HR Insights Vol.1: A Conversation with Mark Skinner on the Evolving Role of HR Leaders

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Through the JSS+ insight series, we will interview leading voices across various sectors to explore pertinent themes, opportunities, and market trends.

For our Human Resources Leaders’ insights, we bring you exclusive interviews with influential HR professionals across diverse sectors to explore and illuminate key themes, emerging opportunities, and prevailing market trends. Our aim is to shine a light on the strategic significance of HR in today’s ever-evolving business landscape, offering invaluable insights from the experienced HR leaders within our network. From HR directors to talent acquisition specialists, we delve into discussions with industry frontrunners to explore the best practices, challenges, and success stories that define effective HR management.

For this segment, we interviewed Mark Skinner, Chief People Officer at 888 Holdings Plc, the company that owns William Hill, amongst other well-known brands. From the shifting dynamics of the recruitment market to the debate that never ends— return to offices, Mark shares unparalleled insights into the challenges, solutions, and priorities shaping the HR landscape.

Having navigated a busy first half of 2023, what are the top priorities for HR leaders in H2?

From the great resignation to quiet quitting, we now have a more employer-friendly recruitment market, which means we need to work harder to engage our colleagues so that they don’t feel like hostages in their organisation. As Mark aptly puts it, “It’s easy to advise, but not so easy to take accountability.” This sentiment underscores the necessity for HR leaders to not only provide guidance but also take ownership of their initiatives.

Cost of living continues to be a challenge, so people feel like they are stuck between a rock (their current job) and a hard place (wanting to earn more). The winning HR leaders will be the ones who create engagement strategies so that people feel good about the organisation they work in, even when the recruitment market picks up.

What makes for a great HR Leader?

Never stop learning. Be agile and always read the mood. This applies to the colleagues that an HR leader supports, but it is arguably more important that it is being attuned to the business context. As Mark highlights, “Being a good HR leader is about having courage in your convictions. Swim against the tide when necessary.” He also emphasises the need to “manage out of the room, as well as in the room,” which underscores the importance of an HR leader’s versatility in managing various situations and dynamics.

What advice would you give to job seekers looking to advance their careers in the HR field?

Get some commercial experience – you have more credibility if you have worked in the business and can speak from experience as a leader yourself whilst juggling non-people-related priorities.

What are the most challenging issues in HR today?

Everyone is talking about returning to offices. You would think this debate would be over by now. There is a divide in the Executive between those who think people should be present and those who see the benefits of virtual. This debate is here to stay! Other than that:

  • The cost-of-living challenge.
  • Leadership development.
  • How to authentically create an inclusive work environment.

What role does employer branding play in attracting top talent, and how can HR professionals collaborate with marketing teams to build a strong employer brand?

Employer brand starts in HR, not in Marketing. Get the proposition right, and the branding will follow. Have a clear people strategy backed up by an explainable culture and values that live and breathe, that can also be articulated to existing colleagues first. The best advocates for your employer brand are your people, which are the organisation’s most valuable asset.


Associate Director, Human Resources and Reward

Matthew Bettesworth