· Features

HRDs that stand out are skilled at communicating strategy to key stakeholders

One word stands out above all others in this year’s HR Most Influential ranking – and that word is ‘leadership’.

In all three rankings - top 30 HR practitioners, top 25 UK thinkers and top 20 international thinkers - the attribute of leadership came out as the strongest quality of influence in the field of HR.

Acknowledging the honour of topping the HR Most Influential International Thinker list, Harvard Business School's Rosabeth Moss Kanter said it was important there was "a strong HR executive and strong HR leaders" at a time of increasing global challenges.

"But more than that," she added, "it is important there is a focus on leadership of people, so that people not only produce high-performing workplaces but also contribute their best ideas and live up to their full potential, so we can create effective organisations - but also make a difference in the world."

Other qualities that marked out our influential HR directors this year included bravery, being challenging, being inspirational and having integrity. There were also common issues that cropped up again and again in the research, conducted by Ashridge Business School: engagement, wellbeing, organisational behaviour and psychology, global impact and change. These themes appeared across both the practitioner and thinker lists.

'Business' was the word most mentioned when describing why people felt HRDs were influential - value to and impact on business, contribution to sustainable business and so forth. If there were any doubt that HR was still a fluffy profession operating in a silo away from the business, then the HR practitioners on our ranking disprove it once and for all.

What may surprise readers, though, is one word that did not feature strongly: strategy. I, for one, am guilty of bandying around the term 'HR strategy' far too much, when in reality I sympathise with the argument of Mike Haffenden, co-founder of the Corporate Research Forum, who sat on the original shortlisting panel for this year's list. He says HR strategy does not exist per se, referring instead to a definition of strategy as the who, what and how (who to target, what to offer and how to deliver the product). It is true to say that few HR directors take part in such discussions.

This does not demean their contribution, however, nor their influence. For the HRDs that stand out are skilled at communicating the business strategy to key stakeholder groups.

These HRDs may be facilitating strategic talks at board level; they most certainly ensure the people processes embedded in the business align with strategy. It's about understanding the strategy, then enabling the people in that business to deliver a performance that will make the difference.

That's HR's influence...