Thursday 19 November 2009

CIPD09: Leading the HR function


   I was hoping to see Warner Burke this morning, but he seems to have disappeared off the programme, so instead I’m with Kevin White from the Home Office and Stephen Lehane from Alliance Boots talking about HR leadership.

White has conducted his own mini-survey of 70 current and future leaders in civil service HR.

Some of the quotes from the survey relating to how HR leadership is perceived today include:

  • You have to have the balls
  • A sense of humour is essential
  • Business first, HR second
  • Psycho-babble misinterpreted as knowledge
  • Saying ‘no’ whilst offering options
  • A high IQ is helpful
  • Trying to please too much
  • Inspirational and passionate
  • Ignorance translated into chaos
  • All mouth and no trousers.


You’ll know from my previous posts that I have concerns over this “business first, HR second” thing.  But I thought White expressed it nicely: We earn the right to set at the table through our expertise, but we need to get better at understanding the wider organisation to understand how to apply HR solutions.

Other thoughts:

  • Senior leaders of HR may be better coming from outside of the function, but you need some structure around this
  • HR makes great number 2s to their CEOs (people who are determined to be #1 may not be flexible enough (it’s not about you).


   Lehane suggests the following attributes:

  • Positive dissatisfaction
  • Leading for what you care about
  • Big relationships
  • Understanding the ‘real system’
  • Building demand
  • Active engagement
  • Avoid HR
  • Deliver the basics
  • Enrol your Personal Support team.


Relationships are of course the area I’m suggesting all leaders need to focus on.  Lehane is asking about how do you make your relationships bigger and deeper?  “Think about your worst relationship and work on it.  You’ve got to invest in it to develop your ability to get things done.”

His point on building demand links to this as well.  HR needs to support things bur it needs to stand for things and lead things as well.  It needs to be bold and confident.  It shouldn’t be about selling products.  “If you need to work on getting buy-in, you’re not sufficiently embedded in your organisation, you don’t really understand what’s going on.”




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    1. If you have problems with the 'business first, HR second' idea there will be trouble: it's fast becoming a theme at CIPD09 I notice...

      Charlie Duff -

    2. I make a point of not being diverted by trouble, Charlie. And just because its a theme (and I agree it is - this is why I'm making the point), doesn't mean it's right!

      I like Tim Smedley's point on the People Management site (in other ways, no comparison to HR Zone of course) that:

      "But just a quick caveat. This is not to say that HR has become so business-like or focused on the senior team that it’s lost its connection with people. More than once I came across delegates and speakers rubbishing the term “human resources”, as indeed Deborah Baker from Sky recently did when I talked to her. The preferred term is fast becoming “people”, not “HR” – and the concept of being a bridge between the senior team and employees, not an island which neither side visits all that regularly, came across strongly. The message seemed to be that being astute number crunchers and strategic planners does not mean forgetting the people – rather it’s that very knowledge of people that makes HR unique among business functions."

    3. This is becoming a contentious issue - particularly to guys (yours truly included)who struggle to impress the business case for HC investment.

      John Kotter in his leading change book "the ice is melting", cited Step 1: Find an Urgent Performance Problem !. And so, in the process of condcuting my LNA, I tried to gather some "Business first" -financial indicator of a Dept performance. i.e Invoiced Revenue vs Bills Collection. Guess what?.

      I was given the run-around glimpse of the 2010 world cup fever!:)

      I have come realise and support that HR function and operate on a continuum. On one end you have the fortunate "Business First" model where HR have the autonomy and top leadership support in impacting the business performance. On the other end, you have the deprived "HR First", where HR are parked next to the boiler-room and struggle to keep their own survival. Then you also have those in the middle, who are very flexible and adaptable in swaying whichever way, depending on the risk profile of the HR operations.


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