The best are described as inspirational leaders, successful in showing how HR can add real value to the business and with strong vision. They are effective, progressive and transformational, commanding the respect of their peers, the organisation and key stakeholders.
But research for HR magazine's 2010 ranking of the practitioners and thinkers who have had the greatest influence in the field of people strategy shows the external perception of HR is of a sector comprising two tiers: a small group of influential HR directors at the top of the pyramid and a much larger, less impressive group at the base.
For the fifth anniversary of the HR Most Influential list, in association with outsourcing services provider Ceridian, HR magazine tied up with Ashridge Business School to create a definitive list of the top influencers in the sector as well as to develop a deeper understanding of what defines influence in HR.
Ashridge interviewed chief executives, the media and City analysts to discover whether the external perception of HR has moved from the unfair but deep-rooted view of HR as 'human remains' or 'human restraint' to better reflect the growing influence of HR practitioners on business strategy. The good news is that those HR directors at the top of the pyramid are described as doing an excellent, first-class job. They work closely with their CEO and understand how HR can best deliver what the business needs.
One interviewee says HR is "definitely there, playing with the big boys and being a strategic partner to the business" while a CEO speaks about totally trusting and working "hand in glove" with the HR director, noting: "We meet every day and I have complete respect and trust in their judgment. I rely upon them to be my 'eyes and ears' in the organisation."
However, there appears to be a wider image problem, with one interviewee going as far as to say HR is "weak, hesitant, inconsistent, ineffectual and at worst unprincipled". Another adds: "HR needs to get on with doing a better job. People will notice and respect competent people doing a good and valuable job."
HR Most Influential ranking uses qualitative as well as quantitative methodology and it is clear from the remarks of those in the HR community that they believe the people at the top are delivering measurable business benefits, working close with the board and challenging notions of HR. Doug Sawers, managing director of Ceridian, believes fiscal pressures on organisations have helped HR to raise its game. "Every part of every organisation is being tested, and of course the HR profession is right in the middle of this challenge - how to keep the balance between the value of people and the cost of people.
"Successful organisations will be those that achieve the correct balance, and it is the HR profession that has potentially the most important role to play in identifying that optimal positioning. The strongest and fastest HR leaders, so many of whom are recognised in this year's listing, have an unprecedented opportunity to help their organisations succeed, and in doing so position the profession in a fresher, more progressive light."
So why is this perception of HR not achieving greater traction externally? Vicki Culpin, director of research at Ashridge who led the study for HR magazine, believes it is a combination of lack of knowledge on the part of the C-suite and wider community combined with a defensive attitude on the part of some in HR."It's a question of dispelling a few myths," she says.
"But HR also needs to be less defensive and more active in seeking out media opportunities. It needs to be out there regularly using the media to its advantage and building the HR brand."
HR's Most Influential Practitioner is certainly skilled at doing this. Topping the list for the third year running, David Fairhurst, senior vice president/chief people officer at McDonald's Restaurants Northern Europe, is praised by those in the sector for "externalising the positive aspects of HR to the media and further afield".
According to one HR director: "He has done a lot of work in putting out an evidence-base for the power of good HR practice, which has done a lot to boost the credibility of what we do." Another says Fairhurst is "the talent management star of the HR community. He has elevated McDonald's employees and improved the business brand. He is non-traditional, not focused on management speak and a great all-rounder."
Fairhurst displays all the characteristics of influence. He is high-profile, challenging, is an ambassador, and pushes the profession with outstanding thought leadership. But importantly, he is also "commercially astute. A real myth-buster in the HR community, tackling the real business issues while keeping the agenda centred on the people." Given this, it is no surprise that Fairhurst also tops our list of Most Influential Practitioner over the past five years. As one respondent says: "He is synonymous with the HR profession and has a stellar reputation and influence."
Second-place practitioner Clare Chapman, director general workforce at the NHS, also takes second place over the past five years. As the highest-ranked public-sector HR director, Chapman is praised for her incisive analytical skills, style, passion and professionalism in a complex organisation. One of her peers remarks: "She, quite simply, delivers the biggest HR role within the public sector with gusto. A strong advocate for good people management, the NHS has already seen workforce improvements as a result of her and the national team that she leads. An active contributor to HR thought leadership, she remains a thoughtful and inspirational HR figure who has crossed the private/public divide with ease. Her personal visibility within HR remains strong, her influence is even greater."
