What is HR getting up to in the boardroom?

22 Jan 2020

What is HR getting up to in the boardroom?

The nature and importance of the HR leader’s role and its integration in business planning continues to evolve, and a board position is no longer the exception.

When BT’s chairman, Jan du Plessis, welcomed Leena Nair, Unilever CHRO to its board, he said, “She brings a deep understanding of the strategic and practical challenges of driving large-scale cultural transformation, making her an excellent addition to the board.” 

When Tesla was required to appoint two independent board members, one choice was the global head of HR, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Kathleen Wilson-Thompson.

Clearly, the CHRO’s move up the corporate structure is well underway.

Most HR leaders now report directly to the CEO and in large organisations work closely with board members.

In CIPD’s 2019 survey on HR practices in Ireland, four in five respondents reported that HR is represented at the most senior levels in their organisation, up 9% from their 2018 survey.

Putting a CHRO on the board clearly puts people at the centre of strategic business decisions—a growing trend.

What makes a great CHRO

Last year, we published an in-depth report on the current picture of the HR function and ideal characteristics of the HR leader.

We outlined how diverse today’s HR leader needs to be, acting as an analyst, health advocate, change-maker, strategist and curator.

“In the past, the emphasis was on the most effective ways to change and manage behaviour while working. We have since seen a 180-degree shift."

The report continues, “Rather than trying to enforce change among employees, there is now more interest in understanding psychology and sociology and in developing a culture that incentivises employees to buy into the company brand vision; that inspires them to work in unison with company goals. To have a say in designing a company image, messaging and culture that attracts top talent, the HR leader needs to have influence at the organisation’s top levels.”

The carrot, not the stick

Looking at today’s talent challenges, it’s easy to see why it’s more imperative to include HR strategy in the overall strategy.

An organisation’s effectiveness rests largely on a multi-faceted approach which needs a diverse pool of talent and experience.

Not too many years ago, HR leaders may have spoken in terms of ‘finding, managing and motivating’ the right people. Now, it has become ‘attracting, advocating for and inspiring’ them. The strategy behind this must be designed at the top.

CEOs expect strong, strategic thinkers in HR

Our research among CEOs produced clear pointers to what they want in their HR leaders: insightful commercial focus, strong leadership, knowledge of the latest thinking in people management and to be a reliable confidante.

During 2019, our searches for CPOs and CHROs regularly took us outside Ireland. Despite the rich pool of indigenous talent, demand exceeds this.

We welcomed the many enquiries from emigrants who are ready to return home, bringing with them a range and depth of experience that adds richness and interest.

During 2020, we expect to see a further shift in the emphasis and prominence of HR roles in both a functional and aspirational capacity.