· 12 min read · Features

HR’s Most Influential 2011

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Next month marks the 400th anniversary of the completion of the King James Bible, arguably the most influential book in the English language.

Taking seven years from its commission by King James at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 to the final pages being finished in the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster Abbey in November 2011, this version of the Bible has been described as the book that changed the world - and more influential than Shakespeare. Former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion says of the tome: "To read it is to feel simultaneously at home, a citizen of the world and a traveller through eternity."

While those who impress in the field of people strategy may not be able to claim influence of this magnitude, the words used by those nominating them in the sector to define influence in this area could as easily be attributed to the King James Bible.

'Respected, inspirational, trusted, engaging, leading, challenging, strong on values, insightful, a catalyst for change' - these were common descriptions of the HR practitioners and thinkers who made it into our annual HR Most Influential ranking.

The HR directors and academics on the 2011 lists were also seen as 'articulate, smart, bold, innovative, having common sense, evidence-based and, of course, strategic'.

This is the sixth year HR magazine has compiled the HR Most Influential ranking, with help from its academic partner Ashridge Business School and the support of Ceridian. The magazine believes this is the definitive list of directors and thinkers who have the greatest influence in the field of people strategy. Some are perennial favourites, some are controversial and many reflect the business environment in which they are operating. But all are ranked by their peers: leading HR directors and management academics.

The ranking is based on the nominee showing elements such as:

? Challenges conventional thinking in HR

? Brings credibility to HR, both inside and outside the business

? Plays an ambassadorial role

? Commands the respect of peers and key stakeholders

? Adds real value to the business

? Is visionary and transformational

What is clear from the research this year is that people in this field define influence in two main ways: those who are visibly challenging HR norms, making people re-think what HR is and how it is seen in the business. These people - both practitioners and academics - understand the power of communication and are spreading the word, using all available media and new technology to communicate fresh ideas and practices.

Then there are those who are viewed as influential in the particular context of the time, their industry or organisation. These people are seen as changing the face of HR internally, consistently having impact on their organisation during challenging times, leading change, transforming HR and being truly business-orientated. In the academic world, they may be influential in raising a particular agenda in the media or in political circles.

"For us, the top people we deal with in HR are not simply going about their business in the background, practising HR, but are true business leaders," says Ceridian managing director Doug Sawers. "They influence and support all aspects of a business or organisation. They work just as closely on revenue and growth initiatives, as they do in areas of compliance, control or cost reduction. They are the ones often first consulted on and drawn into key strategic moves an organisation is contemplating.

"It helps that far more evidence now exists which demonstrates the true value of great HR contribution and support. These are the ones coming to the fore in these uncertain times with clear thinking, strong influence and great leadership," adds Sawers.

In 2011, there has been much change in the rankings, in particular in the Most Influential Practitioner list. A dozen HR directors have moved up the ranking since 2010, while 19 are new additions this year. This partly reflects some high-profile changes in the sector, with the likes of Alex Wilson from BT, Anne Minto from Centrica, Martin Tiplady from the Metropolitan Police, Paula Larson from Invensys, Tom Brown from Rolls-Royce, Catherine Glickman from Tesco and Angela O'Connor from the NPIA all stepping down in the past 12 months. Some thinkers have also changed roles, notably Penny de Valk from the ILM, who started last month as CEO of Cedar/Fairplace. All these people would have scored highly if they had still been in their previous full-time positions.

However, it also reflects the changing face of HR internally. Many of our high climbers or new entrants are seen as having a major impact on their organisation during challenging times, in particular leading change and transforming not only HR but the business. People such as fourth placed John Ainley, group HR director at Aviva, described as "leading a function that is truly part of the business" and "being fluent in explaining what this means". Ainley is praised for introducing global talent management that actually works.

Or our highest climber: Ann Almeida, group head of HR at HSBC. She has had a "consistent impact on a major global organisation in challenging times" and, according to one person, is "the wisest person I have ever come across in HR". Sandy Begbie, group transformation director at Standard Life and our highest new entry from the private sector; Tanith Dodge, HR director at Marks & Spencer; Stephen Lehane, group HR director at Alliance Boots; Hugh Mitchell, chief HR and corporate officer at Royal Dutch Shell; Ronald Schellekens, group HR director at Vodafone; and Angie Risley, group HR director at Lloyds Banking Group - all are noted for their transformative effect in volatile environments and their ability to clearly articulate the link between people objectives and strategy in the boardroom.

However, top of the HR Practitioner ranking this year is David Fairhurst, chief people officer Europe at McDonald's. This is the fourth year he has topped the list and his influence does not appear to be waning. In the past 12 months, he has been promoted to this newly created role within the fast food giant and was appointed in August to act as commissioner for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills by business secretary Vince Cable.

Described by one respondent as "one of the most innovative HR practitioners whose novel HR policies and projects make a real difference", Fairhurst is responsible for all people strategies and practices for more than 6,900 restaurants, employing over 375,000 people in 39 countries. But, as well as influence within his business and for changing the whole image of a career at McDonald's, he is seen as a "masterful" articulator of what HR means to the bottom line, future business dynamics and strategy.

