Posted in: Bloggery

This is a question often asked of themselves by HR leaders.  “Was this last initiative of mine a wrong aspiration, or something I simply did not execute properly?”

Many of the objectives HR leaders focus on relate to complex undertakings – for example improving an engagement score – where the outcome rests on a number of other people doing things differently, and influence is indirect.

I was reminded of this recently, in launching and then regretfully deciding to sideline a survey directed to HR leaders.  We received a very small response:  too few for us to draw valid general conclusions.  Was this a poorly chosen aspiration? Were the questions badly framed?  Were too many questions aimed at very busy professionals?  Was our timing bad?  Did we deploy the wrong technology to gather data?

The fundamentals behind the survey remain a passionate interest.  For many years I was an HRD – and I remember my many failures vividly.  It is a very difficult role to deliver well, because it rests on influencing others who are busy in their working roles in other areas of the organisation.  It feels often like being the assistant coach of a football team: you are generally respected, along with other functional experts.  However in the minds of line managers – the real game is out there on the field.

HR leaders of course don’t always help themselves, and may sometimes be working to their own agenda.  Some immerse themselves in busy activity, participating in endless meetings – and neglect important conversations around broader organisational capability with key leaders.  And some HR leaders are not actually given much support, or the opportunity to work with a CEO who provides effective guidance and appropriate resources.

Achieving an effective contribution as an HR leader rests on the right focus, and related capabilities.

These include:

  • Working in close alignment with the current strategic priorities of the business and the CEO. Understanding how these priorities will be executed and their people implications.
  • In working closely with the CEO, being his/her guide, confidant, and challenger. This relationship is one of the few that demands a different level of trust and interaction.
  • Working closely also with the particular concerns of peer level managers: which means spending time with them, understanding their operations and the metrics they use to measure performance, winning trust, respecting confidences, focussing on the value they need from HR, listening to and acknowledging their challenges.
  • Working on outcomes, not processes: guiding and resourcing operational activities in HR but then spending most of your time on key strategic priorities, not on systems or in endless committees.
  • Bringing insight and intelligence into the organisations in key areas such as talent attraction and retention, the significance of leadership practices in building an effective culture, how capabilities are developed in individuals and teams, and in change management.
  • Being the social conscience of the organization.

Effective HR leaders do get to work in interesting areas, and like other senior people, can actually define the focus of their work, or at least a big chunk of where their time will be invested. Some HR leaders also create thoughtful contributions as trusted advisors in difficult people issues for their CEO and their peers.

If you would like to work through a set of questions in examining where you are fulfilled, or yet to get there, where your peers are investing their time, and other questions which may open up some insights, please go to the Research page on our website by clicking on this link Research Questions and follow the Link to Survey.

I would be happy to receive feedback.  My email is hdavies@macfarlanlane.com.au