Can you develop HR leaders?

When it comes to developing HR's future leaders, what do we need to look for?

When thinking about how to develop great HR leaders we need to consider what defines great HR, and how much of this is developable. CRF research found that much of what makes a great HR leader (such as intellect and integrity) is inherent, but some core principles are critical if an HRD is to become the best they can be. You can’t change who they are but you can help them to apply these principles so they exploit their natural talent in the right way. This is where we need to focus development.

It starts with the philosophy that it’s not about HR, it’s about the organisation. Great HR people recognise it's about making a difference to sustainable organisational performance and the capability that underpins it. They think of themselves as business people whose loyalty is to the organisation first and the HR profession second. Equally they are proud of HR and have a deep passion about the art, science and craft of HR.

While they are commercial and strategic they get the basics of HR right because this is an essential underpinning of good HR. CEOs don't care about it but they do expect it to be done, simply and non-bureaucratically.

HR needs to prioritise what it does, not over-promising and under-delivering, not doing things that are the latest fads but that have no impact on the bottom line. HR needs to use data, analytics and insights into what is driving organisational performance to define and prioritise where it puts its efforts. Finally, HR needs great delivery skills as well as great design skills.

If these are the principles, what defines a good HR leader?

  • Intellect. This requires a high level of intellectual capability that is systemic rather than linear. It’s not simply raw horsepower but the ability to connect a complex set of inputs instantaneously, diagnosing the issues and then identifying and delivering pragmatic, relevant solutions that combine all elements of the HR mix.
  • Self-confidence. HR people need to have enough ego to take ego out of the equation. They should have the courage to challenge as part of the business, not as a partner.
  • Integrity. They need to be trustworthy as they are dealing with complex and often personal issues.
  • Politically savvy. They must combine integrity with an understanding of how their organisation works, how decisions are really made, and how power ebbs and flows. They need to be influential at all levels but especially at the highest tables.
  • Commercial. They need to be passionate about business in general and how value is created in their organisation. They can then use this understanding to define the HR agenda and where they spend their time.
  • Focus. They must be able to focus on what’s needed and deliver it by taking the strategic and translating it into the operational.

Nick Holley is director of learning at the Corporate Research Forum