HR on the board? Just make it happen

How serious a ‘player’ are you really in your business? Are you involved in the decision-making process, or are you simply requested to deliver certain objectives? Are you truly seen as a business director? Or are you just the director with expertise in all matters HR?

If your expectation is to continually progress, being the HR expert quite simply won’t be enough.

Many of us have pondered the following questions: How do I see myself in my business? Where do I fit in? Which role am I most comfortable in? How would my peers describe me? Answers to these are all valuable in reaching a conclusion to the bigger question: What came first: the business director or the HR director?

Personally, I would always put business before HR. It is not possible to really drive commercial HR delivery without truly understanding the business, the commercial levers, the key performance indicators, and the impact of creative HR practice on the bottom line.

I have stopped reading the numerous articles questioning or justifying why HR should be on the board. I have never seen an article asking the same questions with regard to the finance director or the marketing director. We seem to be encouraging and creating the debate, when surely this energy and focus would be better placed in just making it happen.

Demonstrating the strength of your contribution is critical to underpinning the value you bring to the profitability of the business. It sounds obvious, but speaking the commercial language of the organisation is essential. It’s not just about acquiring a basic understanding, but contributing to the broad commercial agenda.

The first board meeting is daunting, and there is clearly a requirement to quickly ‘up-skill’. It is essential to demonstrate knowledge outside of your specialism to develop and maintain credibility. It isn’t enough to just raise and contribute to the HR issues at the board table.

I spent time with the group finance director to familiarise myself with the cashflow statement and the balance sheet.

We’ve chosen the HR profession – it didn’t choose us. It is, therefore, non-productive to make comparisons between HR and another discipline. In the majority of businesses, understanding the bottom line and demonstrating that you have the ability to take action to improve this will result in your personal success, and that of your team. Good HR directors can bring thoughtful and insightful contributions. The best also recognise that saying ‘no’ doesn’t excite commercial colleagues – offering options with associated risks, costs and a recommendation is always a more productive option.

There is obviously the choice to diversify and move your career outside HR, which many have done extremely successfully. But I enjoy being an integral business player, positioning HR as a proactive commercial driver rather than a pedestrian service provider. The strength of your team is absolutely critical – you can’t deliver without a credible team that is recognised in the business as central to the strategic delivery and the commercial decisions.

The harsh (commercial) reality may well be to ‘shape up or ship out’. The kinder (HR) reality is to be confident, never stop learning, demonstrate your essential business role, think profit every second, and deliver it. Be energetic and positive, place HR at the centre of the business, get involved in critical business decisions, and you’ll be promoted to the main board before you can say ‘actions speak louder than words’.

By Lesley Cotton, group HR director, Holmes Place


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