Are you a commercial HR professional?

Written by
Changeboard Team

28 Mar 2013

28 Mar 2013 • by Changeboard Team

What does 'being commercial' mean?

A. Being commercial is about choices. Choices about how you spend your time and what’s going to have the biggest impact on the business. It’s not about the design of your role, your job title or your position in the hierarchy.

To be a commercial HR professional, you need to be focused on outcomes and deliverables that impact the goals of the company, in measurable ways – everything should be a means to this end. Stating that you are doing something because it's ‘best practice’ isn't good enough to pass the commerciality test.

You might have the skills, knowledge and behaviours to perform the tasks in your current role or in a role you’re applying for, but this isn’t the same as a proven ability to identify and deliver relevant commercial outcomes. I have interviewed many perfectly competent candidates who deliver great processes, but can’t explain what value they added to the organisation’s performance.

In HR, being commercial requires you to understand the business strategy in people terms, and then determine how you can help deliver that strategy through targeted interventions, processes, policies, services and tools.

Why is it important to be commercial?

A. Increasingly, employers expect nothing less. It’s become the key differentiator in the hiring process for mid- to senior HR people. The actions of HR should have a direct impact on the workforce and their productivity.

The HR function is increasingly seen as commercial and certainly the demands from my clients are high in this regard. However, there are many candidates who cannot present their achievements or business cases in terms of measurable benefits.

How can I demonstrate commerciality?

When you're searching for a new role, explain what the goals of the company are, and illustrate how your interventions were both necessary and effective in achieving those goals, in measurable and quantifiable terms. Volumes of people impacted are not enough – you have to evidence the impact this had on productivity, sales, risks avoided, profit margins etc.

Key to choosing the right interventions is an ability to think outside the bounds of so-called best practice, benchmarks and fads. The commercial HR person is not constrained by their job description and chooses interventions or invents new ones that precisely deliver the current business strategy.

Commercial candidates understand why they have done something, not just that they have been good at delivery. HR adds value when it applies knowledge of human behaviour, motivation and psychology to the challenge of how their workforce delivers real value to both customers and shareholders at this time, in this market.

Commercial impact across the business?

The same principles apply, but they come into play more when creating your business case for change or maintaining an activity. Use projected impact on the same commercial KPIs as the bedrock of your case and provide evidence to back it up. Demonstrate your understanding of how value is created in your company and what impact workforce issues have on that. You can then describe how your proposed change has an impact on the cause and effect chain that leads to improved value or performance.

The more time spent on strategic issues, the more opportunity there is for having a commercial impact. The more time spent on service delivery, when there are other ways these needs could be met for less cost, the more missed opportunities there are for commercial impact. What differentiates the truly commercial HRBP is not whether they can demonstrate commercial impact – it’s how you free yourself up to deliver more and more commercial impact.

How to make your CV commercial

Ellie Rich, director at Michael Page Executive Search, says:

“Your CV should reflect the value you’re adding now. It shouldn’t 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. Explain the business rationale for your activity, and the benefit of its completion in commercial terms”.

  • List roles chronologically - most recent 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 synopsis 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 highlight the business benefit, supported by metrics, such as: ‘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’.