· 2 min read · Features

What does it take to be HR magazine's most influential?


We are living and working in unprecedented times. The recession, claimed by many to be the worst in living memory, has impacted the UK economy to an alarming extent. With unemployment soaring to record highs and trusted brands disappearing from our high streets, anyone who dares see light on the horizon should speak out with caution. The picture, for most, is still incredibly bleak.

So what does that mean for our industry? Well, for one, the skills of HR professionals are still very much in demand. Many organisations are reviewing costs and as a result considering redeploying skills or reducing headcount to achieve greater efficiencies. HR professionals have a crucial role to play here and the input of their expertise cannot be underestimated in these processes.

The role of HR is taking on a new complexity, however. The employment landscape has changed remarkably from little more than a year ago when the key talking point was of the skills agenda. More specifically, business leaders wanted to know how to attract and retain the talented individuals necessary for business success. A key mechanism here was the remuneration package.

This is in stark contrast to the current climate. While the need for talent is still prevalent, cost reduction and improvement in efficiencies are more the order of the day. This shift in thinking has permeated the workforce and has created an unsettled environment fuelled with uncertainty.

For many HR practitioners this is their first taste of recession. For them, referring to the thinking and practices of the many successful advisers and academics recognised in the ‘most influential' list will be vital.

Regardless of experience, business leaders will be asking more of their HR teams. HR costs, like so many other business functions, are coming under greater scrutiny with the unsurprising effect that the remuneration and wider benefits package is now under the microscope. As cash bonuses diminish HR needs to find new ways to incentivise. The findings of recent Ceridian research suggest employees are willing to make significant compromises to stay employed during the recession. These include accepting pay cuts and foregoing core benefits.

Many HR professionals have seized this opportunity to retain core skills and uphold workforce engagement by adopting more innovative people policies. Examples of this have been widely reported, with staff encouraged to take sabbaticals or work flexibly to remain employed. The benefits of this are two-fold: in the short-term your business doesn't lose the valuable experience necessary to survive and by exploring alternatives to redundancy you can build trust with your workforce for longer-term loyalty and success.
Despite the bleak conditions, the recession is undoubtedly an opportunity for HR professionals to demonstrate their value. This not only involves helping the organisation survive difficult trading conditions now, but also in having the foresight to lay the foundations to thrive in the future. Resisting the urge to make rash decisions and maintaining this level of composure amid the current media storm is worth celebrating in its own right.

Indeed, it may be that the businesses which emerge from the recession are better networked, more streamlined, efficient and effective. Losing the financial incentives we have all become accustomed to has forced HR to reconsider the tried and tested, at the same time as innovating new approaches to people management. The ability for HR to adapt in line with business need is what will enable companies to be well positioned for the inevitable upturn.

The ‘most influential' not only recognises talented individuals and their outstanding achievements but also encourages the discussion and sharing of best practice. At a time when business success hinges on your people strategy and ultimately those that devise it, those involved are definitely the ones to watch.

Doug Sawers is managing director, Ceridian in the UK sponsor of HR's Most Influential 2009