Stephen pierce, CHRO of Hitachi Europe joined HRD Connect to discuss the skills HR leaders need to help CEO’s make the right decisions. He also revealed how HR can be an advocate of change when achieving organisational strategic goals.
How can companies ensure they are providing a clear vision and purpose that guides the strategy?
The key answer to this is leadership. Companies need strong and effective leaders because the best leaders will give a vision which will shape where they are going and why they are going there. That is explaining the journey, and if we really want staff in organisations to buy-in to that and to join the journey, they need to really understand it. It is then taking it a stage further, it is not just about explaining it, it’s about sustaining it.
In other words, initial communication is important but it can’t just be words on a poster or in company communication, it’s got to be consistent and part of the leadership strategy and leadership approach. By continual reference to the vision and the purpose, people understand how exactly the business is progressing and how it links to the strategy on an ongoing basis, not just at the beginning.
What can organisations do to identify opportunities or threats against the organisations strategic objectives and current strategic position?
There are a number of things that they can do to identify the opportunities and the threats. I think the first is that they need to listen and recognise that the leadership of the organisation doesn’t have the answers so they need to engage staff at all levels to hear what’s going on in their organisation and to identify what the opportunities are.
Secondly it’s always important to encourage honesty. We should be hearing it as it is and sometimes I think as people get more senior in organisations, they get less honest feedback because our staff may say what they think we want to hear. So it is really important for organisations truly to have an openness and honesty within their culture.
The third thing is they also need to have flexibility so that they are able to move when they do identify opportunities and threats. Sometimes when we find out what’s going on out there, it can be difficult to move, but we need to recognise change should be continuous if we are going to be able to be successful in the long term.
How can HR be an advocate of change to achieve organisational strategic goals?
For me, the key point is that HR needs to understand the organisation. It needs to have a business understanding not just a HR understanding. That goes for HR staff at all levels and to recognise that as HR directors or head of HR that they’re business leaders first and HR second. So they need to understand what are the key business drivers, what are the key issues, who are the key customers, the pressures and so on.
HR also need to have change management skills at all levels. Change management should be in the tool-kit of HR people so that they are able to advise, support and guide organisations through change. HR also needs to be advocates of change and looking outside the organisation, scanning the horizon for what’s coming and then bringing that information into the organisation to discuss it and to work through what it would mean and how to respond. If we can’t see what’s coming our way we can’t be proactive and responsive!
Finally I think that HR needs to have the right relationships in the organisation to be able to challenge positively and create change at all levels across the organisation. If HR doesn’t have effective relationships with the leaders of the businesses, then it is more difficult to engage them in change and work collaboratively on the strategic and operational challenges they are facing.
What skills do HR leaders need to help CEO’s make the right decisions around the changing workforce landscape?
- First of all they need to have the external focus. So they will spend some time on the outside, thinking in to the organisation.
- The second thing they need to do is to understand the business and recognise what those external changes in the workforce landscape mean for the organisation itself. They can only do that if they really understand the business itself.
- The third thing is that they need to be able to think strategically. HR can often get focussed on process, so they need to be able to take broader strategic thinking into the organisation.
- Finally, they need to be analytical and consider business justifications which will drive decision making and take account of the changing workforce landscape.
Those are some of the skills, I think there is a more fundamental point which is also about the relationship with the CEO. If HR leaders have a great relationship with the CEO, then they are able to help them change and to recognise what has to happen differently. HR leaders need to be the trusted advisor, not just the HR leader. They need to be able to tell it as it is, to have that honesty and openness with the CEO. I think HR is in a unique position to influence CEO’s. Often HR leaders have been selected by the CEO which gives them an advantage but regardless of this we have a key role to play!
HR needs to take this responsibility and be able to respond to it positively. I think we shouldn’t forget that we may need the skills of tenacity and resilience because we won’t always get the change that we think is important in the short term, but we need to stick with it and recognise that focusing on adding value and change are long term initiatives which bring real and enduring business value.