Commercially driven HR reality or rhetoric?

Written by
Changeboard Team

20 May 2013

20 May 2013 • by Changeboard Team

The changing role of HR

If job titles were the sole indicator of HR recruitment trends, 2013 would be the year of opportunities in learning and development, organisation development, reward and compensation and benefits. But beyond the obvious technical skills implied by job title, is commerciality on the list of attributes in demand?

John Malley, group HR director at Mott MacDonald, says: “There is certainly a growing demand for good L&D people, but also for commercially minded generalists with strengths in L&D and talent development.” This suggests that more organisations are being forced to take a commercial view of their HR teams and generalists are being expected to take more into their remit, controlling the play as business partners and working seamlessly with specialists in the centres of excellence.

Reward professionals are also now expected to be more versatile in their approach. According to Malley: “Reward experts are back in demand and global mobility is a key component of their role”. There also appears to be a trend for organisations to bring global mobility in-house.

Data savvy in demand

Another strand in the evolution of the traditional compensation and benefits role is data analysis. Di Hopper, former UK HR director at Promethean, uses sound metrics as a basis for influencing and supporting decisions for change to key stakeholders. “By creating clear data using web-enabled applications, you allow HR professionals to have commercial conversations with the business,” she says, “but finding this capability and skill set across HR is difficult, and requires looking outside the traditional C&B talent pool.”

Independent consultant Derek Massie, until recently senior vice-president of HR at Seadrill Management AS, agrees. “The more challenging HR roles I recruit for are in key specialist areas such as C&B,” he says. “It’s difficult to find HR generalists with commercial nous that will immerse themselves in understanding the key business drivers, issues and results. It requires wanting to see and be a part of the bigger picture. The best HR people have a passion for business and are technically strong.”

Malley believes that the most valued business partners are those that can demonstrate technical proficiency and have in-depth business discussions with line management. In larger multinational organisations, the challenges are more global. He adds: “There’s a growing need for HR teams that can embrace opportunities to work in other environments.”

Think outside the box

His advice to organisations that are currently recruiting is to engage high quality candidates by highlighting the type of organisation they are, and how and why a candidate’s skills will be used. Organisations should also clearly define the value they want from their hires over the longer term. “Don’t always take the easy option or obvious fit,” he says. “There seems to be a trend for taking on individuals looking to make a lateral move, but the real value comes from hiring individuals with strong skill sets where there is alignment in attitude, vision, culture and commerciality.”

Massie believes that the recruitment process can be improved by selecting the right recruiters and discussing rates before forming partnerships with them. He explains: “Let them get to know your business, give them access to the wider team and hiring line managers, and treat them as an extension of your resources. Be open-minded about seeing candidates from outside the sector or your brief.”

Set realistic expectations

From speaking with senior HR leaders, we see that versatility, a global mindset, and above all, commerciality feature heavily in conversation. However, organisations are struggling to find these in the talent pool and, too often, fall into the trap of recruiting according to skills fit. So it’s surprising that a significant gap persists between the rhetoric of needing to be commercial and the acceptance among many HR professionals that development in this area is essential.

As 2013 promises to deliver more challenges to the economy, we once more ask HR professionals: “What do you now consider as the most important area to develop?”