Growing leadership talent

Written by
Changeboard Team

16 Jul 2014

16 Jul 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Developing the right leadership

What organisation wouldn’t want an HR leader who can drive high performance in challenging environments, be creative, commercial and results orientated, develop talent, convert vision into action and do all this with passion and drive? Everyone wants these qualities, but a key question is whether ‘leadership’ can be a universal set of behaviours. It must come down to individual business context – the organisations that are thinking most broadly about what missing capabilities they can bring in through targeted hiring or leadership development programmes are the ones that will continue to drive competitive advantage. Your role, as an HR leader, in enabling the business to hire and develop the right leadership talent has never been more crucial.

Banish mixed messages

More organisations are looking internally, with a greater focus on developing talent pools. However, when the internal talent pool can’t provide the solution, employers are recruiting from outside using a narrow selection criteria. Most prefer to hire from within the sector and are still averse to taking risks on people who appear to be less than a 100% fit.

Regardless of the economic climate, organisations are still focused on recruiting leaders with a strong sense of ethics and business responsibility, especially within the financial services sector. For example, Antony Jenkins, CEO at Barclays, wants people at all levels to focus on treating customers with respect and focus less exclusively on profit-making. With this in mind, you must ensure that HR is vigilant about sending out mixed messages. Previously, leaders have been asked to behave in one way but have been rewarded for behaving in another. It’s clear that the link between performance, behaviour and reward will need to be closer than ever. As for those individuals who are successful, despite having behaviours that aren’t congruent with the specific organisation, it takes a brave senior leadership team to ‘call them out’.

Understand before you are understood

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People remains a popular business book and habit number five, ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’, can apply to you in the current environment. In HR you must understand what your business does, where it needs to be in the future and what drives employee engagement – but the list is endless. Don’t try to be understood yourself until you have your finger on the pulse of the business. You must be action-oriented, make sure your solutions are commercial and that leaders ‘get’ what you are doing. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo – courage is an undervalued quality.

As Sue Barnes, director of HR, TNT Express Services UK & Ireland, says: “HR is not a support function but an equal partner in driving business growth.” She believes that the language used to influence the business must resonate and be aligned to its agenda with a strong strategic narrative. In her words: “Robust commercial knowledge and operational understanding is essential for ensuring the change agenda is recognised, accepted and embedded. In taking this approach, you will be involved in the debate at the outset and will be seen as a key contributor to the solution.”

Talk about people, not just money

Don’t just talk about pounds and pence when discussing how commercial you are. Talk about the people metrics and human capital. Barnes describes her own experience as such: “Building engagement and interaction is just part of the way we work as a senior management team. We schedule time to visit our operational locations throughout the year, making sure we are there to meet the end of the warehouse night shift and then speak with our drivers before they go out in the morning on their rounds. It’s a great way to understand the climate in the organisation and pick up some valuable ideas too from the ambassadors of our business.

“In truly adding value in HR and the impact it can have for the business, effective listening, interaction and collaboration with our key stakeholders is absolutely essential. By investing this time and visibility with our employees, the senior management team and functional colleagues, I gain the depth of detail and understanding of the business issues to design solutions which deliver enhanced people capability. The knowledge you acquire through this level of engagement and connection is critical in helping drive the business agenda. It brings with it the certainty to challenge when necessary to make sure everything stays on track.” 

In my view, the strongest HR leaders don’t say ‘I’m business first, HR second’. You don’t need to. Employees will know you, understand what you are trying to achieve and respect you for your outputs, which are always business-linked.

Sue Barnes

Sue Barnesdirector of HR, TNT Express Services UK & Ireland

Sue is passionate about HR and has more than 25 years' experience with responsibility for nearly 10,000 employees.