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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Monday 18 Jun 2012
HR Most Influential 2012: your vote counts

HR Most Influential 2012: your vote counts

The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and to influence their actions." These words, from 18th century US politician John Hancock, the first to sign the American Declaration of Independence, are still relevant today and sum up why being influential is important if HR directors are to make a real difference.

However, all too often, chief executives moan that HR fails to make a significant contribution to the business, while HR directors bleat that their CEOs do not take them seriously enough to enable them to make that difference.

We disagree with both these views. When fully aligned with the business, HR has a significant impact - and that impact is growing as the nature of employment changes. For that reason, HR magazine runs its annual HR Most Influential ranking, recognising the HR practitioners that are influential, both nationally and internationally. We also recognise UK and global thinkers challenging assumptions and practice in the field.

This year, for the first time, we announce the names of those shortlisted (see survey attached here) and invite you, our readers, to help compile the ranking by taking a few minutes to fill in the survey. We want to know who you regard as influential and why. Please note, this is a peer-based ranking and only one vote per organisation will be counted.

This is the seventh year of our HR Most Influential list and it has grown to become the most credible ranking in the sector. We know not everyone will agree with the names overleaf, so our methodology allows you to nominate other names you believe we should consider.

However, HR magazine has invested considerable time and money over the past seven years in trying to understand the nature of influence in HR. In 2008, we asked Henley Business School to prepare and validate a set of criteria against which the most influential people in HR could be measured and identified. Henley examined current ideas of leadership of and in the HR field through a literature review, including HR's role both within the business and leading outside the HR function; investigated concepts and measurements of influence both externally and internally; and looked at other popular magazine-published rankings of admiration, influence and leadership. From this, Henley developed draft criteria, which were examined and critiqued by a focus group from the school's leadership, change and HR faculty. Our list was measured against the final criteria.

In 2010, we partnered with Ashridge Business School to build on this work. We grew the sample size for ranking by adding executives responsible for HR at board level from Ashridge's database. We also added in qualitative interviews with CEOs, City analysts and media commentators, to establish an external view of HR's influence.

For 2012, we decided it was time to review the criteria of influence and brought together a panel at Ashridge Business School to discuss this and to sense-check all 120 names that had been nominated or previously appeared on the HR Most Influential list. We settled on criteria, including personal impact, both internally and externally - and particularly with the CEO and board, in the case of HR practitioners; applicability and effectiveness of ideas and practice; and commercial impact. We also reviewed each HR director in context of sector and organisation size and considered visibility, internally and externally - although this was less about self-promotion and more about using visibility to move the HR field forward.

There are two main changes to the shortlist this year. Firstly, we measured everyone against a 2011-2012 timeframe. Therefore, a number of significant practitioners and thinkers do not appear on the list, as their influence has not been as wide during this period. For example, a practitioner may have moved roles during the past year and it is too early to say whether they have gained significant internal influence in their new role, even if their external influence is still high. Or a thinker may be holed up writing a book or researching a paper.

Secondly, we decided to narrow the definition of thinkers to people whose work was grounded in academia and who had a cumulative body of work in the field. This removed a number of important management thinkers and writers, in both the UK and international lists. We still believe they are influential, particularly in terms of accessibility and real-world relevance to HR practitioners. However, we are emphasising academic research because of the impact that has on change, development and innovation in the field.

Our practitioner list includes people who have taken HR to board level for the first time, such as Carpetright's Claire Balmforth; those who have increased the influence of HR internally, such as BskyB's Deborah Parker and Catherine Brown at the Bank of England; and those who have made the leap to CEO, in this case, Mike Cooke at Camden Council. It includes HR directors whose role is greater than HR or who are thinking strategically about what HR means today, such as Gwyn Burr from Sainsbury's and Sandy Begbie at Standard Life. Our panel also liked those who had non-executive director roles.

Choosing people for the UK thinkers list was harder, a sign perhaps that more academic work in this field is coming from the US and other countries. We looked for new thinking and people influential in a particular part of HR, such as leadership or employee relations. There are some people outside this criteria worthy of inclusion in any particular year, for example, those who act as conduits for thinking to move into the legislative arena or who bring policymakers together, such as Dame Carol Black and Will Hutton.

The Most Influential international thinker list gained broader consensus and comprises both stalwarts who have changed the face of HR generally but whose thinking remains current and new entrants driving thinking forward in more specific areas, such as organisational development and wellbeing.

So the panel has spoken. Now it is up to the HR industry - ie you - to decide who is the most influential of all.

We will unveil the 2012 ranking at Claridge's on September 17 and follow with a feature in October and supplement in November. If you want to be in with a chance to attend our prestigious invitation-only event with the great and good of HR, please fill in the attached form and send it back to the Freepost address (or complete it online, details are on the attached leaflet). One winner will be pulled out of the hat and receive three tickets to the event.

We want to know who has an impact on you, who you look to when you want inspiration and who is moving HR forward. And if you seek a real sign of influence, look no further than John Hancock. He was president of Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and is primarily remembered in the US for his large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration. Legend has it that he signed his name boldly and clearly, so King George III could read it without his spectacles. 'John Hancock' is now an informal synonym for signature in the US. Now that's influential.

To vote this year, click here