CIPD09: Leading the HR function


   I was hoping to see Warner Burke this morning, but he seems to have disappeared off the programme, so instead I’m with Kevin White from the Home Office and Stephen Lehane from Alliance Boots talking about HR leadership.

White has conducted his own mini-survey of 70 current and future leaders in civil service HR.

Some of the quotes from the survey relating to how HR leadership is perceived today include:

  • You have to have the balls
  • A sense of humour is essential
  • Business first, HR second
  • Psycho-babble misinterpreted as knowledge
  • Saying ‘no’ whilst offering options
  • A high IQ is helpful
  • Trying to please too much
  • Inspirational and passionate
  • Ignorance translated into chaos
  • All mouth and no trousers.


You’ll know from my previous posts that I have concerns over this “business first, HR second” thing.  But I thought White expressed it nicely: We earn the right to set at the table through our expertise, but we need to get better at understanding the wider organisation to understand how to apply HR solutions.

Other thoughts:

  • Senior leaders of HR may be better coming from outside of the function, but you need some structure around this
  • HR makes great number 2s to their CEOs (people who are determined to be #1 may not be flexible enough (it’s not about you).


   Lehane suggests the following attributes:

  • Positive dissatisfaction
  • Leading for what you care about
  • Big relationships
  • Understanding the ‘real system’
  • Building demand
  • Active engagement
  • Avoid HR
  • Deliver the basics
  • Enrol your Personal Support team.


Relationships are of course the area I’m suggesting all leaders need to focus on.  Lehane is asking about how do you make your relationships bigger and deeper?  “Think about your worst relationship and work on it.  You’ve got to invest in it to develop your ability to get things done.”

His point on building demand links to this as well.  HR needs to support things bur it needs to stand for things and lead things as well.  It needs to be bold and confident.  It shouldn’t be about selling products.  “If you need to work on getting buy-in, you’re not sufficiently embedded in your organisation, you don’t really understand what’s going on.”




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  • jon  [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com


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    I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).


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