Is HR commercial?
If I had a pound for every time an HR professional tells me “I’m not a typical HR person, I’m really commercial” I would be a rich man, or at least have enough cash to buy an iPad. I could, however, name only a relatively small number, despite having met hundreds, who can clearly articulate their commercial legacy. These gems don’t waste time labelling themselves as commercial in an interview because they are too busy talking about the business.
This raises a couple of fundamental questions; firstly, how do HR professionals view their function, and secondly what do they actually mean by being ‘commercial’?
As long as HR professionals define themselves as ‘not typical’ they run the risk of creating a negative image of the wider profession, which isn’t helpful for anyone. It implies the ‘typical’ or ‘average’ person in HR is sub-standard. It is reinforcing an outdated perception of ‘personnel’ as a welfare or tea and tissues service. I don’t know any reputable commercial business where this still applies. Naturally the capability of individuals in HR varies in all companies, but so does the capability in any function. Have you ever heard anyone say “I’m not a typical sales person”?
So what makes a commercial HR professional? If you want to succeed in one of the leading commercial organisations it’s no longer good enough to be a knowledgeable HR practitioner. HR shouldn’t be about the ‘P’s – policies, procedures, processes, policing and best practice. Of course, the hygiene factors such as pay and rations are important and must be in place, but what sets the commercial HR leaders apart in these organisations is their track record of adding tangible value to the bottom line with their contributions. The specific contributions differ from business to business. If you aren’t able to identify or measure the output of your activity, ask yourself whether you are focusing on the right activities. What value are you adding to the business?
In the management of your career search, your CV should reflect the value you are adding. It should not define you as a ‘commercial HR professional’ who is ‘business first and HR second’ in your personal statement, then list a range of activities lacking outputs supported by metrics. It should explain the business rationale for your activity, and the benefit in commercial terms of its completion.
For example, a commercial achievement on your CV isn’t: “Successfully designed and launched new company performance management process”. It is: “Contributed to an increase in sales of 17% by the design and launch of a new company performance management process, ensuring individual goals were linked to business targets”.
Metrics are key
Some of my leading blue chip clients will reject an individual at application stage if their CV lacks metrics. They look at the process focused statements and say “so what?” In many cases, I truly believe that these HR professionals are adding value, they just aren’t taking time to review or measure their contribution in terms of its output. But if they are unable to articulate their contribution how will they perform in a challenging interview?
The job market has changed massively in the last three years. People on the market in 2007/8 will have experienced a large volume of job opportunities and a short fall of candidates. Now there are a large volume of candidates competing for a vastly reduced number of roles. The top businesses want the same individuals - the truly commercial HR people.
Don’t be one of the masses. Set yourself apart.
Tips for writing your CV
- List roles chronologically with the most recent role at the top. Skills-based CVs aren’t relevant
when applying for permanent roles. Employers want to see your specific legacy in each role, and your progression.
- Give a brief synopsis of the scope of each role including reporting line, client group, team size, budget, employee numbers, locations etc.
- The majority of space should be given to bullet pointed achievements, not responsibilities, in the past tense.
- Achievements should be output focused and clearly highlight the business benefit, supported by metrics.
- Include your qualifications including institution and grade, but leave out training courses, particularly internal ones, where no qualification was gained.