What Does An Agency ‘People Director’ Do – And Should You Have One?

by | Oct 14, 2020

We speak to two agencies that have invested in a People Director, and find out what the role brings to the business.

Mizzy Lees, People Director at Mr President, suggests that she doesn’t think headcount matters when deciding to hire a People Director. ‘HR is a very small part of a business that is legally required and that involves dealing with holidays, sickness and absence, but actually a People Director is much broader than that. It represents the entire workforce and ensuring that everyone is best catered for. When I talk about my role, I talk about the balance between business needs and the needs of individuals.’

Mizzy mentions that ‘without a People Director or someone in a role that specifically focuses on people, it can be really difficult for an agency leader or CEO to detach themselves from their goal of growing their business to deal with the people side.’

She also suggests that in her current role she has a relationship with everyone in the company, at only 40 employees this is manageable. Though, if she were to be a part of a bigger organisation she would perhaps have close relationships with line managers and they would take on part of the work for their own staff.’

Rhian Price, People Director at Momentum, suggests that ‘if you work backwards from the reasons why people leave an organisation, having a People Director is having a champion when something goes wrong.’

When asked about how not to get bogged down in the standard HR admin, Rhian suggests that ‘automating as much as possible is the best way to have processes running in the background.’ ‘Investing in a rigorous onboarding process’, she suggests, ‘sets up the entire life cycle for success, meaning I have more time for the people themselves.’

Mizzy mentions that she feels her role has never been so tested as it has during 2020. Ordinarily her role is ‘to bring calm, clarity to those within her organisation’, but this is affected by how the world around you changes. In 2020 she explains, ‘it has been about how to do we respond to COVID-19, to Black Lives Matter, to remote working and to reopening the offices whilst keeping everyone together?’

‘I do often find myself in a position where I am part of the management board which discusses the state of the business as a whole, which puts me in an exclusive group, but I also need to appear approachable and be open to conversation with everyone else at the same time. It does feel like I am isolated within my role, which is challenging personally for me and in trying to balance priorities.’

Oonagh Hook suggests that before COVID-19 she was a Chief of Staff who managed 80-90 employees, but now manages a team of 40. ‘I don’t have a team to bounce things off, I struggle with that. I found a platform called Charlie HR which has been really great for communicating with other HR professionals.’

Rhian suggests that although Momentum rolled out the use of Microsoft teams six months before COVID-19, she still found it incredibly hard to communicate with her team virtually. ‘Usually when you announce something you feel a ripple around the room, people freak out or they laugh, but with everyone being online it is just silence.’ ‘I have tried to work around this by cascading information out to the leadership team first to gauge their reaction and get some kind of feedback.’

Rhian also suggests that challenging a CEO or founder can be incredibly hard ‘when you want to show them the upmost respect for creating a successful business, but values need to be challenged in order to prevent a difficult situation from escalating.’

Whilst discussing emotional issues in the workplace, Rhian suggests that the line between friend and colleague can be difficult to place but it is an invaluable part of the business culture.