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Barney Ely

Hays HR


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How to get ahead in HR


HR professionals have been put in the spotlight over the last two years as the function became even more critical during the downturn.

Most are now working to execute strategies and make changes across various business functions to come up with innovative solutions to offset business cost pressures.
Throughout the economic crisis, many HR professionals have become more prominent members of the management team, needing to demonstrate objectivity and ask difficult questions in a bid to ensure organisational success.
The ability to act as a business partner and cement relationships with senior professionals across the organisation is a must. Organisations need senior HR professionals to act as advisers to the business and therefore it’s really important to invest time in building strong working relationships within your company.
But there are a number of other important things to consider if you wish to get ahead in HR:
1. What skills are required?
For HR professionals who have the appetite to get ahead and work their way up, it’s crucial to gain an in-depth insight into what is going on across the organisation and develop a strong working relationship with all key business heads.
It’s important that you develop a relatively high level profile so that the MD and board call on HR for support and place you in a strong position of trust.
Successful HR professionals will already be working towards safeguarding their organisation for the long-term, engaging with a tremendous variety of stakeholders across the business, working closely with both the senior business leaders and staff at the ‘coal-face’.
This requires them to have strong leadership and communication skills, a high degree of self-motivation and drive, combined with the ability to work under pressure and deliver to demanding deadlines.
Martin Rayson, divisional director of HR and organisational development at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, attributes success to his HR team.
Martin says: “Making sure I have a strong HR team to support me has been essential. I know I have people with the right skills in place and trust them to make decisions – this allows me to leave them to get on with what they need to do so that I can concentrate on my role and add real value to the strategic direction of the organisation.”
2. How do you raise your profile?
In order to help raise your profile, you need to be looking for ways to support the MD, non-executives and other senior stakeholders. This can be done in a variety of ways such as one-to-one counsel, providing expertise about sourcing the skills required now and in the future and being solutions-driven.
Acting as an advisor to the MD and other senior leaders, providing strategic advice and bringing a sense of reality in terms of what is needed from a people perspective to succeed will ensure you are seen as adding value.
Over the last couple of years, the economic landscape has reduced the number of opportunities for new HRDs, as there has been less movement of individuals and organisations have become more risk adverse, opting to take someone who has already had exposure to the role.
This said there have been a number of exciting interim and consultancy roles. The downturn has also given individuals the opportunity to excel, ensuring the company survives despite the tough economic climate.
As an HR professional, you need to ensure you continue to shine, as more opportunities will arise as the market continues to grow and organisations start to recruit based on talent rather than simply focusing on experience.
Think about the additional responsibilities that make you stand out. For example, have you implemented business-wide initiatives that have not only improved HR systems but also other areas of the business, such as sales and marketing, and the bottom line?
You have the ability to inspire employees by focusing on areas such as employee engagement, not only within your own team but also across the entire organisation. This creates an opportunity for you to make an impact on the company’s bottom line.
Individuals who have shone throughout the tough economic climate and have grasped the opportunity to take more of a central leadership role, are those who will succeed long-term.
Top tips to get ahead in HR
  • Understand niche HR areas: You need to have an understanding of niche HR areas, such as pay & reward and employment law – you are accountable for these teams.
  • Lead with solutions to organisational strategies and work closely with the MD and other senior leaders: aspiring HRDs really need to use their HR knowledge and wider business skills to come up with solutions to support business objectives.
  • Demonstrate a return on investment: you need to demonstrate your impact on the business, whether this be % savings or improved productivity.
  • Build a strong team: your ability to do a good job is dependent of the calibre of your team. Spend time developing them and building the best possible team, they are representing you.

Barney Ely is a director at recruitment consultancy, Hays HR.

This article was first published by our partner, online jobs board, Changeboard.

2 Responses

  1. Great post!

    I fully share David’s comments.  And for sure, if you want to be seen as competent, in any function, it is vital to have a strong team behind you!

    Can I also suggest, two other tips for enhancing your internal profile?

    First, focus on finding solutions rather than just problems?  NOT always easily done I know, especially in the fast-changing HR-world.  But  that is what I think you will find Boards admire most in their senior HR team.  (External lawyers are often criticised for being brilliant at telling their clients what they *can’t* do – but they don’t have to run the business!  Your Board will almost certainly want to know what they *can* do!)

    Secondly, may I suggest you try very hard to avoid being seen by your senior colleagues in other functions as a ‘copper’s nark’?  I have seen too many good HR people, perhaps seeking to curry favour and grab the CEO’s attention in particular, alert the Board to strictly local, minor issues and office-gossip that may far better have stayed local.  The Board may delight in your inside knowledge on such occasions and your ‘finger on the pulse’.  But you may just as quickly lose the goodwill and trust of the senior functional managers you most need to serve.

    All best wishes,


  2. great post

    Surrounding yourself with the best possible team is invalueable advice because human resources relies heavily on being able to communicate within your team and being able to rely on the people you trust to represent yourself and the values of the organisation you are within. 


    David Evans, commercial director at accessplanit, specialist in training administration system and training administration software

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