As head of people in the largest employer in Europe, Chapman's ability to deliver change at scale is noted, as is her ability to influence at political level as well as inspire and execute strategy at scale. There are many comments about her role being one of the toughest and most complex in the HR community - a role that is only going to get tougher as public-sector cuts bite deeper. But Chapman is also rated highly on visibility and, according to one respondent, her "infectious good humour is legendary".
In at number three is our biggest mover. Tanith Dodge, HR director of Marks and Spencer, had recently joined the high-street stalwart when she appeared in 20th position last year. In a year her commercial focus, common-sense approach and influence at board level have resulted in a jump of 17 places.
While less visible externally than either Fairhurst or Chapman, Dodge is described as a clear thinker and as a significant change agent, not afraid to make difficult business decisions Her strength is in achieving buy-in at board and line management level as well as pushing forward the CSR agenda within M&S. One former employee calls her a "very dynamic lady - great coach and innovator who challenges ways of thinking. She was my boss a number of years ago and she really inspired me to be the best that I can." Another describes her as "clear and down-to-earth - achieving great things in employee engagement to keep one or our national institutions consistently up there". Another meanwhile praises her "extremely articulate description of how common-sense rather than intellectual theory drives great HR".
Other movers include John Ainley, group HR director of Aviva (up eight places) and Graham White, director of HR at Westminster City Council (up nine). Ainley's rise is all the more impressive given he doesn't feature in the past five years' list. He is lauded for firmly placing human significance at the heart of Aviva's thinking on customer and employee engagement, with one respondent remarking: "He has extensive experience across industry sectors and is hugely respected by his HR profession peers as a wise counsellor."
White's bold opinions on the need to revolutionise the way HR does business earn him much praise. One respondent says he "really makes you think about what HR needs to be doing to change and thrive", while another calls him "Mr Twitter - a good strong presence and took a strong stance with the issue of disclosing HR salaries in the public sector".
Top of the HRDs new to the list this year is Tony McCarthy, director of people and organisational effectiveness at BA, who jumps straight into fifth place. He is mentioned in particular for the way he has handled industrial relations. Comments include "holding firm to principles, facing change, taking on the unions" and "prepared to take on the difficult jobs in HR that need doing".
There is widespread recognition that McCarthy, like Metropolitan Police Service HR director Martin Tiplady in fourth place and outgoing RBS HR director Neil Roden in 12th, has had a high media profile over the past year.
"A difficult period of industrial unrest, lots of media coverage - not always positive - but held his nerve," says one respondent while another adds: "Dealing with the strikes in a professional manner, sharing with the public the stressful times and issues facing the company" and "he's being put to the test and so far on the winning side".
Indeed many respondents believe McCarthy's approach to the strikes will have a major long-term impact. "Like RBS, the disputes with BA cabin crews will resonate for some time to come. The impact on collective bargaining agreements and employee relations in general will be informed for some time by the way this dispute was handled," says one respondent. Another says: "Whichever way it goes this is a major change and landmark on the ER landscape. Whatever he does now at BA will be remembered for some time."
Another high-profile entry this year is Jean Tomlin, HR director of London 2012, who debuts at number 29. "Tomlin has set up and effectively run the scale-up of the people side of the Olympics. A great example of how HR impacts a business and in this case the country," says one respondent. Another professes "such huge respect for someone who has to consider the longer-term aim of maintaining drive and enthusiasm for such a large project with so much focus. Her self-belief and determination are hugely admirable."
The impact of recent events also shows in this year's Most Influential UK Thinkers list. Will Hutton, executive vice chair at The Work Foundation, jumps three places to the second spot this year but interestingly is rated sixth in the past five years. Hutton's high visibility over the past year has solidified his reputation as one of the most provocative, stimulating and challenging thinkers.
He is described as a great speaker, influential within Government and a thought leader on the challenges of work in the UK. He is seen as honest and fair and always capable of providing an objective and long-range eye on the issues. "It's like reading someone who calls what he sees," says one respondent. Another says he "sets out the context in which HR policy must be developed. He is really stretching the HR role and trying to create an innovative, strategic focus to the future nature of business and employment not seen before". His insights into innovation, skills and the economy as a whole "challenge, delight and inspire with equal measure", believes another.
With such accolades one could expect Hutton to top our ranking but he is pipped to the post by one of the greatest HR and management thinkers of all time, underlined by the fact that this person also tops our Most Influential Thinkers over the past five years list. Author, broadcaster and lecturer Charles Handy is praised for crossing the academic and the practical. "He is as close to a people philosopher as you can get," says one respondent while another adds he has "long been a predictor of what would happen in the world of work". Key to Handy's influence is his ability to deliver messages that are insightful, accessible and intelligent.
