HR to step up and lead

Written by
Changeboard Team

09 Aug 2010

09 Aug 2010 • by Changeboard Team

HR needs a change of approach

'You must be the change you wish to see in the world' - Mahatma Gandhi

The turbulence of the marketplace, new opportunities constantly emerging, the uncertainty about the future, the lack of job security, the need for greater flexibility and creativity all indicate that predictability is history.

HR professionals need a change of approach. This means relying less on HR technical expertise and more on their relationship skills; recognising that credibility and influence with business leaders makes the difference, not a knowledge of employment law. 

HR professionals who are courageous in approach embrace the uncertainty of the future, know that there is no best answer and know when good enough has been reached. The HR professionals know that they are judged not by what they say but by what they do that their everyday actions can influence the organisation to embrace the future. 

Leadership transformation

Courage is the missing ingredient between leaders that can successfully transform their organisation and those that cant; between employees that are engaged and those that do the minimum; and between organisations that are consistent market leaders and those that are also rans.

There are three key business cases for having a courageous workforce:

  • Increased employee engagement
  • Creating a transformative organisation 
  • Working as one through a culture of partnership

Inspiring employees through engagement

Employee engagement is defined as: the extent to which employees put discretionary effort into their work beyond the minimum to get the job done e.g. intellect, energy and time. Courageous employees are engaged employees who choose to act for the greater good of the organisation.

There is strong and growing evidence that shows those employees who are more engaged with their business have a positive impact on their organisations. There is a significant correlation between highly engaged employees and improved productivity, sustained profits, higher customer loyalty, employee retention and lower health and safety issues.

Acknowledge that change is constant

As organisations adapt to the information age, many need to radically change, i.e. transform their way of doing business. However, this process requires organisations to recognise that the end state is often uncertain, and will constantly alter as market conditions change.

For an organisation to transform, leaders should formulate and then communicate the business need and end goals; employees need courage to follow their leaders into the unknown; individuals will choose to act for the greater good of the organisation despite the uncertainty of success and the personal risks to their own career.

Influence, guide and Challenge each other

Organisations that work as integrated, flexible and adaptable teams with a shared purpose and aligned business goals tend to demonstrate not only increased efficiencies but also enhanced organisational Benefits. Partnership refers both to the organisational structural as well as the prime relationship model adopted or ways of doing things. 

A partnership culture refers to the quality of the relationship that enables individuals to influence, guide and constructively Challenge each other, so that they are able to implement strategies and solutions which consistently deliver business value. Without strong relationships with the right people, the effectiveness of any type of organisational partnership is severely compromised. 

The goal is to create a culture around common ground (rather than an underground or battleground). This is characterised by: honesty; trust and tolerance; acceptance of ambiguity; fluid and permeable; shape and direction is determined by the partners. From our own experience, we have observed that when organisations get their relationship model right, the structure is secondary.

Chance for HR to be a strategic leader

Research highlights that more often than not, HR flatters to deceive. Business leaders state they not only want a more assertive HR function, they are also looking for senior HR professionals to play a more strategic and influential role in shaping the future of their organisation.

So, why does HR repeatedly fall short of the mark set by the business? We believe HR tends to have a legacy mindset which Results in it acting like a passive service function, relying on out of date and limiting HR practices and focusing on efficiency savings. The continual failure of HR to deliver real business value will result in it increasingly becoming marginalised with the end-game being HR becomes an administrative function with minimal influence and few career prospects.

HR needs to step up to the Challenge

To counterbalance this possibility of HRs decline, there's an opportunity for HR to take the initiative and identify where its distinctive contribution is so that it can make it, both culturally and operationally, an organisational reality. To achieve this turnaround requires HR to lead change not only how it sees its role within the organisation, but also how it operates and behaves so that it can demonstrate to the business the power and validity of HR.  

HR requires discipline, commitment and willingness to admit mistakes and be able to re-group. However, we believe that unless HR does step up to being commercially focused, it will increasingly become marginalised and it will have no distinctive contribution to make. 

HR needs to take a vital step away from being a passive follower to a leader of the business in the area which is most critical to the long-term health and vitality of any organisation - the people it employs.

About the authors

About Guy Ellis (see photo in author box at top of article)

BA, BCom, MSC and Honorary Research Fellow of the Huck Centre for Management Research at the Henley Business School, University of Reading.

Since graduating in New Zealand, Guy has worked in HR for a number of global blue chip organisations including Hewlett Packard, Bank of America, Citibank, NatWest Global Financial Markets and in 2000, Aon Limited as HR Director of its UK Consulting Division.

In 2003 Guy established himself as an independent consultant and interim manager working for a number of global companies on a range of HR briefs. Following extensive research with blue chip companies, Guy published Tales of Talent: A Modern Fable for Todays Managers in 2006.  Written in an engaging, story-telling style, this book on organisational strategy and talent management provides decision makers with common sense solutions to aligning their employees and organisational objectives.

Guy can be contacted at: E-mail:    
Tel: +44 (0) 7799 862 693

About Chris O'Brien (see photo below)

BA (Hons), MSC Training.

Chris has over 20 years experience in the field of Organisational Learning & Development. He has an international track-record in leading and transforming training teams.

Having begun his training career in The Royal Bank of Scotland, Chris subsequently worked in a number of senior and leadership positions including global training director at SchlumbergerSema and AMP Financial Services. 

In 2003 Chris established his own successful consulting practice, Clear Solutions, to assist clients in shaping business focused and performance improving training strategies. 

Chris can be contacted at: E-mail:           
Tel: +44 (0) 7919 255 359