Storm brewing as CEO slams poor-quality HR

Difficulties in recruiting an HR director has prompted the chief executive
of Carlsberg UK to hit out at the low calibre of senior executives in the

Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, Colin Povey said major changes
needed to be made to the industry’s professional development curriculum. He
added that HR professionals lacked a "real business understanding".

"Far too many HR people are used to and happy being brought into play
after the real business decisions and debates have taken place," he said.
"Inevitably in these circumstances their ability to add value to the
business is heavily curtailed."

Povey has been looking to fill the position for more than six months after
former HR director Julian Duxfield left, and has not yet found a suitable

"HR plays a key role within Carlsberg," he said. "I’m looking
to appoint a director on the board close to me and the other executives. I
think that shows a significant commitment within our business and I want the HR
director to be involved in making strategic decisions."

Povey’s comments have been met by a mixed reaction.

Alan Warner, corporate director (people and property) at Hertfordshire
County Council, said: "Of course scenarios differ across organisations,
but it’s too sweeping a generalisation."

Heather Salway, HR consultancy director at recruitment firm Eden Brown,
said: "We have always been impressed with the standard of HR directors in
the UK. In my experience, there is phenomenal talent out there."

However, Saudagar Singh, HR director at Npower, agreed there was a shortage
of executives who have been exposed to the commercial realities of business.

Povey – once Carlsberg UK’s HR director – said that until there was a change
in emphasis, the HR function would fail to exert its influence within
organisations. "HR needs to be the engine that powers the
organisation," he claimed.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said it was
"fundamental" that HR was tuned into the needs of business and said
it has a range of activities to support senior executives.

By Mike Berry

Feedback from the profession

Andrew Foster, HR director, NHS

– I can understand the concerns that have been expressed about
lack of quality. Often when advertising the top jobs in the NHS we find the
quality of the field is a bit thin. I’m not sure if it reflects an overall lack
of depth in quality, but perhaps a nervousness in people about taking the top
jobs. Getting people to step up to the plate and make the next step is the real

Heather Salway, HR consultancy
director at recruitment specialist Eden Brown

– In some cases [lack of suitable candidates] might be down to
the company and industry – certain HR directors might not be attracted to
certain sectors. Sometimes there are issues with the location, brand and image
of a company, which would need to be addressed with salary and the overall
package. Organisations could look at headhunting as an alternative.

Alan Warner, corporate director
(people and property), Hertfordshire CC and president of Socpo

– Socpo has recognised the need for development and is in the
process of launching its own continuing professional development programme to
fill in the gaps and prepare HR directors for the organisations of tomorrow. HR
professionals have to be encouraged to leave their offices and learn what
others are doing. It’s about getting best practice for yourself. HR will become
sidelined if it doesn’t do that. If you’re dynamic and adding value then you
will be sitting at the top table.

Julia Meighan, chief executive,
Executive Performers recruitment consultancy

– There is a frustration among HR directors in mainstream permanent
positions at not being given the opportunities to contribute at the highest
levels of business. A lot of companies do pay lip-service to the phrase ‘people
are our greatest asset.’ However, some of our clients would agree that the
necessary quality is not out there.

Saudagar Singh, HR director, Npower

– You have to ask the question ‘what type of people does HR
attract and what are their value-sets?’ HR directors who make it are
business-focused and aligned to what their business is trying to achieve. It’s
about putting the effort and the hours in. There is a shortage of people who
have been exposed to the commercial realities of business. That experience is
vital in delivering value and crucial to be taken seriously at the top level.

Paul Kearns, director of HR
consultancy PWL

– Povey is right – the type of person he’s after are few and
far between. The majority of the profession see themselves as ‘people’ people,
not business people. The name of the game has been changing, but the people
haven’t. The basic CIPD qualification is only entry-level, there is nothing for
advanced executives. Where are these people going to come from? Are they in the
profession or elsewhere?

Debbie Hewitt, group HR director,

– I don’t agree every business should have an HR professional
on the board. You should only be on the board if you bring broad business
experience and are the right sort of person. I agree the quality is mixed, so
organisations need to think of ways of getting HR to be more business-focused
and hold them to account.

Rebecca Clake, organisation and
resourcing adviser, CIPD

– Our figures show the profession recognises the direction it
needs to head in. Being a strategic partner is where senior executives want and
need to be. Being tuned in to the requirements of the business is fundamental,
as is emphasising that people issues should be at the heart of business


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