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HRDs play a crucial role in driving performance within today’s businesses. They identify skills gaps, nurture talent and hold a mirror up to the prevailing culture. However, to have the most impact they also need to challenge those at the top table.

In our recent Research, HRDs highlighted their number one priority for the next 12 months was to retain key talent and develop skills within their organisation. This fundamental objective remains crucial if HR leaders are to drive performance forward.

Aoife Forde, Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, says that predicting the skills that businesses will need is an ongoing task. “Tech disruption, changing career patterns and competition for the best talent, are some of today’s pressures, but leaders also need to be asking themselves what tomorrow will bring,” she says.

“HRDs need to take the difficult questions about talent development to the leadership table, along with potential solutions and insight from outside the business and their specific sector.”

Mike Hughes, President for UK and Ireland at Schneider Electric, says: “The role of the HRD is always to challenge the organisation and look at it from a skill base and a culture base and really give feedback on that. [They must] challenge management and say: ‘Are we moving fast enough here to be able to reach... our vision of the future?’”

The environment people work within is integral to achieving successful business outcomes, according to Richard Buxton, Group HRD at Brewin Dolphin. “The role of the Executive Committee is all about culture and is all about performance and the two go together,” he says.

“If as an HRD you’re not working on the culture, then you’re not working on performance, so you’ve got to think about how you create an environment... that helps everyone perform.”

Today’s time-poor CEOs need to be able to rely on their HRDs to own the structures that enable great performance. Gareth Llewellyn, Chief Executive Officer at DVSA, emphasises the value of his HRD in this respect. “As a CEO, I’m desperately keen that the organisation progresses day-in and day-out,” he says.

“I see the role of my HR Director around setting the performance management structure to the extent that all of my directors know that out-performance is part of their benefits scheme, but is also a desired outcome for the whole of the organisation... That doesn’t happen unless the HR Director puts that whole process in place for me.”

Providing an independent view

To have most impact on the performance of the wider business, HRDs also need to provide challenge at the highest level. This is no mean feat when our Research also revealed that the area where HRDs feel they most need to improve is in their ability to influence the Board.

Being too close to your leadership peers can be a problem. Line De Decker, SVP of Human Resources for Pharma, at GlaxoSmithKline, says: “Collaboration with your business leader is paramount in order to be successful but on the other hand you can become too good of a friend, because you have a role of coaching, giving feedback and actually course correcting.”

She continues: “I’ve always found that the best business partners I worked with were people who I had a really good chemistry with, people who were very open to strong and open feedback and gave it in the same direction to me.”

Emma Hardaker-Jones, Group HRD of Legal & General, has experienced the same tension. "Ultimately [the CEO is] my boss but I also need to have the opportunity to take a different point of view and to really provide him at all times with quite challenging feedback.”

Emma approaches this by seeing the HRD role through the lens of risk management. “I need to think about what are the right things... from a legal perspective, from a values perspective, from a business revenue generation perspective, and as long as I’m clear about that, that will help me do the right things,” she says.

For a business to thrive today, its HRD must provide an informed and independent challenge of performance at all levels of the organisation, while also identifying skills gaps and nurturing talent.

Emma Carroll, Senior Editor, Criticaleye

Next Week’s Community Update will look at balancing cost reduction with improved performance.

The challenge of aligning talent, strategy and leadership will be up for discussion at the HRD Retreat 2020, which is being held in association with Accenture and will take place on 27th and 28th February. To see the agenda, click here. Contact your Relationship Manager to find out more.

This article is based on the following two Criticaleye videos:

HR Directors Driving Performance

Retaining Independence as an HRD

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