HR Hotspot: Interview with Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith

Tell us about your current HR leadership role?

I’m the Director of Human Resources & Training at Pick Everard. Pick Everard are a national multi-professional property development consultancy.

Our services span architecture, quantity surveying, project management, building surveying and civil & structural engineering to name but a few.  I’ve been in my role six months.

On a daily basis I partner with senior leaders to strategically support the people agenda as well as develop and lead the implementation of our HR Strategy.  This includes driving transformational HR practice throughout the business in the areas of culture, capability, talent and reward.

How would you describe the culture there at Pick Everard?

Here at Pick Everard, there is a strong spirit of positivity, ambition and involvement. The Practice cares about delivering the right result for its clients, and our leaders drive a culture of continuous improvement in our delivery and our people.

One of our key aims is to provide inspiring careers for exceptional people and we do this within a supportive, fun and inclusive environment.  I’ve joined at a pivotal point in Pick Everard’s 153-year history.  Early next year we’ll be launching a new 5-year business plan for 2020 to 2025.

This has provided us with the valuable opportunity to review our culture and shape how we need it to be for the next phase in our journey.

We will be looking to involve our people in this process by asking them “what more do you need from us to be at your best in work?”  Being more inquisitive, acting with compassion, adding value to our clients and encouraging more ownership in our people are some of the areas we’re considering for our next phase.

Describe the career journey that led you to your current role? 

My HR career commenced as an HR Graduate Trainee at Rolls-Royce, an amazing opportunity that provided me with a solid foundation in UK and US HR best practice across multiple sites and multiple HR specialisms. Shortly after I was fortunate to do a short stint working in recruitment in Australia, before returning to the UK to work at one of the big four accountancy firms in a HR generalist role.  This was a perfect opportunity to get my UK legislation knowledge back up to date!

Having worked for large corporates for most of my career, in 2008 I decided to try something completely different when I joined an owner managed business in a standalone HR Manager.  I progressed to be their Head of HR a few years later, shaping and implementing a range of award-winning HR strategies as they doubled the size of their workforce.

This gave me the experience to step into my first HR Director role when, six months ago, I joined Pick Everard with an exciting remit to design and implement transformational HR strategies to drive forward their ambitious growth plans.

Are there any career defining moments or people that helped shape your career in HR?

Making the shift from large, affluent, accountancy firms to a small, struggling, owner managed business, was a career defining moment for me and a risk on many levels.  Not only did I make the move in the middle of the 2008/2009 recession, but I left behind the support of a forty strong HR team to take on my first stand-alone HR position.

The business was low on morale, having halved the size of their workforce just a few months before I started, and it was heavily in debt.  There was instant cynicism towards me and my ideas, and I had next to no budget to drive important improvements to the company’s people practices.  Facing this on my own was a huge personal challenge.  The leaders remained ambitious despite the changes they had experienced and set me the challenge of making them a Sunday Times Top 100 Company to work for.

In those early days working there I had to be incredibly resourceful and have a lot of self-belief. I also had to show great resilience when projects that I had put my heart and soul in to were stopped or postponed. I rolled with the punches and took chances.  I did my research, I used my networks and I involved our people as much as possible in developing and implementing new ideas.  As the trust built so did my autonomy and then followed a tangible culture shift.  This enabled us to achieve the status of being a Top 100 company that we had wanted.  These experiences, the journey, they shaped me professionally and taught me that if I put my mind to things I could do it.

What would your advice be to your younger self?

Two things.  Firstly; get out and network more because you learn so much from the experiences of others. I am dedicating much more energy into this now!

Secondly; put less pressure on myself, I demand a lot of myself and work at a fast pace.

I would tell myself to appreciate moments, take stock and acknowledge progress.  This would have helped me enjoy the challenges a little more along the way!

Culture's HR 'Hotspot' is brought to you by our HR Director, Nicola Morris. For any enquiry, contact Nicola on: or 0121 272 6494 / 07769 209607

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23rd October

Career Advice