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Annie Hayes

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Why HR Directors get fired

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Why is it that HR Directors get fired? Or, even worse, marginalised by their executive colleagues? I’d like to say it’s because senior colleagues are too busy to recognise the true worth of the talent they’ve got in HR.


But that would both be oversimplifying the case and pandering to those who criticise the profession for being out of touch with business realities.

The simple fact is that HR Directors are very often asked to move on for failing to earn their rightful place at the Boardroom table. And that’s a lesson that’s often learnt the hard way, if they have failed to understand HR’s true role in developing business strategy and creating HR policies that deliver the goods.

The bottom line for success is that effective HR Directors have no option but to create circumstances where they don’t just deliver on business strategy but help to shape it too.

This is no small task; requiring a detailed knowledge of business management generally, as well as of the industry in which their organisation operates. Just for good measure, this also has to be laced with a hefty streak of creativity in order genuinely to contribute to business advantage, meeting today’s challenges and laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s successes.

HR creates key strategies and policies that contribute to bottom-line results. From developing the business culture and leadership climate to creating policies that attract the right calibre of employees, to increasing the value of the human capital and assessing the return on that investment, HR is at the heart of how every organisation delivers strategic intent.

The best HR Directors know how to balance the dynamic tension between the strategic foresight needed to keep their companies in the lead, and the necessary burden of mundane payroll and benefits administration activities. Getting the latter activities right is taken for granted these days; while HR Directors ignore the former at their peril.

How many HR Directors take sufficient time to evaluate the services they offer objectively and from the standpoint of their internal clients? At Hay Group, our experience shows this is a critical first step for aligning HR service delivery to the business priorities of their clients, whether these are individual employees, fellow managers in other functions, or the CEO and other Board-level executives.

Our HR Effectiveness Audit helps HR Directors to prioritise the HR service from a strategic perspective, and to assess its performance from all sides. It’s interesting (and often disappointing) how often the results reveal significant gaps between what HR practitioners do, and what their clients think they ought to be doing.

This raises valid questions about whether or not HR is adding value – in the right ways and at the right time, to be considered integral to successful business performance. The audit process also breaks down HR activities in cost terms, revealing which activities are delivering value against business priorities.

At Hay Group, we understand that real value lies in using a combination of HR expertise and business acumen to lift the company onto a higher level by extracting maximum advantage from its human capital.

As the main gatekeeper of talent, HR needs to be fully aware of the priorities of the organisation it serves and be capable of aligning the developmental needs of the business with those of the people who will create the required results. This takes first class communication and negotiating skills, as well as strategic vision and business savvy.

In order to deliver strategic intent, HR Directors need to think in terms of the long-term objectives of the organisation they support and to be aware of the barriers, blocks and enablers which will affect their companies’ ability to perform.

To remain an indispensable part of the business process, there is an increasing need for HR Directors to spend time working collaboratively with other business managers, adding insight into what drives the people and the organisation to succeed. They will never have credibility if they don’t genuinely understand how to shape business strategy for competitive advantage and demonstrate their willingness to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.

No business can excel if it doesn’t have the right people in well-defined roles, and a positive climate in which their talents can be developed and effectively mined. The HR Director who exerts control over these factors more than earns a place at the Boardroom table and continued employment with any successful organisation.

Deborah Allday is Associate Director of global management consultants, Hay Group.




2 Responses

  1. Hr making a strategic contribution
    What an excellent article by Deborah. It has been so disappointing to me over the years to hear so many senior HR professionals moaning about the fact that they do not have a voice at the top table, when they don’t actually speak the same language as the top table. If we wait for executive teams to understand the value contributed by strategic HRM, we might wait a long time. Sadly, operational managers and executives often only see HR as a support function and a cost.

    This has been the perennial dilemma for senior HR professionals. As Deborah points out, but creating the circumstances that helps to creat business staretgy and engages top teams to take a much closer look at organisational capability to deliver the strategy, HR Directors are more likely to be given a more receptive hearing at the top table.

    Using the dictionary as a metaphor, part of the HR Directors role at the top table is to translate the language of business to the language of human performance and management, and vice versa. They have to sit comfortably on the fence that enables them to discuss strategic direction and, financial management of the business and people policies. And when discussing contribution and decison-making about HR stratgeies, nothing gets the attention of the FD and the CEO more than the language of measurement, bottom line results and contribution. Afterall, we all know by now (as if there wasn’t enough evidence to the fact) that over 50% of companies inability to fully deliver their strategy and business plans are due to organisational issues. Issues that the HR Director can highlight and build a business case for addressing.

  2. Right on target…..
    “HR creates key strategies and policies that contribute to bottom-line results”

    I think Deborah has beamed right into the problem, namely that most of HR is not actually doing that
    Many HR directors get fired or move on, in my experience, because they fail to establish with the rest of the board / senior management just what their professional expertise and value proposition actually are.
    Overseeing increaingly larger numbers of staff performing admin functions is not a proper grounding for being a senior Officer of an organisation’s Board…yet this happens, even now.

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