Harriet is a People Director at McCann Worldgroup.
She is responsible for HR across a number of London agencies – McCann London, McCann Enterprise, CRAFT and afg& – within one of the largest and most-awarded advertising networks in the world. She joined McCann in 2014 and by the age of just 28 was elevated to senior leadership. She was promoted to Director last year.
With a background in Psychology, Harriet believes that people are a business’ most important asset. She is passionate about looking after people’s mental and physical well-being equally, such as by introducing Mental Health First Aid training, a weekly “Work Out” well-being timetable, and ensuring everyone has equal access to advice and hands-on guidance in their careers. Harriet is a champion for diversity and inclusion in the industry, including launching a new D&I strategy and apprenticeship scheme to help people from all backgrounds into the industry.
A true tour de force, Harriet is an avid traveller and fitness enthusiast, bringing these interests and her boundless energy to everything she does at McCann.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I am People Director at McCann London, which is part of McCann Worldgroup, one of the biggest marketing networks in the world. I also look after other London-based agencies, namely McCann Enterprise, afg& and our production agency, Craft.
Before McCann, my HR career was in retail. This is my first advertising company – and what an exciting industry to be in! At McCann, we create work for best-loved brands including L’Oréal, Microsoft, Xbox and Wimbledon. We’re fuelled by creative ideas, so looking after our people – our product – is paramount. My role is to set the strategy and direction for the People Team, always ensuring that we are creating a culture that engages and retains the very best talent, while prioritising the health and well-being of our people.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Yes, but I wouldn’t say I planned it from the outset. I always knew I was interested in what makes people tick, which led me to study Psychology and, as a post grad, Occupational Psychology. In fact, I had wanted to be a psychologist until I took a two-week temp job in the HR team at figleaves.com and never looked back.
Two years at figleaves.com was an excellent grounding in retail and eCommerce, but above all it opened my eyes to different uses for my degree. The main thing I realised is that people and culture are so important to me. I much prefer working in fast-paced, dynamic and creative environments. I knew I needed to look at different roles and businesses to find the perfect fit, and that’s when I started getting strategic and arrived at McCann.
I think, unless you know your dream role in your teens, it’s good to try out different companies. Once you have a strong grasp of what you value at work, you can really plan ahead. Looking forward at McCann, I’m excited to build on all the amazing work my team has achieved, as well as growing my role within our global network.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
You’re lucky if you haven’t! While I have enjoyed the majority of my roles and am very fortunate to work in such a creative business today, the biggest challenge in my career came when I accepted a role at a company that just wasn’t right for me culturally. As an HR professional, surely you (of all people!) shouldn’t make that kind of mistake? It was hard admitting to myself that I’d made the wrong decision and I left within six months – but it also proved that you can never truly understand the culture of a business until you are working within it. And actually, sometimes even negative experiences are great learning ones. Finding out what I didn’t want helped me to realise what I really did want. It’s been five years since I joined McCann and I still love coming to work every day.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
It has to be becoming Head of People and, later, People Director here. I’m so proud of where I’ve taken the team. When I joined the agency, the HR department (as it was called then) was very isolated from the rest of the business. Securing the trust and buy-in of the agency was hard work, but it’s meant we have been able to get where we are today.
First off, I rebranded to the People Team, to help us become a true partner to the business. Over the years we’ve cultivated an approach that puts people right at the centre of everything the agency does. We’ve launched incredible initiatives, from our weekly Work Out, a fitness programme that’s designed to look after people’s mental well-being as much as their physical, to sending some of our team to Central America last year to help empower the next generation of young changemakers. This year, we’ve launched a new diversity and inclusion strategy and apprenticeship scheme, Canvas, to help people from different backgrounds get into the industry. There’s never a dull moment in the office – and that’s often because of the creativity the People Team can bring to their roles.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Being successful in HR is all about flexibility. You need to spin different plates, be adaptable and change to the needs of the business – often at lightning speed. From big tasks such as setting the strategy to smaller (but important) ones like finding a new yoga instructor to keep our team healthy, there is so much variety, particularly in a business with the size and energy of McCann.
One of the most interesting things about working in HR is dealing with different people and personalities. In your approach, no one size fits all. So, as well as keeping up with the pace of work life, you also need to adapt to the people around you – all while retaining your own individualism. No easy feat – but it’s incredibly rewarding when hard work pays off.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have been very fortunate to have a coach/mentor, something I have found so valuable in my career. For obvious reasons, when you’re in HR, you don’t really have anyone to talk to in the same way that others so. It’s really important to have a confidante, whether that’s for career advice, pep talks or even just to offload.
At McCann, we try to introduce opportunities – both for wannabe mentors or mentees – and have also introduced an online coaching tool called myThrive.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Businesses need better paternal leave policies and should proactively champion men to share the responsibility of stepping out. When parents return to work, businesses should support and treat men and women equally. Some of this is on a practical level, but it’s also about helping to evolve people’s state of mind and remove stigma when it comes to parental leave.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I have to say this is something I’ve learnt more recently but… Switch off more! I’m much better nowadays at taking the time out I need and deserve, and that’s in large part thanks to the brilliant team I have around me. When you trust your team, you’re more able to switch off, so it’s also about investing time and training in people so they can do their job well.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
As you progress in your career, you’re more likely to need to do public speaking. This is definitely one of my biggest hurdles at the moment. It’s not something I naturally enjoy (even if it doesn’t look that way to my peers) and I really work at it to make sure I’m bringing my best self to things like presentations, panel talks and events. We’ve just launched a new comedy course at McCann with a trained stand-up comedian that is designed to help people overcome their public speaking fears. As scary as it is, I’ve signed myself up to eight classes plus a live comedy show at the end for friends, family and colleagues. Sometimes you have to really take yourself out of your comfort zone to get better… Even if it does put you at risk of being publicly heckled. Wish me luck!