With so many buzz words constantly flying around in the world of Human Resources, it can be difficult to define exactly what it takes to become an effective HR leader. Is it an ability to engage, empower and inspire ownership? Or, when it comes to C-suite impact, is there more to it? I sat down with Cascade HR’s CEO Oliver Shaw, to glean his thoughts on the topic, based on insight from the boardroom of his own business and that of clients…

Annual industry surveys and ongoing pulse polls constantly reveal interesting data that helps to shape where HR professionals need to be focusing their efforts. In times of recession the priority is often the maintenance of morale and wellness as job security fears mount, but eyes cannot come off productivity if an organisation is to weather the storm of difficult economic pressures. When the business climate is more buoyant, attentions typically turn to the recruitment and retention of the most talented people in the market, which is not always easy in an employment landscape rich in mobility.

The role of a HR leader is therefore not always straightforward, but then, the same could perhaps be said for any member of a senior management team.

The key to any such position is to remember the emphasis on the need to lead. Of course leadership styles will differ from one HR professional to the next, influenced largely, no doubt, by the cultural nuances of the organisation concerned. And yes, an effective HR leader will hopefully engage and inspire colleagues with his/her vision.

But at the core of leadership is an innate ability to help the collective do the right thing. An effective HR leader will therefore help set the direction of the company and map out how to get from A to B and beyond.

In so many aspects of business, CEOs can predict what is controllable and they can assess trends to make educated decisions surrounding what isn’t. So, in the boardroom, this requires HR leaders to help inform the senior management team as to the long-term staffing and organisational development challenges – and opportunities – that the firm may encounter.

If a CEO is making plans to increase company turnover by 30% within the next two years, for example, an effective HR leader needs to work in congruence and add to that narrative. They may express concern, perhaps retorting with: ‘OK, to do this we’ll need to recruit an additional X people within the next six months, I need £X DRs for the board, X months to create X development plans and £X additional training budget, because we only have X productive people in work today and to boost turnover by 30% by the end of 2019 I calculate we’ll need X.’

From skills gaps and succession planning, to the recruitment and retention challenges posed by the external labour market, HR leaders are the key to unlocking a wealth of people analytics that other board members simply may not comprehend. They can advise on a necessary allocation of risk that many may overlook but they can also uncover trends that could in fact make a 30% increase in turnover look unambitious.

Of course it depends on how strategic the HR leader wants their position to be, and also the perception that the senior management team has of that role. So many HR professionals are locked into either HR processes or the operational engagement side of Human Resources. But there is a host of potential for that individual to add value in between too, if they embrace the C-suite conversation and are given the platform to have a voice.