How can HR partner with the C-suite?

Written by
Mary Appleton

23 May 2016

23 May 2016 • by Mary Appleton

Melanie Richards began the panel discussion by asking Ross Fraser, UK managing director of EMC, and Michael Keegan, UK chairman of Fujitsu, to explain how their businesses respond to change and how it Influences their talent agenda.

A core focus is the dynamic behind change and what ‘good’ looks like in terms of talent,” said Fraser. Keegan added: “A lot of my discussions are now focused around how we attract young people and grow the diversity of the workforce.”

Also present were two of the day’s earlier speakers – Amy Sawbridge, head of people strategy at Virgin Group, and BP’s group HR director Helmut Schuster.

Richards was keen to find out what skills are currently in demand from the HR function. Schuster replied that “20 years ago, we focused on technical skills; now there’s more focus on behaviours and values”. Sawbridge explained that much of her role was about “generating insights around business impact to have credible conversations with the C-suite – understanding what people can deliver and quantifying this, using data.”

The impact of technology on HR

Richards then asked the panel for their perspectives on the impact of technology on their people strategy.

Schuster said: “In 2016, HR does not need to make a business case for D&I. The question is: ‘how do we get there?’ That’s where digital can help. It will create transparency and add objectivity, so we can make unbiased decisions around people.”

“You can get distracted by technology and digitisation when it’s behaviours that need to change,” Sawbridge pointed out. “Technology is an enabler not the saviour.”

Good leadership

With trust and respect surfacing as key themes during previous presentations, Richards asked the panel what good leadership looks like.

“Our CEO once said: ‘we have to listen to the quiet voice in the room,’ and this resonated across the organisation,” revealed Schuster. “It triggered a cultural change reflective of the behaviours we are looking for – like humility and common sense.”

Referring to Virgin, Sawbridge added: “While Richard Branson set the tone for the brand initially, most employees don’t interact with him daily. We work to ensure the right behaviours are prevalent in the business as they set the culture.”

Responding to challenge

Richards wanted to know how the panel members challenge others or respond to being challenged. According to Sawbridge, maintaining a commercial focus helps overcome any challenging situation, while being authentic makes it easier to have a positive influence. “The key is to engage on a human level,” she advised.

Schuster spoke of the importance of letting data speak for itself. “In HR, we should always speak up as long as we have done our homework; that’s what CEOs deeply respect.”

For Fraser, in a climate of continual transformation, having a tight relationship with HR and creating an environment where challenge is accepted is imperative for success. “We want [HR] to bring insight and suggest a potential course of action.” In Keegan’s view, any modern executive should be comfortable with being challenged. “If you tell me what I don’t want to hear, I value that most.”

Adaptability, curiosity, honesty

Richards concluded the session by summarising the main themes: “We are seeing a need for adaptability, curiosity and honesty in the modern workplace and this is what you need to demonstrate to be successful as a leader. People are much more receptive to challenge than you might expect, but you need to be open to change because the world is moving very fast. All too often things are over-complicated, so it’s important to keep things simple."

Watch the full panel discussion

Watch Melanie Richards' Q&A

Championing female leaders at KPMG

To read an in-depth exclusive interview with Melanie Richards, which explores how KPMG is championing the diversity agenda and supporting female leaders, click here