Why HR needs to develop itself

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How can the HR function be so off the radar when it comes to leadership development and potential?

I was bewildered to read recent research from Korn Ferry highlighting that a staggering 47% of companies are not offering leadership programmes to members of the HR function, with a similar number reporting that HR professionals are not considered for high potential programmes.

Corporate culture continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Gone is the traditional command and control structure, with static hierarchies and fixed locations. Establishing itself in its place is a workforce which wants to be much more dynamic and agile in terms of working environments, skills and careers.

The new generation entering our companies is the most demanding yet – they know their worth. Reward and recognition in the ‘carrot and stick sense’ is dead, replaced with a desire for more autonomy, constant and fluid performance management and increased flexible working.

It begs the question: with the currency of talent a more complex and valuable commodity than ever before, how can the HR function be seemingly so off the radar when it comes to leadership development and potential?

Perhaps we should start with a different question: business performance. All business leaders care about business performance, right? Well, a healthy, effective HR function in any organisation sits at the heart of driving business performance. This comes down to an effective performance management strategy, steadfast succession planning and ongoing development of a high performance culture, made up of ‘investors’ , employees who ‘invest’ in their organisation and go that extra mile.

To achieve this successfully requires a suite of leadership behaviours from HR professionals to develop the strategy, sell the vision and take the board, and the people, on the journey. How effective their leadership is in this respect will have a significant impact on how successful their organisation is.

We work with lots of HR leaders and managers on leadership. We are often fascinated to find that HR professionals have a low preference for the storytelling role. The art of storytelling uses an emotional and logical mix to bring to life the story about ‘why’ we are doing what we are doing, by also talking about what it will look and feel like when we get there and crucially what does it mean for me as an individual.

Instead HR leaders tend to have more of a natural preference towards the strategist role, focused on logical, process-driven action planning and delivery. In practice this means that the ‘why’ part of the puzzle can be lost in the eagerness of the HR manager to explain what is happening and what will happen next. With nearly half of companies not investing in their HR professionals to develop this essential toolbox of leadership styles, when their responsibilities are so critical, the lost opportunity is huge.

In today’s corporate environment, where both the challenge and prize regarding effective management of human capital is bigger than ever before, the failure by companies to recognise that HR professionals are required to be both impactful leaders in their own right, as well as those that facilitate the leadership development of others, is a dangerous game.

Jane Sparrow is an expert facilitator, business consultant, performance coach and impactful speaker and author of The Culture Builders; Leadership Strategies for Employee Performance

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