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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

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

Monday 09 Jun 2014
Harnessing the power of HR within organisations

Harnessing the power of HR within organisations

It never ceases to amaze me how much power HR can have in an organisation when leaders get it right. Sadly, the same is also true when they get it wrong.   

Often the differentiating factor is the leader themselves and sometimes it’s their teams. However, often as not it is down to an unwillingness or inability to stand back and take a hard rational look at the contribution an organisation’s people are making to its success. Inevitably and rightly, business executives look to their HR colleagues for guidance, insight and direction in how to make a positive shift. In addition, those executives also want to know how HR is going to change itself to better support such a shift.

Therein lies one key to success: being able to look outwards and inwards at the same time while recognising the fundamental relationship between the two perspectives.  

One thing that has not changed in my observations about HR leaders and their teams is that everyone is under huge time pressure. There never seem to be enough hours in the day to get through the workload. Initiatives pile on top of each other with scant regard for evaluating their alignment or overall fit.

To avoid offending stakeholders, it sometimes feels like the HR team’s ‘customer service’ just goes too far. Saying no can sometimes add value by challenging assumptions or helping clients come up with better, more creative solutions.

If only we had a way of becoming more focused about how we spend our precious time and energy on the things that really matter.  

The HR world is littered with interventions that either fail to deliver, or result in teams becoming lost in the process of implementation, blinded to the original purpose of what they set out to achieve. At least that’s how it often appears to many executive teams and line managers. HR’s image is damaged further when those same executives and managers have put their own reputations on the line by having agreed to be associated with such ‘failures’.

However, with more careful planning and tracking, you can increase your chances of interventions succeeding and in so doing, make heroes of everyone involved.

So much for rational thought: how about personal power?  There comes a time in all HR leaders’ lives when they need to stand up and be counted. It can be too easy to take a passive role and always be hiding behind a façade of being the enabler, the coach to the organisation. Senior executives want to know if you have what it takes to be regarded as their equal. Trust needs to be earned in the same way they have to earn HR’s faith.

Ultimately, for me, this is the great differentiator between being a good HR leader and being a great one. It’s all about personal impact and perhaps, ultimately, feeling good about it, not embarrassed by your own success.

Gerry Miles is the programme director for Strategic Human Resource Management at Ashridge.