7 practices for high-impact HR leadership

Josef Said, Konnekt’s CEO, discusses how Human Resources Professionals can have a deep impact on an organisation and its success

Josef Said - CEO at Konnekt
Josef Said - CEO at Konnekt

Most organisations operate in hyper-competitive markets, and for a number of them, the global pandemic has put unprecedented pressures on their operations. This surreal business environment is further compounded by rapid technological change, challenges to traditional business models, and new practices like remote working. This level of change and disruption might force HR professionals to lose sight of what high impact HR leadership looks like. From our experience working with many CEOs and clients, we believe that HR professionals should focus on the following areas:

1. The bottom line and adding value

Human Resources shouldn't be about managing absences or reducing overtime but adding real value to the organisation by supporting projects backed by empirical data.

An HR Director recently increased her training budget for coaching and mentoring programmes fivefold after proving to the CEO that these programmes in two pilot departments delivered improvements in efficiency and higher employee engagement (leading to less turnover). The reduction in costs ultimately outweighed the investment. True HR leaders add value and make an effort to measure it.

2. Hold yourself and your department accountable

We were recently helping an HR Manager build his KPI dashboard. Given the issues his organisation experienced with recruitment, we suggested that he adopt time-to-close (a vacancy) as a KPI. I got some severe pushback and various “reasons” as to why he couldn’t control and influence this KPI.

All departments within an organisation are accountable for delivering on key performance measures that impact the organisation’s performance (sales to deliver revenue, finance to ensure prudent management, marketing to provide audiences) - why should HR shy away from being held accountable?

Having meaningful KPIs that contribute to the organisation's success sharpens focus and ensures that the HR function adds value across the organisation.

3. Advocate transparency

The best organisations Konnekt works with are those that share information by default. Transparency increases accountability and enables people to make the most suitable decisions for their departments and their organisations. The more data an organisation shares, the less opacity there is.

One of our clients shares client entertainment expenses creating accountability on the level and type of spend. HR should champion information sharing; this increases scrutiny, enhancing accountability, including that of the CEO and the leadership team.

4. Focus on what matters

This isn't just for the HR professionals. Always ask: Are my actions adding value? Are they moving a meaningful organisational metric? You should be able to come up with several ideas for change if you are self-critical. Question everything. Ask yourself: Why do we do this in such a way? Is there a better way?

Answering these questions is essential to reflect on your HR leadership.

What frustrates me most as the CEO of a recruitment agency is some HR departments' insistence that they should do all interviews themselves and not get line managers involved. Mind you, this is sometimes justified; however, creating communication barriers doubles work and increases the frustration of all parties: HR, agencies and managers. Insist on being cc'd in all correspondence, hold regular calls and get feedback on the quality of CVs from line managers.

5. Have a deep belief in people

Having a strong faith in people is the heart of HR. As an HR professional, you should intrinsically believe that people are good and that your employees will act in the organisation's best interest.

Taking both Hanlon's (Never attribute to malice that can be adequately explained by stupidity) and Occam's (Simpler explanations are more likely to be correct - avoid unnecessary or improbable assumptions) philosophical razors as a rule of thumb when judging actions by individuals is essential. These will quickly lead you to develop and grow exceptional talent.

A deep belief in people, as well as communicating incessantly across the organisation, is a critical facet of true HR leadership.

6. Numerate and be technology-oriented

Some of the best HR professionals have a deep understanding of statistics and technology. They are not statisticians or software developers; however, they understand the general concepts and possibilities. This gives them an edge; leveraging data to make accurate decisions and leading digitisation projects within their department and the organisations they work with to draw out efficiencies, reduce costs and errors. With the aim to ultimately make work more meaningful.

7. Challenge the CEO

Finally, authentic HR leadership means that you have the gravitas to challenge the CEO (one-to-one, of course). Even the most assertive and single-minded CEO wants people to challenge them, especially if the arguments brought forward are reasoned, well-thought-out, and supported by data.

It is not uncommon for other functions like finance, operations, marketing etc., to do so. However, from our experience, a number of HR professionals tend not to.

Some of the most capable HR leaders I know act as a trustworthy confidant to their CEO, fiercely protecting them, which counter-intuitively means telling the CEO what they do not want to hear, but supporting them within and outside the organisation.

Human Resources, or any name you want to assign to this function, has the potential to lead from the front, making a significant impact on the organisation and its success.