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Blog : HR - the business navigator?


HR - the business navigator?

By Emily Perry - Head of Commercial Development

Last month I was lucky enough to attend the Institute of Directors annual convention. I say lucky because the speaker line-up was astounding – we started with Boris Johnson (Lord Mayor of London), moved onto our Chancellor, George Osbourne, detouring out of politics to visit CEO of Tech City, Joanna Shields, before rounding off the day with not only the man voted greatest leader of the 21st Century (Jack Welch) but also one of the world’s most fascinating businessmen – Sir Richard Branson.
Whilst I came away from the convention brimming with ideas for Purple Cubed, it was the talk provided by Dan Cobley – Managing Director of Google UK and Ireland, which resonated the most. He spoke of a whole range of crazy technology prototypes that Google are working on, however at the end of each section he referred back to the ‘Googleites’ – the employees of Google who are driving these innovations.
At Google, they place people at the heart of their business because they recognise that by investing in their employees, ensuring they feel valued, engaged and listened to, that they will become a great place to work. And what happens when you’re a great place to work? You receive unsolicited applications from highly talented individuals for jobs that may not even exist. Google knows that talent = trajectory; talented people ensure a business is performing, profitable and growing.
It’s no surprise then that the recent PwC CEO Survey found human capital was the number one concern of CEOs across the globe; they too recognise that ‘people are their greatest asset’. However you then have to ask why is it that HR is often left outside of the boardroom when the likes of IT, marketing and finance are cosy on the inside?
The role of a CEO is to create strategy which grows the organisation and its bottom-line. However, they require talented individuals to deliver this strategy. Therefore doesn’t it make sense for the CEO to keep their HR Director (HRD) close by, even making them their most trusted advisor?
In June we asked this exact question to leading HR Directors across the hospitality and retail industries at our inaugural Purple Supper Club. All agreed that HR are in a unique position where they can navigate the business, becoming the ’go to’ person on all business matters to members of the board; even if they themselves don’t have a seat (at last count only three FTSE 350 companies have HR on the board). In some ways this makes HR the most powerful player in the business – a decision isn’t made without asking them.
However to get to this position HR needs to rebrand; removing the stigma attached to their department. Historical remnants or human remains are just two of the phrases we’ve heard over the years. The image of HR, in too many businesses, is not one of positivity, strategy or commerciality.
So how do you move from ‘tea and sympathy givers’ to ‘business navigator’? Here are our three key tips:
1)      Understand your business and THE business
HR professionals know all there is to know about people, culture and creating high performing teams. However, beyond this how much time does an HR specialist spend getting to know other areas – such as profit / loss, product development and pricing? To gain credibility and have the ear of the CEO, HR must know the business priorities and understand them. This isn’t about knowing what’s happening in the competitor climate as a Marketing Director would however, it’s about understanding the objectives of the business and being able to present a solid argument, business case or ask the right questions to help others reach the conclusion. Invest time in reading business titles, such as Dialogue, Financial Times and Director, as well as HR articles. Meet with your colleagues in other departments and find out about their challenges; offering advice when appropriate. And make sure your strategy is aligned with the corporate goals of the business.
2)      Shout about ‘real’ results
Unfortunately, HR has been tarnished with the ‘afraid of measurables’ brush for too many years; resulting in businesses viewing their deliverables as intangible, ‘fluffy’ things. Whilst elements such as a pep talk, steer in the right direction and offering guidance are difficult to put a result on (though people do recognise that without this support from HR they would be in a worse position), in other areas HR sits high on a pile of vital people information. Grab what you can and tell people about it! Labour turnover statistics, employee engagement scores and lists of future leaders can fundamentally change the direction of a business. And if you can demonstrate concrete returns on your investment through monetary savings (like reduced recruitment spend) or increased sales (from the up-selling development conducted with your front-of-house team) then you’ll further enhance your position as a valid contributor to the business. Also, don’t shy away from technology… It can help you on your path towards trusted advisor, and produce those statistics at the click of a button.
3)      Create alliances with other departments
For many years there’s been the HR vs marketing debate –with both departments suspicious of the other. However in a time where employer brand is as, if not more, important that consumer brand; these departments need to create strong alliances. The same goes for finance. In fact Sara Edwards, purple friend and one of the UK’s most influential HR Directors, when VP of HR at Orient-Express, spoke of the ‘holy trinity’. CEO, Finance Director and HRD all aligned, all communicating and all working towards the same outcome. Rather than be seen as the problem-focused, dinosaurs in the corner; get others involved in delivering your strategy – ask marketing for their input in job adverts, explain to finance the business case for investing in people and engage operations by demonstrating the impact of your solutions on their teams. Creating strong alliances with other departments, combined with demonstrating you have the information they need, can only serve to enhance the perception of HR across the business.
To navigate the business and act as a trusted advisor you have to step out of the back and into the driving seat – are you ready for the challenge?
We’re also bringing together a hospitality ‘holy trinity’ at our next Purple Breakfast Club to debate whether a business really needs HR. If you’d like to hear their views, email emilyperry@purplecubed.com

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