· 2 min read · Features

If HR doesn't add value, business will wrest control of the people agenda from HR


The role of chief human resource officer is being filled with people from marketing, operations or corporate law, if you are to believe a report by global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Some of the blame lies with the CEO himself (for it is so often a he). Too often those in the C-suite do not define exactly what they are expecting from HR. But more often this is another case of HR failing to gain clout at the top.

Readers of this column will know I have long urged HR to do more to help itself here. It is no use waiting for the CEO to 'get it'. HR directors need to help the CEO understand how to leverage HR to address issues such as risk, compliance, talent and compensation. They need to alter the perception that HR does not deliver value.

Heidrick & Struggles' research is not isolated. Deloitte's Shaping Up: Evolving the HR function for the 21st century, argues virtually all HR admin can be outsourced, leaving no room for the traditional transactional role. It says few HR departments are equipped to adapt to the new strategic role CEOs demand of them.

Meanwhile, research with 500 HR directors across the world, conducted by Mercer, finds that only 15% of activities carried out by HR departments are related to pure strategic interventions.

If HR doesn't prove it can add value to the business, then the business will wrest control of the people agenda from HR. But will those 'in the business' do any better? We decided to find out by repeating an exercise we ran two years ago, which analysed the attributes of HR leaders through a psychometric tool. This time we asked marketing directors to use the same tool in order to discover the synergies and differences between the two types of leaders.

If you believe in the stereotypes of HR and marketing, the research reveals some surprising findings. But there is one core element that perhaps sums up why CEOs are looking outside of HR. Our survey reveals that business motivates marketers more than HR.

Of course, this is one snapshot. But it is clear from all the recent research I have examined that technical and functional skills are not a prerequisite for HR at the top, but leadership, the ability to market HR to the organisation, mobility, curiosity and a strong grasp of business are.

This month, we are asking you, our HRD readers, to tell us who shows the above characteristics in our sector. For the first time, we would like to involve you all in the ranking of HR Most Influential 2011. So please look out for the email in your inbox.

If we are to convince external stakeholders that HR means business, we need to celebrate and learn from those who are already influential. So please help us to promote the value of HR by taking part.