HR Hero: Christine Tolley, Human Resources Manager, HydraForce Hydraulics Ltd | EEF

HR Superhero: Christine Tolley, Human Resources Manager, HydraForce Hydraulics Ltd

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Christine Tolley is Head of Human Resources for HydraForce Hydraulics Ltd in Birmingham, which specialises in the design and manufacture of cartridge valves and hydraulic manifold systems for sectors such as construction and agriculture.



What’s your job like?

I’m the head of HR for HydraForce Hydraulics in Birmingham. HydraForce is a global business with the parent company based in the USA. HydraForce Hydraulics Ltd is an autonomously-run business covering the whole of Europe and also India. We employ around 440 members of staff in Birmingham and another 22 in the rest of Europe and India. 

I’ve been with the business for over a decade. At that stage it was a much smaller company which didn’t consider it needed its own HR department. The directors and managers had relied on EEF for legal advice when needed.  However, I arrived when the company was realising its ambitions for growth, so I was tasked with setting up an efficient HR function.

While I work with my HR counterparts in the US and China on initiatives, I report directly to the Managing Director here in Birmingham. I’m involved at the corporate level in providing input into company strategies to meet organisational goals.

Some of my recent projects include a recruitment strategy to help make HydraForce an employer of choice to attract skilled engineers as we are a very specialist industry. We have a real problem in the West Midlands, with an acknowledged skills gap in engineering since there are so many well-known employers, such as JLR and BMW. The marketing strategy I put in place to raise our profile as a local employer was quite successful in helping create a pipeline of talent at all levels.

I’ve actively sought to develop the thinking and skills of our managers to help them think critically about how they combine the value of company’s people with business strategies to maximise their contribution.

How you see HR having a positive role in your organisation?

I found it quite challenging to position HR in the organisation when I started because it had operated without HR for 19 years. However, I think I’ve had a positive impact because I’m seen as a true business partner. The directors see how I contribute to our business challenges by providing a new dimension to the group’s thinking. I think about how decisions will impact employees.

I’ve actively sought to develop the thinking and skills of our managers to help them think critically about how they combine the value of company’s people with business strategies to maximise their contribution.


What are your goals for HR at your company?

Right now, I’m focused on succession planning and leadership development. Given the lack of engineering talent, particularly in a high demand areas like the West Midlands, ensuring we have the right people in place for key roles is very important.  

I am also continuing to try to make HydraForce an employer of choice, so that people come to us wanting a job because they want to work at our company. I’ve been reviewing our benefits package with a job evaluation project to ensure we’re paying properly for a company of our calibre, size and the roles available.

This is all part of our business’ very aggressive growth plan to double turnover in 3-5 years.


What does it mean for someone to be an HR hero?

You need to have patience, perseverance, tenacity and the ability to be objective. Sometimes change can be a slow burn, so you have to take a long term view with your projects.

You also need great communication skills to marshall discussions when you’re talking to the senior management team. You have to be able to articulate your arguments and vision in a way people can understand.

You have to be able to communicate at every level, from the cleaner and site operators to the chairman and chief executives.  


How does EEF’s HR and employment law team support you?

I use EEF at an operational level for legal advice, which is extremely helpful. Our legal adviser always gives us a very pragmatic view of things, providing sound practical advice.

A few years ago, an EEF HR consultant helped us set up a job evaluation framework which I will be using in the current job evaluation project.

I also take part in EEF’s annual pay benchmarking surveys so I receive a copy of that report, which I use very actively. 

I also enjoy EEF’s industry reports so I can understand the issues which confront our business and understand what similar companies are doing to face these shared issues.

Recently, I’ve attended some of EEF’s workshops for HR professionals, which allow for networking. I also attended a Brexit workshop that EEF held to help gather the industry perspective on Brexit in their lobbying to government.

I also recommended EEF to our health and safety manager who has used them for support and advice.


Read other HR Hero profiles here, and share what you think makes an HR Superhero or call out an HR Hero you know on Twitter using the hashtag #HRsuperhero. If you'd like to find out more about how EEF's barristers and HR experts support HR managers and directors across the UK through employment law advice and HR consulting, visit our webpage.

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