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Harvey Nash HR Leadership Event 2016

On the morning of the 13th of April, at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, (amongst croissants, every flavoured tea imaginable and some wonderful sunshine), over 100 HR professionals packed the Lichfield Suite to discuss the relationship between HR and the CEO.

According to our sixth annual Harvey Nash HR Survey, two thirds of HR professionals believe that the most senior HR professional is undervalued by the CEO, and almost fifty percent believe that the thoughts of the HR leader are considered as less imperative to those at the top table. So is there a void between what the CEO wants from HR, and what HR is providing as a function? It is a talking point that we hadn't explored previously, and one that seemed to have lots of room for debate, which made it a great topic to discuss with our network at our annual HR Leadership event.


See more photos of the event here

As expected, the topic generated a real palpable interest, which resulted in a room jam-packed with over 100 senior HR professionals eager to have their say, whilst also fervently awaiting the views of our panellists (particularly the thoughts of our resident CEO!)

Our Panel included:
Paul Mills - Director of HR for MERCEDES F1 AMG PETRONAS
Peter Collingwood - CEO, EMEA for Microlease PLC
Howard Sloane - Group HR Director for Peel Ports Groups

Paul took to the stage first to discuss this deviant disconnect, quite fittingly referring to how HR as a function should be able to enhance the company's speed and efficiency, without slowing the team down. What the CEO wants to know is 'how can HR make the car go faster?' For Paul this was quite straightforward, it was all about the importance of being able to challenge your senior stakeholders. What was most prevalent to Paul was HR's need to stop underestimating the Director part of HRD when it comes to improving HR's relationship with the C Suite. There was a mutual agreement amongst all three panellists that in order to bridge the gap between the HRD and CEO, there is a need for more proactive and candid communication. In summary, to create a valuable and successful affiliation between HR and the CEO, Paul Mills described the need for HR to carry out an almost relentless pursuit, to 'see it, say it, fix it.'

Peter Collingwood followed a little tentatively, (as the only CEO on the panel, it felt a little like he was entering the lion's den.) He began by relaying the stories of Emma, Maureen and Bob, three HR professionals that he had previously worked alongside, who had made a profound impact on business strategy, most notably because of their ability to say no. Talent Management, Leadership Capability and Recruitment were top of Peter's agenda when it came to HR and the development of the business, but what appeared most important from a CEO's perspective were his expectations of HR to coach him through making better decisions. Reflecting on his own career, Peter concluded that for CEO's 'hope is not a strategy' and HR is crucial in pushing the CEO in the right direction. He wrapped up by posing the question, 'How can HR be my worst friend'? to which he answered rather bluntly; 'make me lonely.' As a CEO, with few peers and a thin support structure, Peter claimed to rely heavily upon both his HRD and CFO as trusted advisors, to communicate to him what is really going on within the business.

This idea of a HR as a trusted advisor also resonated Howard's description of the relationship he shared with his CEO at Peel Ports, which he likened to (wait for it...) similar to that of Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in the Body Guard. Jokes aside, in order to maintain a great relationship (which we all agreed instantaneously leads to the success of the business), it is HR's job to watch the CEO's back, and vice versa. HR leaders are now advisers to the board, equipped with a crucial understanding of how to engage the workforce, as well as the ability to form judgements about how individuals, teams and the company perform. Long gone are the days where HR acted as a transactional service, instead it acts as an impactful and strategic partner to the CEO. They therefore need to have a firm understanding of how performance can be achieved and in order to do this HR has to have a greater connection to the business in order to fully embed its value. Interestingly Howard's talk followed a similar thought process, primarily focussing on the importance of understanding the technical aspects of the business strategy; what they do, what they stand for, and to much more intricate specifics, such as language and pace of the business.

However, with the above discussed, there was still a prevailing whisper amongst us as we networked. A couple of individuals that I spoke to questioned the balance of the relationship; if as HR professionals you are expected to grasp the likes of shareholder values, should the CEO get to grips with talent management and ER? We'd love to know your thoughts!

On behalf of the Harvey Nash HR team, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that joined us for what proved to be a truly thought provoking event. (We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!) If you would like any further information about any of our HR events, please feel free to drop me a line at Alternatively you can give the HR Team a call on 0121 717 1910!