"He has an almost unique talent to shock, amuse and entertain in communicating vital concepts," says one respondent. Another praises him for his "raft of intelligent works that continue to be relevant and engaging".
Third-place Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, holds second overall position in our Most Influential Thinkers over the past five years. She is praised for constant leadership, practical and accessible work, credibility and authority and taking an approach that excites, interests and stimulates. "A flag carrier for HR. Well respected by all and a champion for engagement and wellbeing in organisations," says one HR director. Another adds that Gratton has "outstanding insights and a vision that balances rigour with compassion and humanity. She always remembers that HR is about people and not process."
The UK Thinkers list comprises 16 new faces. Many have been in the ranking at some point in the past five years and a handful have moved over from the practitioners list. Included in the latter is Tim Miller, former director of people, property and assurance at Standard Chartered Bank who retains his role as vice president organisation, resourcing and talent planning at CIPD. Together with RBS's Roden, ex-Pearson director of people David Bell and the Met Police's Tiplady, Miller is one of the few in HR to be highlighted as outstanding by the external commentators interviewed. His work at the CIPD in relation to employee engagement and next generation HR is highlighted in particular.
Others who have made a successful jump from practitioner to thinker are Jackie Orme, CEO of CIPD and former chief personnel officer at the UK and Ireland division of PepsiCo (number five) and David Smith, consultant and former people director, Asda (new at 22). Chris Bones, soon to step down as dean of Henley Business School, also has a practitioner background (number six).
The UK Thinkers list comprises an impressive group of academics and consultants who constantly challenge HR while offering ideas that can easily be applied in the real world. But there is only one real guru in HR and that is the highest ranked person in our Most Influential International Thinkers list. Dave Ulrich, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, has topped our ranking for five solid years and there is no sign of him falling off that perch soon. He is quite simply "the foremost HR thinker in the world", or as one respondent puts it "the poster child for HR thinking".
His business partner model is still highly influential and his book, HR Transformation, is described as a "must-have" for HR leaders. Ulrich is praised for updating his thinking, helping to increase the value of HR's contribution to organisations and continuing to re-invent himself. Words such as legendary, seminal, inspirational and innovative are used to describe him and one HR practitioner says: "There is no doubt this individual has had more impact on the thinking in HR about how we deliver into business than anyone." Ulrich is the person to whom many HR directors turn to lead thinking about the functioning and organisation of HR departments. But, as one respondent says: "Despite his guru status and enthusiasm over many years, he has not managed to improve the image of HR in the eyes of line managers." Another remarks that he "seems to provide thought for a profession that doesn't think for itself".
There are some notable exceptions in this year's ranking. Had Imelda Walsh stayed on as HR director of Sainsbury's she would have made it into the top five. Likewise, a number of people who have appeared on our lists in previous years are no longer practising. It is also clear that the blogosphere has yet to gain as much influence among UK HR professionals as would be expected. One of the top bloggers in this field, Jon Ingham, failed to get enough votes to make it onto our final list. This is one area that is sure to be better represented in the future.
TOP 30 MOST INFLUENTIAL HR PRACTITIONERS
1 1 David Fairhurst Senior vice president/chief people officer,
McDonald's Restaurants Northern Europe
2 2 Clare Chapman Director general, workforce, NHS
3 20 Tanith Dodge HR director, Marks and Spencer
4 3 Martin Tiplady Director of human resources, Metropolitan
5 new Tony McCarthy Director people and organisational
effectiveness, British Airways
6 6 Liane Hornsey Vice president, people operations - sales
& business development, Google
7 5 Angela O'Connor Chief people officer, National
Policing Improvement Agency
8 13 Stephen Dando Executive vice president & chief human
