How I see HR: David Leigh, chief executive, SHL

We have 630 staff and an HR team of seven, answering to my HR director, who sits on the company’s operating board. It’s crucial to have an HR perspective on key operational decisions. This perspective should be independent, unaffected by any vested interest, and should offer a people-centric view of the business. I would always want to have an HR director reporting directly to the chief executive, and part of all key operational decisions.

The main thing that frustrates me about my own HR department is that it isn’t big enough to do everything that I think it could. I see it as driving key agenda items across the business, especially around change. Given the size of the business, and the size of the HR team, they cannot push those agendas as quickly as I would like.

My key question about HR is ‘what does it own in the business?’. At times, HR plays key facilitation roles, but when will it actually decide to own something? If you look at HR over the past decade, and the amount of outsourcing that has taken place, what has it freed HR up to do? It’s down to the HR director, but it’s also down to the permission given to people to actually own things rather than just facilitating them. HR directors need to stand up and say what they intend to drive within the business.

HR can make a real difference to the organisation. And that’s what is happening at SHL. I took over as chief executive in the middle of 2009 – one of my priorities was to drive cultural change within the organisation. HR has helped me do that. It’s been exciting to see how much we’ve been able to achieve and how quickly we’ve been able to achieve it. And like many businesses, we have had to respond to the challenges of the wider economic environment.

HR has done that extremely well, which has allowed people in the business just to get on, and to stay close to the customer. That’s really made a difference to the customer and their experience of SHL. HR in this business has worked very quietly, in a very understated way, to deal with people-related issues, but I don’t underestimate how critical it is to the success of the business.

Many HR teams have spent a lot of time over the past 18 months facilitating restructuring. But the most exciting thing I’ve seen is HR thinking ‘what next?’. This often means looking at the challenges around engagement, particularly when, as the labour market begins to pick up, the best people will be attractive to other employers.

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