What can HR bring to the table?
The focus and pressure on top HR directors in commerce and industry has never been greater than it is today.
As a result, over recent years, their remit has evolved to require a far broader, more business-oriented background and set of skills than was previously the case.
But this situation has, in turn, led to a growing appreciation of the HR role. There was a time, not so long ago, when the HR function was viewed as largely administrative - except in the most forward-thinking of companies.
This resulted in HR leaders being relegated to managing policies and looking after ‘cultural’ initiatives.
Are all HRDs the same?
Prompted by a growing trend towards mergers and acquisitions on the one hand, and cost-cutting-oriented ‘transformation programmes’ on the other, however, most HR directors in FTSE250 companies now work much more closely with finance and other board members, including the chief executive.
Their role is to lead the people agenda within change programmes and, thereby, add value to the bottom line.
Indeed, this demand for broad commercial nous means that, instead of turning to career HR professionals, companies sometimes fill the ‘chief people’ position with managers that have come from other functions such as operations, marketing or corporate law.
More often than not, most firms are looking for a suitable blend of HR and business expertise, however. The increasing sophistication of HR departments and the influence of the Ulrich model have resulted in FTSE250 organisations requiring increasingly commercially-savvy HR directors with strong business partnering skills.
Not only do such HR leaders need to communicate effectively with other senior managers, but they must also be able to perform an advisory and counselling role in relation to attracting, retaining and developing top talent – which is now an agenda item for many CEOs.
Indeed, in a few forward thinking - and generally service-led - organisations where people are key to business success, you may even find the odd CEO with an HR background.
The idea behind such appointments is that the head honcho needs to understand how best to derive value from the workforce and create an environment that allows each individual to fulfill their potential.
But those businesses that really ‘get’ HR and understand that it adds value to the bottom line are the ones that tend to have strong HR directors who have continued to focus on developing talent in difficult economic times.
As a result, a typical HRD in a FTSE 250 firm will have had a background in talent management. This experience may include integrating and coordinating talent frameworks that are sometimes global in nature.
FTSE250 HR directors are global leaders
Many, if not most, FTSE250 companies today have operations in other countries, which has led to parallel demand for international HR experience.
For instance, HRDs who know how to negotiate cultural differences and implement standard best practice in terms of processes and policies are particularly valued. Good language skills are another real differentiator.
Closely linked with the streamlining of global practices, however, is the burgeoning use of IT tools to help manage the process. This means that today’s HRDs need to be technologically-savvy. Most will have managed at least one major ERP or other kind of software implementation during their career these days, for example.
But a major part of the role is also about taking responsibility for – rather than simply overseeing - major transformation processes and shifts in organisational development.
This means that most HRDs in this space will have had prior experience of running change programmes, building a high-performing HR team and developing strategies to ensure the introduction of cost-effective process improvements.
But in today’s straightened times, and despite the lean nature of most organisations today, the more transactional aspects of HR also can’t be forgotten about.
While some will have hoped to leave such considerations behind by now, it is becoming increasingly critical for HRDs to have a clear understanding of, and tight control over, the operational aspects of their department, especially in light of ongoing myriad legislative changes.
Communication is key
Last but not least, however, a typical HR director in a FTSE 250 company these days must know how to blow their own and their team’s trumpet so as to communicate the value-add that HR is able to bring across the entire organisation.