Chief executives want their HR Director to provide a clear picture of how the talent agenda supports the business strategy. HRDs also need to possess the mettle to hold the senior leadership team to account when required.

These were key messages to emerge from Criticaleye’s recent Retreat, held in association with IBM, Personal Group and Legal & General Investment Management.
Matthew Blagg, CEO of Criticaleye, explained how HR directors are in a unique position to do this: “The HRD has a real helicopter-view and is probably involved in more parts of the business than anyone else on the senior team.”
Here are a selection of highlights from panel discussions and interviews from Day one of the HRD Retreat 2018:  

Establish a Strong Leadership Team

The first step to delivering business strategy is to establish a robust top team. Diana Breeze, Group HRD at Landsec, offered some advice: “Trust plays a crucial role in any successful leadership team. The first step towards establishing this is to get to know each other.

“It is so easy to spend a whole meeting on transactional and operational topics and then fail to get a real understanding of what makes your colleagues tick.”

And while a good relationship between the HRD and the CEO is critical, it is important not to focus on this to the detriment of all else. Diana explained: “There is a danger that the HRD can come to be seen as the CEO’s stooge, so building relationships with other executives is key.”

Paul Pomroy, CEO of McDonald’s UK, developed this further: “It is important to have a truly cross-functional senior leadership team, and to achieve this, the HRD has to get involved in projects that are entirely outside of the HR space. This will help to break down silos.”

He also advocated quick action to address any dysfunctional behaviour: “The HRD and the CEO cannot tolerate any breach of integrity and trust at the senior leadership level. These issues need to be dealt with quickly. If you turn a blind eye, it will be noticed, and this will quickly permeate throughout the company.”

Be Ready to Deal with Constant Change

In an environment prone to disruption, it’s essential for a HRD to support change. Kathryn Pritchard, Chief People Officer at ODEON Cinemas Group, says: “Set out a clear end-point and then prioritise what you want to achieve. It is also crucial to make sure that the business’s plumbing and architecture is right.”

But the culture element involved in change is notoriously difficult to get right, and a poll of delegates on the day revealed that 58 percent don’t believe they have the right leadership capability within their organisation to execute it.

Identifying embedded daily practices can be key to making any culture change stick, according to Quintin Heath, HRD at AB Sugar. “You have to look at the actions that people take within the business on a day-to-day basis, as these reflect the company culture. Seventy percent of what people do at work is habit, so you have to get an understanding of what these habits are and then act to change them,” he explained.

Mark Scanlon, CEO of Personal Group, said: “You must create a strategy and clearly articulate your vision, as this will help you to bring your employees with you.
“It is then important to make sure you have the right people, in the right places, to deliver your vision.”
He added that over time the culture should be self-evident. “If you get it right it will permeate into everything that the company does.”

Use Cognitive to Transform HR

Cognitive and artificial intelligence have the power to fundamentally alter the role of the HRD. They will transform the way data is used to make decisions – both operational and strategic ones.

"I don’t believe that there is anything artificial about AI,” said Stephen Kelly, Vice President and Global Head of HR at IBM Global Business Services. “It’s about a system that augments information, which then gives managers the insight needed to make more informed decisions.”

The pace of change is fast and, according to Stephen, will increase over the next five years. “The tectonic plates of business, talent and technology are shifting every day, and an earthquake is due,” he said.

HR leaders should be ready to help their functions, and their wider businesses, make the most of the opportunities on offer. “We shouldn’t be afraid of cognitive technology; we should embrace it. HRDs need to think about where the technology can sit and how it can be used,” Stephen said. 

Emma Riddell, Senior Editor, Criticaleye, and Robert Leeming, Editor, Criticaleye.

Next Week’s Community Update will look exclusively at the Leading Your Workforce Through Culture Change session from the Retreat. 

To find out more on one of the key topics discussed at the Retreat, read Mark Scanlon’s article on Engaging Through Culture Change.