HR leaders, if they have the right level of experience and business acumen, are possibly the best people to be on the board – they can offer much better value than some other functional leaders can. A chief executive will be looking for strategic thinkers and a composition that includes finance, operations and HR.
HR has traditionally been excluded because, as a function, it didn’t seem to be keen to contribute to strategic thinking. But what’s happened over the past 10 or 15 years is that there’s been some kind of revolt within HR – they’ve decided that they are strategic, and that they need to be on the board. HR professionals have stood up and said ‘look at all the issues we can help with’.
People are our main asset, and we have to manage that. We need to get the right people into the business, then use and motivate them in a way that’s beneficial to the organisation.
Our HR function is run by our operations director, but in our US parent company, the function sits with the finance department. My operations director engages with our people every day, which is why our HR function reports in to her.
We are going through rapid growth – we’re effectively combining start-up mode with 35 years’ experience. And it’s enormously challenging for our staff to go through this change, so my HR function is extremely important. I talk to my operations director every day about people, rather than operational, issues.
My frustrations with HR are around regulation. It’s all about balancing political correctness and statutory compliance with trying to encourage employees to recognise their opportunities within the company. You can’t always do that. It’s frustrating, especially in a small business environment where we are undertaking a huge recruitment drive.
But what excites me about our HR team is their work in helping individuals recognise their own value in relation to the overall performance of the business. I run a very transparent organisation, where everyone gets credit for hitting targets. That shows people that we are willing to help them develop in their roles, and individually.
Our HR department has really embraced the company strategy. A strategy can have a direct impact on people and their comfort zone – and HR has to deal with that. People will always react to change, and it’s up to HR to manage that.
One of my challenges is that I have inherited my HR department. It’s part of a 35-year-old company that, while it’s been very successful, has seen very little change. I’m having to bring in quite a lot of change, and think this is where HR needs to be more supportive of company strategy and the board. If they were on the board, that would filter down.