How can HR partner more effectively with the C-suite?

The strategic role of HR is a topic that’s rarely off the agenda. Recent research from Cirrus and Ipsos MORI provides some insights into what the C-suite wants from HR leaders – as well as highlighting the views of HR leaders on where they can add most value.

The research is based on a framework of ‘connected leadership’, which highlights five factors that are critical to an organisation’s long-term success and sustainability:

  • Being agile in the face of changing circumstances facing your business
  • Creating a shared direction and purpose across the organisation
  • Being authentic and creating a shared values-based culture across your business
  • Devolved decision-making
  • Building teams that collaborate effectively across the company

Our research found that the most critical factors for C-suite leaders are agility (cited by 65% as a key priority) and shared direction and purpose (chosen by 64%). In both cases, the C-suite is looking to HR to do more to help organisations achieve these aims. And not surprisingly, the HR leaders we interviewed were keen to demonstrate how they can contribute – not only by working more closely with the C-suite, but also by connecting people across the organisation to purpose and goals.

Many HR leaders had some very helpful insights into the areas of agility and shared decision-making.Liza Strong, group head of organisational talent and diversity at Royal Mail, commented that: “HR is seen to not always be agile because it’s not always perceived to be flexible enough. Traditionally, HR is very process-bound. Agility is most often driven by the demands of the outside world and customers instead of proactively by us. It is about responsiveness and pace.

And when it comes to shared decision-making Tanith Dodgedirector of HR at Marks & Spencer also observed that: “You've got to have a shared purpose in terms of what you're driving as a business. In particular, a seamless customer journey requires all parts of the business to be joined up. You need a strong coalition to drive results.”

So where can HR leaders add most value? Below are some suggestions on how HR can contribute to organisational success. These are based both on the research from Cirrus and Ipsos MORI, and my own observations of working with successful HR leaders across a wide range of organisations over the past 30 years:


• Set up communities across similar roles to share great ideas and develop a shared identity

• Identify where blame is common and replace it with a ‘fail fast and learn’ mindset

• Develop HR people to be catalysts for change across the organisation. 

Shared direction and purpose

• Engage the board and executive team to clarify a higher purpose beyond profit

• Cascade strategic objectives throughout the organisation to ensure line of sight for all

• Start conversations across the business to make sense of where you are going – and why it’s important.


• Hold the board and executive team to account for the behaviour of the organisation – do they really live your values every day?

• Facilitate workshops with leaders to explore emotional intelligence and unbiased thinking

• Discuss with people across the organisation what behaviour they see and whether it’s really values-based 

Devolved decision-making

• Agree with the board and executive team the decisions only they can make and decide how to delegate everything else

• Build coaching skills to develop managers across your organisation to step up and take more responsibility

• Develop engaging communications so managers are well-informed about business priorities in order to make more intelligent decisions

• Work on empowering frontline teams to make the best decisions for the customer in line with your strategic goals 

Collaborative achievement

• Set up and support cross-functional teams to improve end-to-end collaboration

• Develop a coherent approach to team performance and train leadership teams to do it well

• Coach senior leaders to listen really well, so they are open to mutual influence

Simon Hayward is the CEO of Cirrus