It never ceases to amaze me how much power HR can have in an organisation when it is done right. Sadly the same is also true when HR leaders get it wrong.
Often the differentiating factor is the leader themselves sometimes their teams. Often as not however it is down to an unwillingness or inability to stand back and take a hard rational look at the contribution an organisation’s people are making to its success. Inevitably and rightly business executives look to their HR colleagues for guidance insight and direction in how to make a positive shift. In addition those executives also want to know how HR is going to change itself to better support such a shift. Therein lies one key to success: being able to look outwards and inwards at the same time whilst recognising the fundamental relationship between the two perspectives. One thing that has not changed in my observations about HR leaders and their teams is that everyone is under huge time pressure. There never seem to be enough hours in the day to get through the workload. Initiatives seem to pile on initiatives with scant regard to evaluating their alignment or overall fit with one another. To avoid offending stakeholders it sometimes feels like HR team’s ‘customer service’ just goes too far: saying no can sometimes add value by challenging assumptions or helping clients come up with more creative or better solutions. If only we had a way of becoming more focused about how we spend our precious time and energy on the things that really matter. The HR world is littered with interventions that either fail to deliver or result in teams becoming lost in the process of implementation blinded to the original purpose of what they set out to achieve. At least that’s how it often appears to many executive teams and line managers. HR’s image is in fact more damaged when those same executives and managers have put their own personal reputations on the line by having agreed to be associated with such ‘failures’. However with more careful planning and tracking you can increase your chances of interventions’ succeeding and in so doing make heroes of everyone involved. So much for rational thought: how about personal power? There comes a time in all HR leaders’ lives when they need to stand up and be counted. It can be too easy to take a passive role and always be hiding behind a façade of being the enabler the coach to the organisation. Senior executives want to know if you have what it takes to be regarded as their equal. Trust needs to be earned in the same way they have to earn it. Ultimately for me this is the great differentiator between being a good HR leader and being a great one. It’s all about personal impact and perhaps ultimately feeling good about it not embarrassed by your own success. Gerry Miles is the Programme Director for Strategic Human Resource Management at Ashridge. He has gained a wealth of HR line mangement and consulting experience working in a range of industry sectors including financial services automotive aerospace energy and telecoms in addition to central government and the NHS. Fellow of the CIPD Gerry has written widely on change management and HR topics and is the co-author of the leadership development book Growing Leaders. Find out more about the Strategic Human Resource Management open programme.