I had a really interesting chat with a former colleague today. We spoke about the HR profession in general and whether it could benefit from a focused effort on seconding HR professionals out to the business. I have been recruiting into HR for over ten years. In my experience, some of the best HR people that I have interviewed have either come from the business and moved into HR or they have taken a secondment to gain more credibility as an HR professional.
At the last CIPD event that I went to, there were a couple of talks about HR needing to be `more commercial`. That drum has been beaten for a long time but it is probably still true to some degree. HR has become much better at demonstrating a return on investment but there is still a shortage of HR Directors on the main board of companies. A lot of HR people will struggle to find their way around a set of business accounts. This may play a part in the lack of main board appointments, but as a key business resource is usually it’s people, surely HR should have a seat at the table?
If you look at most of the senior players in HR, the majority have gained solid experience out in the business. Quite often they have fallen into HR from other positions. Seldom have they started life as a junior HR professional and moved up the ladder. If HR professionals want to take a leap forward in their careers they might do well to push for a secondment to another part of the business.
While most HR Recruitment Consultants do not take the CIPD qualifications I took the personal decision to fund this course myself as I thought that it would give me more credibility with my own clients. It was a very interesting exercise and I found that it was the modules that focused on more commercial studies where my fellow students struggled (they gave me a lot of help with other modules!).
Perhaps the CIPD should offer chartered status to HR professionals that can demonstrate experience of working out in the business. Might this help HR gain greater credibility as a profession?
If you hold a senior role in HR, would you be prepared to send a member of your team out into the business to work in, for example, operations? There is of course, always the risk that they might not return to HR, but from what I have seen this does not tend to happen. Businesses that do promote this approach have an HR function with strong relationships with their client groups and typically are more respected by the business as a result. You might lose a good HR person for 6-12 months but you should get far more in return when they come back to HR.
I spoke to a candidate last week who said that where possible, she always encourages her employers to let her spend time on the frontline of a business whenever she moves to a new role. She has a lot of interest from a variety of businesses that want to try and hire her and I am not surprised. I think that her approach is to be commended. I know that a lot of HR Directors support their team’s endeavours in getting to know a business properly. This is however, not always the case sadly. The pressure of a busy HR function that is fighting to keep on top of their workload does not always make this possible. Even a very short secondment can be regarded as a luxury.
We could apply this to a lot of other professions but HR is one that relies on understanding people as well as the business drivers. If HR people are given an opportunity to experience the frontline of a business then surely they will better understand its challenges and its needs. This would have a positive impact on a variety of HR initiatives.
My clients will have to be the final judges but I believe that studying the CIPD has made me a more effective and credible recruiter. I certainly have far more empathy with HR and the challenges that the profession faces as a result. I just wonder if a secondment could have the same positive effect for HR professionals. I would love to hear how your organisation helps HR to gain business experience. Is this something that you encourage or have experienced? If you can share your thoughts, it would be great to get your views and perhaps I could share some best practice in a future article. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts or leave a comment below.