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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

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

Friday 10 Feb 2012
The value of HR – how to get in the driving seat at board level

The value of HR – how to get in the driving seat at board level

HR is no bigger or smaller than any other organisational function.

To sit at the top table, it needs to recognise this fact and ensure it positions itself to add demonstrable value in taking a business forward. At the end of the day, it is just another organisational tool to ensure the successful delivery of a business strategy - just like research and development, production, logistics, finance, sales and marketing.

HR does not need to have any higher purpose in life. It should therefore stop beating itself up about how it is viewed. And it should worry even less about the effects on the wider economy or local community of a lower employment rate, resulting from hard business decisions it may have to make. HR directors are responsible to the owners of the business, not to the Department of Work and Pensions!

It needs to play a full role in the business; not stand to one side. HR needs to engage properly by being a part of, and contributing to, an organisation's progressive development. It needs to be a team player.

Simple changes in approach, such as always saying 'we' rather 'they' and 'line management' can work wonders in dispelling misconceptions on how HR views its own role within a company's development.

If HR helps get the right people in the right place, energised in the right way, looking for the right linkages to make them do their job exceptionally well then it can make a real difference and major contribution to the business.

The difference that people can make in the delivery of business strategy, though, is clearly huge. By employing and engaging with great people, an organisation has an 80% chance of success. Conversely, recruit poor performers, in the wrong job, with the wrong motivation and the chances of business success can drop to 20%.

Great HR is a huge contributor to the gap between success and failure (with the 60% difference in outcomes).

For HR, the questions are:

How to make that tangible and clear to others?

How to get away from simply subjective debates about people?

How to prove that the best people are doing the most important jobs?

How to find the time to do these jobs with the tenacity and clear thinking they deserve?

But let's be absolutely clear. It is HR supporting the business strategy, not the other way around. Or, worse still, HR having its own strategy, which is out of sync with and not a fundamental part of the company's direction and goals.

HR needs to embrace change and help drive the business forward by making a real difference - the difference between an OK performance and a great one.

Jeremy Campbell, chief people officer, Ceridian UK