What makes an HR Director of the Year?

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We all know that the role of today's top HR directors is hugely complex and demanding. This is being driven by the increased competitiveness of business generally and also because most CEOs and executive boards now recognise quality HR can play an invaluable role in helping organisations achieve their strategic business objectives. But trying to identify just what makes a great HRD - and, of course, the HR Director of the Year - is actually far from straightforward.

Being acknowledged as a successful HRD depends on many factors not least of which would be an understanding by the judges of the scale, complexity and culture of the organisation in which the HRD is working.

More often than not it's a combination of many aspects that will include the HRD's personal attributes and their fit with the business and where that business is in the economic cycle. At the top of the list of professional skills required by HRDs themselves, however, is the effective combination of strong results orientation and strategic thinking skills. They need an inherent understanding of the short-term business imperatives and long-term strategic needs of the organisation - and, crucially, how they can both be met effectively and efficiently.  

In challenging times, the more value HR can bring to the business, the more the business will value HR.

To succeed in today's ultra-commercial and competitive environment, it's essential that a good HRD can demonstrate significant commercial nous, profit and loss, responsibility and, probably, mergers and acquisition experience. I expect the best HRDs to be able to demonstrate some international experience and exposure and to be well-rounded HR skills-wise with, perhaps, one or two areas of more in-depth specialism such as organisational development, reward or leadership development.

Although it is a relatively new ‘science', we're finding that an increasing number of CEOs and employers are looking for their HRDs to be able to demonstrate a high emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) - the HRD's ability to perform under pressure, resolve conflict and generally cope with challenge. More complex than straightforward IQ assessment, studies have linked EQ measurement to communication and other social and personal skills. Really effective HRDs will demonstrate charisma and exceptional team leadership skills and possess the ability to identify and effectively communicate a clear and simple vision.
 
A wise man can always be an intelligent man but an intelligent man is not necessarily always a wise man. IQ is, of course, important but must be combined with this wisdom or EQ factor.
 
Other essential attributes and experience would include collaboration skills - whereby the HRD can demonstrate having worked effectively with, and influenced, individuals and teams from across the wider business - and, of especial importance during these times of relative instability, experience in change management. A truly accomplished and successful HRD will have contributed to, and ensured, the engagement of entire organisations in fundamental corporate change.

Finally, from an effective HRD's perspective, great customer focus is fundamental and includes an organisation's internal and external customers. At a recent HR Leaders Club meeting, Dave Ulrich said: "HR could be making the mistake of focusing on the talent of individuals in organisations instead of looking at the talent of organisations as a whole. And HR departments often see employees as their customers rather than actual customers of their business."
 
Ulrich advised the assembled HR directors to consider the investors in their organisation as they are investing their money in people as much as profit. Truly great HRDs will establish complex and wide customer relationships and provide services for which the customer might not yet even have identified a need.

John Maxted, CEO, Digby Morgan

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