the problem, implement the solution but not evaluate it,” Marisa said.

“It was a bit of a thankless job as no one actually knows what we did or the impact it had, and there was no further communication,” she said.

“We made a change in the business by asking, ‘Are people really better off with Medibank if we do this?’ It was a very different kind of executive conversation, but within three years we were in the black and in the last couple of years that I was working there we were up in the tens of millions.”

Similar results can be found across the board, according to Marisa, who said that the strategy of HR is starting to change.

“What HR business partners in strategic positions are doing now is finding out beforehand what’s going on in the business environment, connecting with other organisations that might have similar challenges, looking into their research about best practices, looking at the company data, and making sure that the story adds up before engaging the customer with a solution,” she said.

This approach, according to Marisa, is far more effective than taking on a reactive approach, or simply doing what’s trendy.

“HR is very well known for doing shiny new things for organisations, for example mindfulness, leadership courses, or resilience. Usually the actual problem or challenge we are trying to overcome is broader than that, so we can’t just look at people strategies – we need to look at process, time management and how KPIs are set up,” she said.

As an example of how HR is strategically looking at various types of data, Marisa spoke about how the results of training can also be evaluated from several different levels.

“People go off for training and on their return we ask, ‘Did you take away from this what you needed?’ That’s where we start, but if it’s all you’re doing you are not going to get ahead of the game,” Marisa said.

“So on top of that we go to their managers and ask, “Did you see them execute differently as a result of the training?”

“We then look at their performance based on future stay. It’s not just about how you do the work today, but how you will work tomorrow. Here we ask are we seeing increases in those key areas that we are delivering this training across?”

Having an understanding of such measures gives Chief Executives a better chance of having a seat at the table, according to Marisa, but it’s also important to understand what the data means.

“When those KPIs are shown at the table, do you understand where they came from? Do you know the impacts, how you drive them, or talk about them?” she asked.

“As HR practitioners we need innovation. We need to find better ways of doing things all the time. We need to be ahead of the game, and we need to be providing solutions.”

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