The proportion of HR specialists who are responsible for HR at board level
is higher in the UK than any other European country.
In Germany and Denmark, the minority – less than half – of HR directors were
recruited to that position from a previous HR post. Companies such as Lufthansa
German Airways make it clear to their HR staff that without a stint in a
general line management position they have no chance of making it to the top.
For a number of years now, the human resources management profession has
come under pressure for being HR professionals. As the recognition of HR
management’s contribution to the competitive advantage of firms has grown, so
has the pressure on HR specialists to prove that they have the necessary
business experience to realise that contribution.
HR specialists have not necessarily found it as easy to broaden their
portfolio in management jobs outside of their specialist roles. On the other
hand, many organisations feel that the top HR positions are "too important
to be left to the HR specialists".
That said, in the UK, HR specialists have kept a firm grip on board
positions. Four out of five HR directors were recruited to the top from
previous jobs in the profession. And there are few signs of a trend away from
relying on HR specialists – this proportion has only marginally increased since
the beginning of the 1990s.
The reasons for this difference between the UK and other European countries
is not immediately obvious. Danish companies, with a statute limiting the
number of board members, might prefer multiskilled directors. Perhaps it is the
CIPD that has successfully defended the reputation of the HR profession.
Whatever the reasons, the future will tell whether the UK is leading or falling
behind the rest of Europe.