HR executives share their experience in human resources

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 18 April 2008



Barr, P. (2008), "HR executives share their experience in human resources", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 7 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

HR executives share their experience in human resources

Article Type: Practitioner profile From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 7, Issue 3.

Phil Barr (born May 2, 1961) is head of HR for Yell in the UK. He joined the company on February 1, 2005 and is responsible for all aspects of HR, including training and development, the HR services team and HR reward. A Cambridge graduate, he has over 20 years’ experience in HR and was previously HR director, Europe for Cable and Wireless. Prior to his position at Cable and Wireless, he spent four years at Barclays, four years at Boots and 11 years at Unilever. E-mail:

Phil Barr has seen many changes in HR during his 23 years in the industry. He has been with Yell for almost three years and previously held roles at Cable & Wireless, Barclays, Boots and Unilever. Barr is head of HR for Yell UK, the FTSE 100 international directories business that incorporates the Yellow Pages, and Yellow Pages 118 24 7 UK brands. He also supports the board on corporate HR Issues.

Barr is responsible for all aspects of HR, including learning and development, HR services and HR reward. His team looks after Yell’s 4,000 employees in the UK, which includes a mix of sales and non-sales positions. Describing his role, he says:

I ensure that the HR function provides excellent services, such as recruitment and training. I also help the business to look for new ways in which people can realize their full potential in the workplace.

Industry changes

One of the main changes within the industry that Barr has experienced over the years is the role of the line manager. He says:

Line managers are, in general, much better at people management than in previous years. It illustrates that HR departments have been able to successfully develop these capabilities. Developing the right leadership is essential in any business. Our annual employee survey tells us that our people are very satisfied working for Yell and that they particularly value their relationship with their boss, which is very encouraging.

Another industry change that Barr has experienced over the years is improvements in technology. He comments:

Technology now has a massive part to play in HR. It has made a real positive difference to day-to-day functions and processes, helping departments to work smarter and more efficiently. It is amazing how the basic HR functions have changed over the years, moving away from all the paper processing. We now have the ability to help people learn outside of the traditional classroom environment, which is important when many of your people are home-based workers.One of our main growth areas is, the online search engine. I watch the internet technology industry closely, so that I can support the business in further expansion of the product.

Attracting top talent

One of Barr’s main current priorities is to look at new ways in which to attract and retain the best possible sales talent. He comments:

We have improved our sales recruitment process by profiling our best sales people and building their strengths and characteristics into our recruitment methods. We have also reviewed and improved our initial induction training and are currently in the process of building on our existing help for sales people once they start their job, so they continually feel supported.

Barr relishes the challenge that his daily role brings but stresses the importance of remaining adaptable.

I have worked in some businesses over the years where I was asked to help make change happen. The culture of those businesses was change averse, which was very frustrating. I have learnt that difficult challenges require imaginative solutions. Perseverance is an essential skill in any career.

Taking the rough with the smooth

Working in HR obviously isn’t always plain sailing. Barr says:

It is very hard to help people improve their performance when they are really not motivated to do so and do not care about the consequences.

He believes that all HR managers have to make tough decisions during their career and says:

The hardest part of the job is being involved in exiting people who have put in a good performance but whose jobs are disappearing for reasons beyond their control. Those are not good days.

On the positive side, Barr enjoys his role and the challenge each day brings. He says:

It is very satisfying to help people get the most out of their working lives. It is important to remember to continually refresh yourself by networking with fellow industry peers and keeping in touch with business trends. Remember to look back on the achievements you have made and build on your successes as well as learn from your mistakes.

He concludes:

The future of HR depends on continuing to improve on the basic functions, but also providing relevant business-orientated advice and support to line managers on all people issues. Line managers have a huge responsibility for the morale and attitude of a workforce and it is our job to equip them with the necessary skills so that we can all help to create a positive working environment.

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