“You cannot create change for the future without respecting the past”

– This Much I Know with David Mason, Head of Global TA Delivery at Philip Morris International

The HR World speaks to industry leaders about their careers and life – what advice would they pass on and what wisdom brought them to where they are now.

In this edition we caught up with David Mason, Head of Global TA Delivery at Philip Morris International who believes you cannot create change for the future without respecting the past.

David Mason

05 May 2022 | [read_meter]

Megan Lloyd Davies Guest Author

Story by
Megan Lloyd Davies

Dyslexia is my superpower

I grew up in Yorkshire and school was a struggle because I was dyslexic. I was told at time that I was stupid or lazy and it was humiliating. But it gave me an interest in understanding people properly and treating them accordingly – because I never wanted to humiliate anyone as I had been. What I’ve learned since then of course is that there is a beauty to dyslexia: it gives you the power to solve problems in multiple layers and identify connections. Strategic work is easy for us. The trick you learn as you get older is how to better articulate your thinking, steady your mind and explain it better to sequential thinkers i.e. most people.

Fighting in a war taught me the importance of good leadership

I survived a year at university trying to do economics before training at Sandhurst and joining the Royal Artillery. Aged 21, I went to fight in the first Gulf War commanding a troop of about 40 men. I learned quickly how vital it is to stay in the moment and balance authority with personability. But most of all, I learned how critical successful leadership is. When we look at why things have failed, it usually comes down to a lack of leadership and focus on the key objectives: understanding what you’re been asked to do, recognising your limitations and working out how you can achieve your target. Often, when you see a failing organisation, you see a failing leader and a toxic culture.

The accepted way of doing things isn’t always the best way

I coached kids rugby at a time when the RFU had just identified that 80% of the players in top school teams were born in the first six months of the academic year. To get more kids into the game, they introduced a policy of mixed ability teams. There was a lot of opposition to this but it proved successful. It showed me the importance of being open to new thinking and recognising that accepted systems can limit certain sections of people. Diversity is a commercial imperative. A mix of viewpoints and perspectives only makes you stronger. It’s a fact.

Fighting in a war taught me the importance of good leadership

David Mason

I’m known for successful change management in TA and I’ve learned one crucial lesson: if you do not include people already working at the company, you are unlikely to succeed. To do that you need to listen and celebrate what they have achieved to that point. Change will only happen when they are engaged. The challenge is to blend different viewpoints as you move forward.

I suspect I’m inherently lazy because I’m always looking to make things easier

My last job in the army was managing a motorcycle display team and it was like being in charge of 26 military Hell’s Angels. I then left the army aged 28 and did a short stint in executive searching before specialising in recruitment. I think I always had that core belief that people are central to business and leading, managing and looking after them will produce the right commercial outcome. This was right at the start of companies doing their own recruitment so we were really making it up as we went along and for me that was fascinating. I love innovating so I was constantly looking at ways to make things more efficient and easier to do.

Average HR is about processes. Great HR combines head and heart

There’s a real tendency in our area of work to think that everything would be okay if the board agreed to x or y. But we have to accept everything can’t be reduced to processes. Recruitment is a fundamentally human business. It places a large emotional strain on people to move jobs. And that means we’re at the intersection of two crucial axes of any company: the human dimension and strategic commercial implications. It’s a unique combination.

Honesty and integrity are critical to any company’s success

A company has to be honest about where it’s coming from – as well as where it’s going to. PMI needed to do something different to produce a smokeless future but by being honest about where we were, and where we’re going to, we’re now able to bring people into the business that once we would never have been able to attract. Recruitment is about marketing and Millennials and Gen Z have become very cynical about the messages many companies are sending out in order to attract talent. What works is transparency and integrity.

I have learned to bend my view of what good looks like

Early in my career, I tried to be too much of a purist and didn’t understand how important it was to embrace other perceptions and views. It caught me out a couple of times as I was starting out in change management. Organisations are generally successful to the point when they need to change but not everyone will believe or see that change now needs to happen. You have to get them to come on board with what you’re doing. There were times when I didn’t spend enough time understanding the organisation and the people around me. Appreciation of the nuances is hugely important.

Mathematics and behavioural science are key if you’re starting out in HR

These are the skills you must acquire. You’re working in a commercial world, don’t forget that, and what you do has to contribute to your organisation’s aims. Today a strong appreciation of mathematics and behavioural science will drive help your career forward. A lot of our services will start to be driven by software in AI and psychometric profiling for talent assessment and recruitment – you need to understand the mathematics behind those tools and understand when they may not be right.

Being nimble and able to pivot is key if you’re senior

The world is changing really fast and the people who will continue moving upwards are those prepared to constantly learn and reframe themselves. You can’t just keep repeating what you’ve been doing for 20 years. You have to be open to trying new things – and throwing out the rulebook from time to time.

David Mason

David Mason

Head of Global TA Delivery at Philip Morris International

David has worked in the staffing, talent management and workforce planning fields for over 20 years, holding a number of both in-house and consultancy roles.

Previous roles include Director of Recruitment Capita, COO Resourcing RBS, International Talent Acquisition Director CH2M HILL and Group Head of Resourcing for AXA’s UK and Ireland operations. He was responsible for both temporary and permanent recruitment covering activity from board to customer service level. His early career was spent in the British Army where he served in the 1st Gulf War and Jungle Warfare Instructor as well as leading the “Flying Gunners”, the Royal Artillery Motorcycle Display Team.

LinkedIn @resourcing1recruitment

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