HR Time Machine – 5 Things I’d Tell My Younger Me


Its 2016, my 2 year old has just gone to bed and i’m thinking about how to take forward the HR community group I put together last year called the South Wales HR Forum. You can view that website by going to

Upon thinking about the Forum that I have so graciously and unashamedly plugged, my mind trails into what i’ve learned and the experiences i’ve gained in the 15 years i’ve worked in HR.

Its a nice evening and so I walk into the garden where over my garden fence I can see my neighbour unpacking a rather large box. Intrigued I make a strategic cough so he is aware that i’m in my back garden.

“Shw mae Mark” he says “Shw Mae Colin” i reply quickly following up with a cheeky question “what have you got there if you don’t mind me asking?”.

“Can’t say” he chuckles “ok, i’ll tell you” he says “but you can’t tell anyone, its a secret”. I’m intrigued. “Come on then Colin, spill the beans”. I walk towards the end of my path and go through the gate into his garden. Now I can see that whatever he has, clearly has been put into way too much packaging, and so I quickly deduced that it must have been ordered from Amazon.

‘Well you know how I love gadgets and gizmos?” he says. “Yes” I slowly retort. “Well i’ve got one of those time machine things”. I’d heard about these things but didn’t know they were for real, a bit like Manchester United fans who live in Manchester.

“Do you want a go?” Colin asks me. The glass of wine has given me a confidence a rational person would not have and so I stupidly agree. “What year do you want to go back to?” he asks. Without hesitation I tell Colin to take me back to 2001, not believing its going to work. 2001 was a great year for me, and it was the year I embarked upon this HR journey, and I wanted to tell a 16 year old me a few things. So Colin opened the app on his iPhone that was connected to the time machine by Bluetooth, types in the year 2001 and hits ‘send’. ZAP

I opened my eyes and i’m sat at a chair opposite my first desk, at my first HR job. Looking across from me, is me.  16 year old me. Fat, dreadful attempt at a beard, and highlighted hair. Highlighted hair! What was I thinking? Anyway, after calming me down, I decide to impart on me (this is getting confusing) five things that I hope will help me on my career path ahead.

OK, i’m stopping this right now. Here are the five things i wish I could tell a younger me, and I guess, any person about to embark on a career in HR.

1) Learn from everyone, all the time.

When I think back on the past 15 years my knowledge, style and skill-base has largely come from the people i’ve worked with. My managers, my colleagues, my customers, my team members, and even my friends. I have watched the good things they’ve done, the bad things they’ve done, the successful approaches they’ve used, the difficult conversations they’ve messed up, the excellent pieces of work they’ve produced and the dreadful decisions they’ve made and I have let that shape me.

If you are lucky enough to work with extremely bright, inspiring people then gain as much from them as you possibly can, and if you strike up a good friendship, keep in contact with them even when you no longer work with them.

2) Don’t shy away from the stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable

HR can be a complex minefield that expects a lot of us practitioners and we can sometimes be required to be involved in situations that might make us feel uncomfortable. A sensitive disciplinary case, be a witness at an employment tribunal or deal with an extremely sick employee for example. But if you shy away from the stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable and only do the activities that make you comfortable, then you will miss out on so many experiences and could not possibly gain a full breadth of skills required to be fully effective.

So do the uncomfortable stuff too, you’ll be glad of it in the long run.

3) Always try to keep up to date with emerging HR practice

HR practice is constantly changing as is the HR profession generally and so it is a good idea to keep informed of emerging HR practice. Read blogs (like this one!), attend events, watch YouTube videos, follow a wide range of HR thinkers on social media, read books (especially Dave Ulrich books) and take it all in.

But here’s the thing – embrace it all, and don’t be afraid to be sceptical of anything that doesn’t sit quite right with you. Always look for an alternative opinion too – if there’s one thing i’ve noticed recently, is not to take the motivational HR quotes as fact. There are plenty of people who disagree and will offer an alternative view.

4) Accept that you’ll never know everything, and you’ll never stop learning

You will never know everything, and if you think you do, you are wrong. There’s too much to know to know it all. Be better than that – know that you don’t know it all, you aren’t afraid to know it but you know where to find answers.

Always thirst to learn more, it can only improve you.

5) No one is more responsible for your development, than you

The most important stakeholder in your development, is you. Plain and simple.

All of this stuff, only really dawned on me around 2 years ago upon a moment of reevaluating where I was in my career. It is my view on my experience and the help that I thought I would like to give and to have received.

If you’ve read to this point, I hope this helps you too.

Now, how do i get Colin to bring me back to 2016 – i’m ready for another vino…