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Kim Farthing

The benefits of being an HR all-rounder

It’s a term you’ve probably seen on a job ad or someone’s resume: “a qualified HR all-rounder”. But what does it really mean to be an all-rounder? How do you become one, and why is it so important? To find out, we sat down with Kim Farthing, Chief People Officer at the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA) and a classic example of a HR all-rounder.

AFSA is responsible for Australia’s personal insolvency and personal property securities systems, with over 400 staff and a small HR team. For Kim as head of the HR function, this means that rather than specialising in one area she needs to stay across everything that falls under the broad umbrella of HR. As she put it, “At AFSA my role is to focus on all of those things – all things HR – and that in itself is quite challenging.” It’s this breadth of skill and capacity to give anything a go that really captures what it means to be an all-rounder.

Making her start in environmental science, Kim’s HR experience has ranged from payroll to conduct to her recent completion of an Executive Master of Public Administration through ANZOG – and everything in between. She didn’t set out with the goal of becoming an all-rounder. But for Kim, a lover of variety who likes to mix things up, it was a natural consequence of her enthusiasm and willingness to try new things. This has made for an interesting and fulfilling career.  “In doing so I have had the opportunity to learn about unique government roles such as  biosecurity, management of integrity and security, and now personal insolvency and personal property securities,” she explained. “It’s actually quite fascinating when you start delving into these in practice.”

But the diversity of her career hasn’t just brought personal fulfilment – it’s provided the experience and knowledge that enables Kim to deal with the broad-ranging nature of her current work. As she described it: “By nature of the role, the conversation can be about anything and everything.”

From Kim’s perspective there are a number of key skills that are a must-have for an HR all-rounder at any level; the first of which she describes as “agility and versatility”.  It’s something that she’s noticed particularly after making the move to a small agency, because “you can’t engage someone just to do performance management, or just to do workforce planning.” A strong leadership ability is also a critical part of the role, said Kim, commenting that: “I need to be able to partner with the business leaders, and translate the requirements to HR strategies to ensure I drive value and change.” Getting a chance to further hone her leadership skills to effect real change is one of the benefits Kim has felt working in a smaller organisation. At AFSA the Chief People Officer is a member of the Executive Board, giving her an important role shaping strategic decisions at the highest level. 

The small size of the organisation also means that Kim and her staff need to be able to pitch in across a number of HR areas. This flexibility, Kim said, went hand in hand with the ability to prioritise and knowing where their efforts were most needed to create the best outcomes. When prioritising, Kim has to consider the required outcomes, risks, returns on investment, timeframes, stakeholders, and so on. “The challenge there is knowing what your priorities are,” said Kim, “and then ensuring your staff are agile and flexible enough to jump between roles to support that.”

Furthermore, Kim recognised the importance of environmental awareness and understanding how multiple factors both within and outside of the agency can impact strategy and policy outcomes. “You’ve got to keep your ears to the ground for a raft of HR and political issues,” she explained.

Delving into and understanding the business side of the agency is another key skill. Kim stated categorically: “If you’re in HR, it’s important that you reach into the business, so you understand what’s going on in the business itself and can deliver HR policy that works.”

Kim cited as an example of this a trip to Thursday Island with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. She said it opened her eyes to the fact that when HR professionals are “writing policy in a closed environment… it’s not going to resonate or be successful in certain areas.” The trip taught her that “the more you understand about the business and the environment you’re working in, the more you’re going to add the value they require.”

Taking that approach – delving in deep, getting to know the business and taking on diverse roles across the HR profession – has made Kim the HR all-rounder she is today. And it’s something she sees the benefit of in any number of roles. In her current role, Kim described it as “quite affirming – that I’ve worked across all streams of HR – that I can bring all those skills together.” So her advice to fellow HR professionals is clear: “Don’t be afraid to accept challenges or an opportunity that’s put in front of you. Let’s have a go, see where you land!”

If you’re thinking of mixing things up and getting a broader range of experience under your belt, head to APS jobs to have a look at HR positions on offer. 

Last reviewed: 
7 September 2020