resources officer, Thomson Reuters
9 9 Therese Procter HR director, Tesco Stores
10 8 Caroline Waters Director of people and policy, BT
11 19 John Ainley Group HR director, Aviva
12 new Neil Roden Group head of human resources, Royal Bank
13 7 Vance Kearney Vice president HR (EMEA), Oracle
14 23 Graham White Director of HR, Westminster City Council
15 18 Rachel Campbell Head of people management, KPMG
16 new Daniel Kasmir Group HR director, Xchanging
17 new Stephen Battalia Head of team HR, Nestle UK and Ireland
18 12 Helen Giles HR director, Broadway
19 11 Catherine Glickman Personnel director, Tesco
20 new Mary Canavan HR director, British Library
21 17 Gillian Hibberd Strategic director (resources and business
transformation), Buckinghamshire County Council
22 16 Dave Gartenberg HR director, Microsoft
23 new Sara Edwards HR director, Orient Express
24 14 Stephen Moir Corporate director: people, policy and law,
Cambridgeshire County Council
25 new Alex Wilson Group HR director, BT
26 21 Gareth Williams HR director, Diageo
27 27 Stephen Kelly Chief people officer, Logica
28 new Beryl Cook Chief HR officer, EVP, News America (News
29 new Jean Tomlin HR director, London 2012
30 15 Ann Almeida Group head of human resources, HSBC
(red is this year's position grey is last year's)
Most Influential HR Practitioners Bubbling Under
Paul Chesworth HR director, Europe Vodafone
Christine Lloyd, HR director, Unicef
Anne Minto Group director, human resources, Centrica
Helen Russell VP HR, Yahoo Europe
Gill Ryder Head of civil service capability group, Cabinet Office
Sandy Begbie Group transformation director, Standard Life
Matthew Brearley UK HR director, Vodafone
Alan Walters Vice president, HR Unilever UK & Ireland
Ralf Prenzer Regional head of HR, Commerzbank
Cheryl Lee HR director, Medway NHS Foundation Trust
Jackie Kelly Head of HR&D, Shropshire Council
Caroline Gray Group HR director, Guardian News and Media
Karen Geary Group director of HR and corporate communications, Sage
Hugh Mitchell Chief HR & corporate officer, Royal Dutch Shell
Bob Watson Group HR director, BUPA
Madalyn Brooks HR director UK & Ireland, Procter & Gamble
Richard Smelt Group HR director, Northern Rock
Ann Gillies, HR associate, WL Gore Associates
John Wrighthouse HR director, Nationwide
Ian Brandwood Director of HR, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
Claire Thomas Senior vice president, human resources, GSK
Sue Swanborough HR director UK and Ireland, General Mills
Dean Shoesmith Joint executive head of HR, Merton and Sutton Councils
TOP 30 MOST INFLUENTIAL HR THINKERS - UK
1 new Charles Handy Writer, broadcaster and lecturer
2 (5) Will Hutton Executive vice chair, The Work Foundation
3 (2) Lynda Gratton Professor of management practice, London
4 new Tim Miller Vice president organisation, resourcing and talent
5 (4) Jackie Orme CEO, CIPD
6 new Chris Bones Dean, Henley Business School
7 (6) Cary Cooper Professor of organisational psychology and
Lancaster University Management School
8 (7) Rob Goffee Professor of organisational behaviour, London
9 new John Adair Author and leadership guru
10 new Dame Carol Black National director for Health and Work
11 new Lord Leitch Leitch Skills Report author and chairman of BUPA
12 (8) Adrian Furnham Professor of educational psychology,
13 new Paul Sparrow Professor and director of the centre for
performance-led HR, Lancaster University Management School
14 (3) Linda Holbeche Visiting professor, University of Bedfordshire
and former director of research and policy, CIPD
15 new Vicky Wright Associate, Towers Watson and president, CIPD
16 new John Philpott Chief economist, CIPD
17 (17) David Guest Professor of organisational psychology and HR
management, King's College London
18 new David Evans Chairman and CEO, Grass Roots Group
19 new Nick Holley Director HR centre of excellence, Henley Business
20 (16) Richard Lambert Director general, CBI
21 (11) Wayne Clarke Managing partner, Best Companies
22 new David Smith Consultant and former people director, Asda
23 new Sarah Jackson CEO, Working Families
24 (13) Andrew Mayo Professor of human capital management, Middlesex
University Business School
25 new Adrian Moorhouse Managing director, Lane 4
26 (20) Robert Peston Business editor, BBC
27 (10) Duncan Brown Director of HR business development, Institute
for Employment Studies
28 new Penny de Valk Chief executive, ILM
29 new Peter Reilly Director of HR research and consultancy,
Institute for Employment Studies
30 (15) John Arnold Director, Manchester Business School
(red is this year's position grey is last year's)
