HR directors should network with other people in the business, have a strong financial and broader political understanding, and beware of being too close to their chief executive, according to Helen Pitcher, chairman of Advanced Boardroom Excellence.
She reported that the key issues currently facing most boards are: long-term sustainability, succession planning, culture and “how a company makes sure everyone is performing in line with those values”, remuneration strategy and diversity.
“In an ideal world boards should be looking to people with HR skills who can contribute to these key areas. In reality they often don’t,” she said. “That’s because HR seems to have developed a language of its own, which is not always the language of the business.”
She added: “I have heard many people say that the quality of HR professionals is woeful. Fortunately I have also met some very good HRDs who speak the language of the business and understand the drivers going on in the organisation.”
Pitcher said in order to better assist their boards, HRDs shouldn’t be afraid of asking “daft questions” during their first few months on a board, because chances are there will be others wondering the same thing.
She said that being too close to the CEO rather than with all board members might lead to people not telling the HRD the “truth about things”, as he or she will be seen as “in the CEO’s pocket”.
Also speaking at the HR in the Boardroom event was Nigel McMinn, motor division managing director at car dealership chain Lookers. McMinn said the most valuable HR professionals are those that help manage the business and create competitive advantage.
“I do think one of the problems across all of the companies I’ve worked for is the lack of commerciality in HRDs,” he said.
“I’ve been in situations where I find myself being quoted the rules. I’m saying the business needs to get rid of this person; I need to minimise not avoid the risk. It’s about someone who says I’m going to help you manage this business.”
“I don’t want to just copy everything everyone else is doing,” he added. “I need to create competitive advantage by doing something unique and special in HR. I want someone on the board to share leadership and to be accountable.”
HR in the Boardroom is HR magazine’s exclusive development programme for HR directors who want to increase their influence at board level. To find out more and express an interest in signing up to the third cohort, which begins in November 2015, click here.