One person described him as having "brought dull old HR out of the backroom to have national relevance", while another said he "remains a high-profile HR chief who is always coming up with new ideas and links HR firmly to the bottom line".

Fairhurst is also keen to impart his thoughts and approaches to others, in order to raise practices in the profession as a whole, leading one person to say: "He is a thinker and initiator of great ideas, which he readily shares with the profession."

As well as being vice president of learning, training and development at the CIPD, Fairhurst is also chairman of People 1st, a fellow of the RSA, a fellow of Lancaster University Business School, chair of the advisory board to the Centre for Professional Personnel and Development (CPPD) and a fellow of the Sunningdale Institute - a virtual academy of leading academics and thought-leaders created to advise and advance public service. He is also a visiting professor at Manchester Metropolitan University and a frequent commentator in the media.

While Fairhurst is regarded as having much external influence, the second Most Influential Practitioner for 2011 is seen as having greater influence internally. Clare Chapman, who begins a new role as group people director at BT this month, was primarily judged highly for her impact in her previous role, as director general workforce at the NHS, Europe's largest employer.

"She has carried out under difficult circumstances a major and significant change to the NHS" is the view of one of those who ranked her top, while another pointed to the fact that she was focused on keeping HR at the forefront of change in the organisation. The reality that she was in what was widely seen as the most challenging role in UK HR gained her many votes.

But Chapman, who has more than 20 years' HR experience in the UK, US and continental Europe, was also regarded highly for having top-line experience in both the public and private sectors. Before joining the NHS, she was group personnel director at Tesco, while previous roles include vice president of human resources at Pepsi Cola International's central Europe operations offices and dean of Quaker University at Quaker Oats, where she established the company's worldwide learning institute.

With Chapman joining BT as group people director, the telecoms company is going to have great HR talent at the top as, jumping seven places this year, going into the number three slot in our ranking is Caroline Waters, its director of people and policy.

"Smart and influential in a big, difficult-to-change organisation" and with a "pragmatic and down-to-earth approach to HR and equalities" that is "an example to us all", Waters is a leading voice both within the company and externally for diversity and equal opportunities. She has led BT's flexible working agenda, encouraging a greater understanding of how working patterns can empower workers and organisations and, crucially, providing the evidence on performance.

She has long championed equal pay and sits on the board of the UK Resource Centre for Women, encouraging women into technical careers. As a trustee of the Employers Forum on Age, she was instrumental in the introduction of the 2006 age regulations and is founder and chair of the Employers Forum on Belief, allowing employers to share best practice, as well as the architect of BT's volunteering programme, which last year delivered more than 49,000 days to charities; and of Work Inspiration, which gave work experience to 3,600 young people.

Waters has been actively involved for some time in affecting the political agenda and public policy, notably as chair of Employers for Carers, where she was influential in changing legislation to extend the right of employees to request flexible working.

Respondents called her "unique". She "highlights the conscience of HR brilliantly and is formidably capable in representing the value of exceptional people in business" says one, while another says Waters "consistently talks sense and is known as a strong CSR practitioner".

The ability to tell it how it is is also rated as an important quality of influence this year. Fourth-placed Vance Kearney, VP HR EMEA at Oracle, who has jumped seven places up the ranking this year, is praised for stating his mind on issues others steer clear of. "There is no jargon from Vance, who has a great track record at Oracle," says one of our voters. Likewise Graham White, HR director, Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, is noted for being "bold and unafraid to challenge norms and ignore HR's primal survival technique of only saying what others want to hear", while Helen Giles, HR director of Broadway and the only third-sector HRD on the list, has been "prepared to come out and say what many employers think but are too afraid to say about the adverse impact on business and public services of employment regulation and the tribunals system".

Speaking common sense, being down to earth and challenging are core qualities required to be seen as an influential thinker in the field of people strategy. In the Most Influential UK Thinkers list, there are 10 risers and nine new entries this year. The list divides between those who are seen as classic HR and management thinkers, those who have put one particular area on the agenda and those who have been particularly influential in the past 12 months.

In the latter camp are the two highest entries. David MacLeod (pictured below right), author of the report, Engaging for Success, and chair of the Employee Engagement Taskforce, is straight in at number four. He is described as having "put engagement on the business agenda" and many respondents believe his project "could change the face of UK business and HR", as one so succinctly put it. More than that, the output of his work - the Engaging for Success report - is described as an "accessible and useful tool" for HR practitioners.

Another government official, Lord Davies, is in at 14, thanks to his Women on Boards report. He is seen as having an important, one-off influence this year, with his recommendations making their way into many a boardroom and being seen as a "catalyst for change".

