It’s common knowledge that the success or failure of a business rests on its ability to attract and retain the very best human resources. Companies that are able to best anticipate and meet the expectations of their employees can therefore expect to gain an advantage over their competitors. In arming HR departments with effective captaincy skills, leadership programmes can play a key contributory role in the sustained and steady growth of an organisation.
Consequently, more and more senior HR professionals are opting to be sent on such courses as they look to personally develop as leaders. This trend is being influenced straight from the top. Boardrooms have become aware that a formulaic approach towards HR will hinder company progress in the long run; instead, HR leaders need to be identified and cultivated from the get-go.
Organisations are essentially striving to create a ripple effect from the starting point of strong HR leadership. This constitutes more effective and better implemented HR policies, in turn creating a more harmonious workforce. The alternative is widespread dissatisfaction with human resources – identified as a chief reason behind higher staff turnovers.
So, what are companies looking for in their HR leaders? Amid the age of the self-defined ‘business leader’, strong man-management skills are a must. However, a strong soft skill set will only get senior HR professionals so far; they also need to keep up with disruptive technologies that continue to transform the way companies attract and retain their talent.
However, according to Helen Jamieson, CEO of Jaluch, an HR and training consultancy, leadership development is still too heavily focussed on the former over the latter.
“We are finding that increasingly leadership programmes are focusing only on the soft skills, on developing competencies such as problem-solving, emotional intelligence, staff motivation and building teams,” she says.
“While these are all great topics, our experience is that leaders are increasingly missing out on essential knowledge building sessions, that in turn help to build their confidence as leaders.
“By knowledge building, we are talking about essential employment law, finance for non-financial people, corporate governance, the future of technology etc. Managers who are new to managing simply do not know what they need to know about such topics in order to feel confident in their roles and manage staff effectively.”
For Jamieson – whose clients include Visa, Bupa and Ageas – the “knowledge building” she alludes to isn’t given a precedence for one simple reason: it’s not sexy enough.
“It’s really not very trendy,” she says. “Who wants to have an employment law session when you can do a session on building high performing teams?
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“The financial answer might be ‘we can build knowledge through e-learning rather than waste valuable face to face time on it during leadership programmes’. Although e-learning might impart some knowledge, it gives delegates no opportunity to explore that knowledge and learn how to relate it to their teams. Therefore e-learning value is limited.”
She also suspects that the array of professional leadership trainers “on every street corner” may in fact belie a paucity of in-depth knowledge. Therefore, companies need to be more circumspect when it comes to looking for the best courses and programmes on which to send HR managers.
“It’s hard to find a good leadership trainer who also has, for instance, a solid understanding of employment law, or governance, or finance, and who can present that to managers and leaders in a way they can understand and relate to,” adds Jamieson.
“So it takes more effort to put a programme together. Specialist or niche trainers also tend to cost more which is another factor causing leadership training companies to stick to the soft skills. That brings us back to money again.”
That’s not to say all leadership programmes require a king’s ransom to attend. Phoebe Aitken, a senior HR specialist at job search website Voices.com recommends individuals take advantage of leadership courses at their local university or college.
“Often, you’ll find they offer great courses on strategy, recruiting, and law, and it’s a great way to keep your knowledge up to date and to meet other industry professionals,” she says.
“Another option is to get involved with a local peer-to-peer group. Most meet on a monthly basis and cover current topics like any legal changes or trending issues. Although these are not formal training programs, they are a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of changes happening in HR.”
All the same, most senior HR professionals are on the hunt for formal accreditation. One such group offering such programmes is Ei World. Founded and led by Dr Geetu Bharwaney – also a fellow of the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development (CIPD) – Ei World’s courses are centred around emotional intelligence development.
The group offers courses to HR leaders using the Bates Executive Presence Index, a research-based assessment to measure executive presence.
“Most people say, ‘I know it when I see it’,” says Bharwaney. “This framework brings it to a comprehensive summary of what it takes to succeed as a leader today, including dimensions of character, substance and style, and gets to the heart of what HR leaders need to be assessing.”
EI World, which has worked with the likes of the NHS, as well as smaller businesses, also provides team emotional intelligence survey accreditation for HR leaders wanting to help teams “have the dialogue that leads to more effective collaboration and decision-making,
driving not only progress and better performance, but breakthroughs in strategic thinking and action in your organisation”.
Peter Lawrence – also a chartered fellow of CIPD – heads up Human Capital Department, an HR and training consultancy based in Norfolk. The group is accredited to deliver MAP 2.0, a management and leadership assessment tool that has gained considerable traction in recent years.
“MAP 2.0 has been around over 20 years with over 100,000 people having undergone it throughout the world,” explains Lawrence. “It assesses participants against 12 management competencies and then produces a report highlighting strengths and development areas.
Once completed participants receive a report which highlights strengths and development areas and links to online learning materials.”
Human Capital Development also runs workshops based on the four time management quadrants – important and urgent; important but not urgent; not important but urgent; not important and not urgent. How expensive are these sessions?
“It’s a low cost alternative to other programmes as costs £250 to access the diagnostic and online learning materials,” says Lawrence. “A half day workshop for each of the fours quadrants costs £600 per session.”
Elsewhere, earlier this year the Guild of HR Professionals announced the launch of its first ever HR leadership programme. Geared towards senior HR professionals, the 12-month, intensive programme is comprised of mentoring sessions, masterclasses and networking opportunities.
Speaking back in May, Apoorva Chandra, programme lead and HR director for group head office, and Head of HR for Africa at Prudential PLC said: “This programme fills a much needed development gap by helping senior HR professionals transition from experienced practitioners to potential strong leaders.
“It achieves this in three key ways: firstly, by providing expert insights and experiences on most technical functions conducted within HR; secondly, by enhancing the incumbent’s interpersonal skills for positive impact at both Board or ExCo whilst also inspiring their HR team’s performance and own development; thirdly, it enhances participants’ confidence and business acumen to build a career with the right skillset to operate at the most senior level both inside the organisation and externally.”
The programme opened its doors last month. Commanding fees in the region of £2,500, it isn’t cheap, but given the rising stock of effective HR leadership within the workplace, such high fees may well be justifiable.