MOST INFLUENTIAL HR THINKERS - UK BUBBLING UNDER
Shaun Tyson Emeritus professor of human resource management, Cranfield
School of Management
Nicholas J Higgins Chief executive VaLUENTiS and dean, International
School of Human Capital Management
Maria Yapp Chief executive, Xancam
Mairi Bannon Director, Corporate Research Forum
Stephen Bevan Director of research, The Work Foundation
Richard Donkin Author and journalist
David Clutterbuck Professor and senior partner, Clutterbuck Associates
Stefan Stern Director of strategy, Edelman (formerly with Financial
Trevor Phillips Chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission
Janet Gaymer Commissioner for Public Appointments
John Purcell Research professor, Warwick Business School and adviser to
Julie Hodges Senior teaching fellow in organisational behaviour &
director of fulltime MBA programme, Durham Business School
Sam Mercer Director of workplace, Business in the Community
Chris Roebuck Visiting professor of transformational leadership, CASS
David Taylor Author Naked Leader and honorary professor of leadership,
Warwick University Business School
Michael West Executive dean, Aston Business School
Wendy Hirsh Visiting professor, Kingston University
TOP 18 MOST INFLUENTIAL THINKERS - INTERNATIONAL
1 Dave Ulrich Professor of business administration, Ross School of
Business, University of Michigan
2 Stephen R Covey Co-founder of Franklin Covey and author 7 Habits
Highly Effective People
3 Jim Collins Business researcher and author Good to Great
4 Chris Argyris Author and emeritus professor of education and
organisational behaviour, Harvard Business School
5 Michael E Porter Bishop William Lawrence University professor,
Harvard Business School
6 Paul Stoltz Founder and CEO, Peak Learning and author Adversity
7 Gurnek Bains Co-founder and CEO, YSC
8 Fons Trompenaars Author and co-founder, Trompenaars Hampden-Turner
9 Robert S Kaplan Marvin Bower, professor of leadership development,
Harvard Business School
10 Malcolm Gladwell Author Blink
11 Jim Kouzes Author and dean's executive professor of leadership,
Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University
12= Stephen M R Covey (son) Author Speed of Trust
12= Robert K Cooper Chair, Advanced Excellence Systems and author The
12= Barry Posner Professor of leadership at the Leavey School of
Business, Santa Clara University
15 Rosabeth Moss Kanter Ernest L Arbuckle, professor of business
administration, Harvard Business School
16= Manfred Kets de Vries Clinical professor of leadership
16= Marcus Buckingham Author Find Your Strongest Life
18 Edward Lawler Distinguished professor of business, University of
Southern California Marshall School of Business
UK THINKERS - PAST FIVE YEARS
1 Charles Handy Writer, broadcaster and lecturer
2 Lynda Gratton London Business School
3 Duncan Brown Institute for Employment Studies
4 Chris Bones Henley Business School
5 Nick Holley Henley Business School
6 Will Hutton The Work Foundation
7= Cary Cooper Lancaster University Management School
7= Lord Leitch Leitch Skills Report and chairman of BUPA
9 Linda Holbeche University of Bedfordshire
10 Stephen Bevan The Work Foundation
11= David Guest King's College London
11= John Adair Author and leadership guru
13 Vicky Wright Towers Watson and CIPD
14= Adrian Furnham University College London
14= Jackie Orme CIPD
16 Peter Reilly Institute for Employment Studies
17= Wayne Clarke Best Companies
17= Andrew Mayo Middlesex University Business School
17= Julie Hodges Durham Business School
20= Robert Peston BBC
20= Shaun Tyson Cranfield School of Management
PRACTITIONERS - PAST FIVE YEARS
1 David Fairhurst McDonald's Restaurants Northern Europe
2 Clare Chapman NHS
3 Angela O'Connor National Policing Improvement Agency
4 Martin Tiplady Metropolitan Police Service
5 Neil Roden Royal Bank of Scotland
6= Tim Miller Standard Chartered Bank
6= Vance Kearney Oracle
8 Tanith Dodge Marks and Spencer
9 Stephen Battalia Nestle UK and Ireland
10 Stephen Dando Thomson Reuters
11 Daniel Kasmir Xchanging
12 Helen Giles Broadway
13 Alex Wilson BT
14 Ann Almeida HSBC
15 Paul Chesworth Vodafone
16 Rachel Campbell KPMG
17 Tony McCarthy British Airways
18 Kevin White Home Office
19= Matthew Brearley Vodafone
19= Liane Hornsey Google
19= Caroline Waters BT
22 Catherine Glickman Tesco
23 Stephen Moir Cambridgeshire County Council
24 Gillian Hibberd Buckinghamshire County Council
25= Stephen Kelly Logica
25= Anne Minto Centrica
27= Ann Gillies WL Gore Associates
27= Therese Procter Tesco Stores
27= Claire Thomas GSK
27= Jean Tomlin London 2012