· 2 min read · Features

Cary Cooper: What I want to see from HR


I'd like to see a more confident and buoyant HR profession that pushes for board-level HR

The year ahead will be challenging, as we move into an era of slower growth, a more contingent workforce, a continuing job insecure and long hours culture, and the faster growth of communications and information technologies. So at the start of a new year what would I like to see for the HR profession in the coming months?

First, given these challenges, I would like to see a more self-confident and buoyant HR profession – one that pushes for a board level HR professional. According to figures published by HR magazine last year, only 13% of non-executive directors in the FTSE 350 have HR experience, and my suspicion is there are fewer board members responsible for HR, from an HR background than in the past. This is important, not just in raising the status of HR but also in tackling some of the issues above, and their indirect consequences (such as presenteeism, low productivity, and low levels of commitment and engagement).

Second, I would like to see at the core of talent retention and development the creation of a wellbeing culture in organisations. A culture that manages people by praise and reward and not by fault finding; that provides individuals throughout the organisation with autonomy over their jobs; where ‘trust’, not a competitive environment, is part of the DNA of the organisation. As Voltaire wrote: “I have decided to be happy because it is good for my health.” Or as the Nobel writer Issac Bashivas Singer remarked: “Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything in life.”

Third, I would like to see HR seriously explore the future role of the line manager, from shop floor to top floor. The line manager is the pivotal person in most people’s working lives; responsible not only for their performance/productivity and development but also their health and wellbeing. We need more line managers with the interpersonal skills to cope with the changing nature of work, but we don’t recruit or promote many managers with these skills. Taoist Lao Tzu best reflected the kind of leadership we need: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, people will say ‘we did it ourselves.’’’

Fourth, I would like to see more women throughout the managerial supply chain, not just at board level but populating middle and senior management as well, to enhance the talent pool. Recycling the same small number of potential women board members is not the future. Although progress has been made I still remember the words of Virginia Woolf: “Even when the path is nominally open – when there is nothing to prevent a woman from being a doctor, a lawyer, a civil servant – there are many phantoms and obstacles, as I believe, looming in her way.”

Fifth, I would like to see HR enabling more flexible working arrangements, ensuring that men partake without fear of being perceived as ‘less committed’. Many men want flexible working but are too frightened to apply for it for fear it will be ‘career limiting’. But this will enable men to support women and play a more effective role in the family, and ultimately in their job by getting a different perspective on their role in work and in society.

And sixth, I would like to see continuous professional development for C-suite managers such as CEOS, CFOS and other leaders, not only through coaching but also systematic training and development. As Mark Twain once wrote: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Cary Cooper is the 50th anniversary professor of organizational psychology and health at Manchester Business School. He was ranked the most influential HR thinker in the HR Most Influential 2015 rankings.