· 2 min read · Features

Is HR too occupied by proving its worth?


Julia Ingall questions where HR's self-doubt comes from, and if we're a bit too obsessed with self-worth

I'm not obsessed with this issue, I'm bored by it. Does any other function spend half its waking hours debating its value? I don't see finance or marketing or tech doing it. We need to have the confidence to just claim our seat at the so-called top table, rather than constantly justifying it.

Even the top table analogy is out of date. I don't mind where I sit as long as the business I am in is competing, growing, profitable and we are attracting, developing and engaging the very best talent.

We don't help ourselves. At times I feel that the function has hidden behind legislation, using it to hold power. We shouldn't have to do that. Our role is to partner and make things possible; to outline risks, be brave, hold the mirror up to the organisation, look out for our employees, be neutral, but not stop business from changing and evolving.

Policy – where necessary – should be flexible guidelines. It shouldn't be written in a draconian 'thou shalt not be late' mentality. Best practice is best practice for who? Does it really exist? Best practice in a growth sector or market may not be best practice in a maintenance market or sector. It depends on where you are in the business maturity cycle, the size of the organisation, the employee persona, how cash rich you are, etc. The aim is to be creative but practical.

We navel gaze about how we can be more strategic, more commercial, and have as much influence as the CEO or CFO. We can do that by: knowing what is going on in the world and the market, reading constantly, networking, asking questions and listening, and moving away from 'HR productivity porn' (which is when we don't know when to stop inventing and reinventing 'initiatives' on our own, without asking our people).

In terms of sponsorship of the function, it is like anything. Sponsorship from the most influential C-suite member is crucial, but like all senior roles it should be earned not expected. It is earned by getting to know the business and being a trusted adviser not just to the CEO, but other C-suite peers too.

The trusted adviser role means that one of the biggest areas of added value is to be the connective tissue: understanding which leaders are facing similar challenges, where a business has opportunities and risks, where there are talent shortages and a talent surplus. All of this should be used to make connections and introductions, and create fluid, agile working groups.

Ultimately the function will live and die by the individuals in its roles. Confidence, self-belief and determination are the behaviours I look for; as is the courage to stand toe to toe with your client group, to question and push and provide logical, rational debate – backed up by data – but to never lose the human side.

HR needs to be commercial: not just understanding the P&L (that should be a given) but understanding when your new 'HR initiative' can't be funded because of commercial constraints, and having the creativity to then present a more cost-effective version.

Finally, we must have a sense of humour and not take ourselves too seriously, so that when the derogatory terms roll in we can smile and get back to preparing our budget presentation.

Julia Ingall is group talent management director at Ogilvy & Mather UK & EMEA