HR must ‘step out from the shadows’ and drive competitive advantage for business.
June marked the launch of our latest whitepaper: HR on the Offensive. Our research explores our learnings from 22 in-depth interviews with some of the UK’s leading HR professionals.
We met our participants at The Ivy Market Grill for breakfast this morning to celebrate the launch and continue discussions on HR’s ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to show businesses that their real competitive advantage: their people.
‘HR on the Offensive’ challenges the industry to do just that; to ‘go on the offensive’, to lead from the front, shape organisational strategy and drive business change. It serves as a call to arms for HR professionals to step up and break the mould.
The report outlines four areas that HR needs to focus on and sets out two enablers for HR to transform:
- Clarify service offering: HR needs to focus less on trying to be a ‘jack of all trades’ and more on being evidence-based and outcome-driven, aligning to the business needs by positioning people as a competitive advantage and delivering an excellent employee experience.
- Align structure: A recognition that there is no ‘silver bullet’ to the optimal HR structure. HR functions should align their structures to their business environment and clearly distinguish between being an ‘operational service provider’ and a ‘people strategist’.
- Assess capabilities: How can HR up its game and improve the capability of the talent in the HR function and can, for example, professional bodies play a part? Most functions underinvest in developing their own people and need to ‘look outside’ to drive innovation.
- Change mindset: Are HR professionals their own worst enemy because of the self-critical nature of the discipline? The report challenges HR to say ‘no’ more to the business and shift the ‘master-servant’ relationship to deliver functional and business change.
- Use data, analytics and insight as an enabler: HR must view technology as an opportunity to demonstrate value through informing evidence-based decisions and transforming the employee experience.
- Transform line manager capability: HR has a key role to play in defining ‘what good looks like’ for people management in the business and giving line managers the confidence and capability to do it well. Without this, HR will continue to ‘hand-hold’, limiting the ability of the function to evolve.
Speaking to our research participants gave us great insight into the current status of HR today. Highlights included insights from Louise Wallwork, HR Director at BAE Systems who underlined how “the real value the HR function needs to focus on are the big drivers of leadership, culture and talent”. Louise offered that the reason why HR professionals are unable to spend time on these key areas is due to “often getting dragged into tactical and operational issues”. Echoing the thoughts of many of her peers in the research, Louise’s takeaway statement was that we as an industry “ need to try something different.”
The concept of HR informing data-based decisions was identified as one of the enablers from the research. Ralph Tribe, CIO at Ascential stated "What is important is the right HR capability focused on data, evidence and insight”. This is to enable HR professionals to “make the right interventions and ultimately impact positively on business results”.
Our own COO & Co-founder Cathy Acratopulo summarised the factors which have led to this industry tipping point, pointing to “explosive tech innovation, hyper competitiveness and market disruption” as key de-stabilisers. Cathy emphasises that a “new approach to the human side of the business is required” but recognises that this shift is hugely dependant on individual approaches. She underlines that positive change can only come if “HR professionals have the capability, focus and mindset to transform themselves from being a support function to the long-term driver of competitive advantage”.