The 1980s and early 1990s were about downsizing when the finance director
ruled; but this is the age of talent. The employer’s greatest asset has
appreciated – or so we are told.
So why is this not reflected in the structure of large companies? The
long-awaited leap of personnel professionals onto the board has not happened.
Cranfield University, whose four-yearly survey monitors the level of board
representation of human resources directors, finds the figure stuck at around
50 per cent .
Yet the flat bar chart is deceptive. It is not the case that ponderous
corporates are ignoring the competitive advantage of people strategies.
It is sadly the case that they are not always turning to the HR director
when they want a solution. They frequently call in one of the larger management
consultancies. This does not mean that the board is always right. It does not
mean that the HR professional is always under-skilled. But where exclusion from
the top level is not justified, it is up to the HR function to demonstrate that
this is the case. The act of doing so proves the case: such negotiating skills
are among the attributes necessary to thrive at this level.
To be taken seriously personnel professionals need to know about finance and
business strategy as well as employment law and the administrative system. Our
own reader research shows that there is a shortage of HR managers with this
rare combination .
There is a particular high demand in fast growing areas, like e-commerce,
where skill requirements are high; skills shortages are endemic; and staff
loyalty is viewed as something grandad used to talk about .
In this sector the board expects the HR department to devise share schemes
that beat the competition, and continuous recruitment strategies that monitor
the best people. Meanwhile, they will often be expected to create a company
culture as they meld a half dozen start-ups which have been thrown together in
a hasty merger.
Get this right – without forgetting the crucial administrative function –
and the seat on the board is guaranteed.