Putting value on HR
The role of HR is undoubtedly changing. Woollard suggests that you need to be able to challenge conventional thinking in a rigorous, evidence-based way, underpinned by a value proposition that business leaders will understand and embrace.
“Currently, anyone can be an HR professional. This needs to change – an HR professional should be seen as highly skilled, operating to the highest possible standards, with real expertise in bringing value regardless of organisational context,” he says.
Woollard believes that the global financial crisis provided significant evidence of how people in what he terms ‘immature’ organisations can cause failure and create widespread societal damage.
“The more ‘mature’ organisations in which people are truly central to who they are and what they do will survive and thrive in the 21st century. The more HR can do to drive this journey within their own organisations, the better their future,” he adds.
Hinton agrees. “HR still needs to do more to ensure it is relevant and part of the senior discussion,” she says. “Three quarters of CEOs are looking to update their strategy in the next 12-18 months. HR needs to be there to translate this to a credible people strategy, not an HR functional strategy. Carrying on with what’s been called HR best practice, with no reference to how this reflects the overall strategy, is just not going to work.”
For Hinton, you need to be able to clearly answer the questions: ‘what specific skills will be game-changing for my organisation and how will I source those skills?’
Growing talent internally
In a broader context, a rise in cautious optimism means more organisations are poised for growth, but the availability of key skills remains a concern. Indeed, the Conference Board Research found that growing talent internally was identified as top of the list of strategies for CEOs this year when it comes to human capital.
This indicates a shift beyond a seemingly narrow approach focused on identifying individual high-potential talent, toward more general organisational capability building. In short, it makes sense to develop, retain, energise and manage the employees you have, especially when they may well be your best option in a tight global talent market.
“Leaders need to be more agile and flexible in the digital age,” Hinton argues. “CEOs want something different from their leaders now, including technical specialism and a real focus on digital. Yet there are few people available with that depth of expertise.
“There’s a challenge there for organisations – can you find these skills or do they have to be developed internally?.”
She points out that there’s a further challenge overlap in terms of the value, integrity, culture and behaviours – how do you get people to believe in the values of your organisation?
Today’s leaders are faced with growing levels of complexity, ambiguity, collaboration, inclusiveness, and the need to be agile while producing rapid results. Creativity, vision and empathy are crucial. Hinton argues that while organisations have been in survival mode, such capabilities have not been developed over the past few years.
She believes that many organisations have done a lot of ‘soul searching’ during the recession, and have found that a focus on authenticity and role-modelling is vital.
“Ethics, CSR and integrity are not new phrases, but there’s now more thought put into what that means for organisations in light of the corporate scandals,” she explains.
“CEOs are genuinely trying to change culture. Some of that might be quite granular, such as embedding different metrics through performance management systems or by paying people in a different way. Organisations are beginning to see that they need to recognise and reward based on the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of employees – they need to have evidence and document that.”
For Hinton, the focus needs to be on integrity. “It can’t be a fad simply to get people through the recession, Hold true to your values and don’t let them go out of the window.”