The third- and second-placed UK Thinkers are also having an impact on government and business. Third placed Will Hutton, former vice chair of the Work Foundation and now chair of the Big Innovation Centre and principal of Hertford College, Oxford, is described as "extremely visible, a clear thinker, challenging and down to earth" and "one of the most influential thinkers on the economy".

His influence was evidenced again last month when he launched the Big Innovation Centre - bringing together some of the biggest names in UK business, Russell Group universities and gaining the support of business secretary Vince Cable to create a network to promote innovation and investment in the UK. His aim? To change Britain by making it a global innovation hub.

Second place Jackie Orme, CIPD CEO, is also making a difference. Together with CIPD chief economist John Philpott, who takes seventh place on our ranking, Orme is challenging government on issues of economic policy and its impact on UK employment. Under her tenure she has made the HR industry's lead association more business- focused and a centre of fresh HR thinking. Among the comments about Orme were "a champion for next generation thinking", "shaping the profession in a rational way" and "a sound and confident thinker".

But the number one UK Thinker is a classic management academic. Described as being highly visible, respected, a deep thinker with excellent writing, Lynda Gratton (pictured above left), professor of management practice at London Business School, moves to the top spot from number two last year. She received many votes, with people commenting on her strategic approach, interesting writing and use of the media to communicate her ideas and the wider agenda. One person said they always awaited her next book with anticipation, while another mentioned her championing of women at the top.

Gratton is acclaimed for using Twitter effectively and this year the impact of social media on HR is finally being felt. On the practitioner side, Brighton NHS Trust's White is noted for his great use of social media, while for the first time there is a blogger in the Most Influential Thinkers. Jon Ingham, executive consultant at Strategic Dynamics, makes the grade as the "top name in social media" and "one to follow on Twitter. He is a top HR blogger". He is also described as a "productive commentator with great insights".

Being able to communicate articulately and using all channels to do so is a vital element in influence - and a look at the Most Influential International Thinker ranking finds many authors. Top of these is our second placed International Thinker, Stephen Covey, whose international bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 20 million copies in 38 languages. 7 Habits is called a "classic - used time and time again" as well as "incredibly influential in our understanding of the importance of self-awareness in leadership".

Michael E Porter, Bishop William Lawrence professor at Harvard Business School, is in third place. His influence is on business, not just HR, and his work is regarded as central to understanding competitive advantage. He is described as challenging orthodoxy, with one saying HR directors should read Porter's work more often, while another said: "Having read many of his thought-provoking books, he comes a close second to Dave Ulrich."

And it is Ulrich, professor at Ross Business School, University of Michigan, who tops the Most Influential International Thinker list for the second year. In fact, he has been in a number one thinker spot in these rankings since they launched back in 2005. With comments such as "the HR guru" and "the father of modern HR", it is no surprise he continues to be influential.

One respondent said he was "the great HR consultant whose concepts are understood and used in the workplace", while another said he was "always pushing the boundaries and making us think". Moreover, he is still highly active in chronicling the evolution of HR performance and professionalism. He is currently leading with Wayne Brockbank the latest Human Resource Competency Study - a global five-year study co-sponsored by the Ross School of Business and RBL Group. He is investigating the people questions behind why investors invest in companies, with plans to define how investors can begin to look at leadership and other HR issues.

Ulrich has also just produced a new eBook for HR magazine, in conjunction with Norm Smallwood, examing what leadership is.

There are many HR director and thinkers who are having a major impact on their businesses and on the development of people strategy. These rankings feature the people that those in the field believe have the most influence on themselves, their business, strategy and in the general economy. In HR, they represent the very best.

The Hall of Fame

This year, HR magazine launched The Lifetime Achievement Award: the highest accolade bestowed by the publication on an individual, in recognition of their outstanding and exceptional contribution to HR thinking or practice. Winners take their place in the new HR Most Influential Hall of Fame.

The first winner is described by leading HR directors and academics as "a great thinker and communicator" with "very innovative and reflective ideas". He is a "baseline must-read" whose theories have stood the test of time and who is "to the fore and inspiring". Quite simply, this person is "the original" whom "others only imitate".

The first recipient of this award is Charles Handy, author, broadcaster, lecturer and social philosopher (pictured centre, between Ceridian MD Dough Sawers and HR editor, Siân Harrington).

Handy has been writing and broadcasting about organisational behaviour and management for more than three decades and is a must-read for people in the field. One HR director describes him as being "as close to a people philosopher as you can get".

He began his career at Royal Dutch Shell, before joining London Business School, becoming professor in 1972. In 1977, he worked at the conference and study centre at Windsor Castle, concerned with ethics and values in society. He is known to many in the UK for his 'Thought for the Day' slot on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Among his seminal works are Understanding Organizations (1976),?The Future of Work (1984), Gods of Management (1986), The Making of Managers (1988) and The Age of Unreason (2002).

For more information on the 2011 rankings, go to www.hrmostinfluential.com, where you can see photos and biographies, people updates, previous rankings and more information from our sponsor Ceridian and research partner Ashridge. We will also be producing a special supplement with November's issue of HR magazine.