It is about time HR dined at the top table

 I attended the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) conference at Harrogate this year as a speaker. One of the benefits was the huge range of people, skills and expertise that I encountered.

As speaker after speaker hammered home the self-evident message that getting the people dimensions right represents the biggest opportunity for all employers, I wondered who wasn’t getting the message and why?

Learning was fast-paced and furious, with delegates consumed with attending relevant seminars and exchanging e-mail addresses, yet still finding time to celebrate into the wee small hours.

I spoke to many delegates, most of whom I had not met before, and admired their skill, enthusiasm and energy as they described how they have gone about tackling the tough people issues in their businesses.

It also reinforced for me just how diverse the HR community has become, with true specialists in reward, organisation development, training, health, employee relations… the list is almost endless.

It seemed there was no doubt on the part of delegates about the value they add and the specific measures they were able to reel off. To put it in the vernacular, the HR function appears to be in rude health.

So why the apparent lack of recognition in so many organisations at board level? Well it seems to me that there is a time lag between current perception and reality. As the HR profession delivers on tough goals in all of its areas of expertise, so recognition ought to follow.

Where there is no representation at board level or operating board level, real competitive advantage is probably being squandered. After all, virtually all chief executives are unanimous in stating that people are their sole sustainable source of competitive advantage. However, this viewpoint seems at odds with not sponsoring HR representation at the top table. Maybe some CEOs need to think again.

It is time to change tack when approaching this issue. Now is the time for the Confederation of British Industry, the CIPD and the Department of Trade and Industry to form a lobby to encourage, support and promote all sizeable organisations to have HR representation at least at operating board level. All stakeholders would benefit from such an approach.

Of course, the HR profession would then need to consistently deliver at both strategic and operational levels. However, after Harrogate 2004, I am in no doubt they are ready, willing and able.

By Paul Pagliari, HR director, Scottish Water

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