Interview with Gillian Hibberd, corporate director of people and policy at Buckinghamshire County Council

Gillian Hibberd, corporate director (people and policy) at Buckinghamshire County Council, believes HR needs to take steps to promote its value to an organisation

Human resources was not the first choice of careers for Gillian Hibberd, corporate director (people and policy) at Buckinghamshire County Council. When deciding what to do with her life, she initially settled on working in retail management, but she was then offered an HR role with a retail firm at a graduate recruitment fair and there was no going back.

After five years working in the retail industry, Hibberd moved into the public sector, where she has remained for the last 23 years. “The public sector was far more willing, I felt, to invest in the development of employees and that was the thing that attracted me to [it] because I wanted to become professionally qualified myself and that opportunity wasn’t available in the retail sector,” she explains.

In her current role, Hibberd and her team are responsible for supporting Buckinghamshire County Council’s chief executive in driving forward corporate performance and corporate policy issues. Seeing the impact their work has on the local area can be rewarding, says Hibberd. “I feel a great deal of satisfaction because I see the things everyday that I feel I’m helping to improve in the local community I’m operating in, so you get real tangible results [and] immediate results. That’s really rewarding.”

She is currently involved in an organisational transformation programme within the council, which is intended to engage staff with its aim of becoming a top-performing council. During her time with the council, Hibberd has also been involved in implementing a total reward strategy, encompassing base pay, benefits and employee engagement, a concept which is still relatively rare in the public sector.

She also faced major challenges in her previous role as assistant director (HR) at Hertfordshire County Council. “Some of [my] biggest achievements [include] building a high-performing HR team at Hertfordshire County Council, that won a number of national awards. I got a great deal of satisfaction in doing that. The other significant achievement was introducing a single status pay and reward structure at Hertfordshire. That was a major piece of work in its time.”

While Hibberd believes HR’s remit has broadened over the years – as practitioners have become more involved with organisations’ overall business strategies – she says that HR must better promote its value to an organisation. “We need to be much better in the profession at performance measurement, both qualitatively and quantitatively. HR isn’t as tangible an area as people seem to think. I think we need to think a bit more carefully about how we sell ourselves as a company asset,” she says.

She advocates ensuring that HR practitioners make their achievements public, both inside an organisation and externally, for example, by entering awards and writing for journals or industry publications. “Marketing I think is a really vital tool for any high-performing HR team. I think it is vital on three different levels: how you market yourselves as individuals, how you market your service and how you market your organisation,” she says.

Life in HR is not all plain sailing, however, so Hibberd recommends practitioners should trust their judgement if they are confident they are working along the right lines. “You’ve got to have the determination to carry on if you feel you’re on the right track.”

Curriculum Vitae†

2005-present Buckinghamshire County Council – corporate director (people and policy)
1999-2005 Hertfordshire County Council – assistant director (HR)
1997-1999 London Borough of Hackney – principal HR manager
1994-1997 Dacorum Borough Council – principal HR officer
1985-1994 Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council – various HR roles
1980-85 Retail HR roles at Kingfisher Group and Boots (now Alliance Boots).


What is your favourite benefit?
Childcare vouchers. I think it’s a fantastic tax benefit [that is] used by so many people. I think it’s a really easy way of adding value to a total reward package. It’s very cost effective to the employer but provides real benefit to the employees. It meets some of our public sector, public service ethos requirements around enabling parents to work.

How did you get into working in reward?
I’ve never had a pure benefits or reward role. My roles have always been more generic. My interest started about 10 years ago. It was really when I started moving into more senior strategic roles that I started to realise the impact of reward and benefits on major strategic issues like employee engagement and that’s when my interest started to develop.

What does a typical day involve?
The great thing about my job [is that] every day is completely different. You never know what’s going to face you from one day to the next. But I do spend a lot of my time in meetings, which is the most frustrating thing, and not enough time going out talking to people face to face.