HR Heads – The Business Leaders of Tomorrow

Human resource management is a function that deals with essential organizational processes like manpower hiring, motivating and maintaining a workforce competency development, rewards and recognition, change management, Organizational transformation and overall performance enhancement of the workforce. It is that department which deals the most with people, understanding them, empathizing and motivating them and ensuring optimum performance from them along with aligning their vision with that of the organizations so as to propel the growth of the business.

In an era, wherein human resource department should be considered as the most important part of an organization; paradoxically strategic human resource has become an oxymoron, which is to say that in the contemporary corporate scenario, more often than not, an HR professional is stereotyped as a support staff, merely a department that works on ordinary administrative activities. To put it more precisely, it is never perceived as the one “having a seat at the table”, “being a trusted advisor”, “being included in the key business initiatives”. More than often it is typecasted as function serving the role of a postman immersed in clerical jobs and is never the one in the driving seat or the one being entrusted with key decision making.

In the Indian Corporate world, the HR function is plagued with the belief that anyone can become an HR professional. The responsibilities of HR are considered so menial that the top management always tends to fill up the positions with mere coordinators and not planners. Ironically, HR recruitment is done without putting much of an effort to find the right person who can provide the strategic impetus which can make HR function operate and deliver far better results. This entire phenomenon has translated into a perception battle and HR professionals need to showcase themselves as the problem solvers of the organization and not just end up being the ‘admin’ function. A dire need for 360degree change in HR recruitment and operation is the need of the hour. Competent people with the right functional skills need to be infused in this vertical so that they have a better understanding of the business and can contribute qualitatively.

With a rise of knowledge-based industries in the last fifteen years, wherein the companies are relatively intensive in their inputs of human capital, human resource department is bound to play a key role. It needs to move away from a support or administrative function to become much more of a game changer and the department who enables the business strategy. An HR professional has a discerning eye for substantial talents and also has an ability that is needed to nurture the prowess of talented employees in the interest of the organization. So in coeval times, when the people have become a key asset of organizations, managing them in the best manner is a challenge which only a leader with HR background can take up. Ideally, given the understanding of the human resources, the CHRO should be the second in command to CEO operating as the de facto CEO and if a situation arises, he should be in a position to succeed the CEO and deliver.

There is an insightful research by Filler and Ulrich, which depicts a scrutinized study of organizational assessments to CXO executives over more than a decade. They examined 14 aspects of leadership, divided into three categories: style of leadership, or how leaders approach the tasks and want to be perceived in the groups; thought process, or how they approach situations in private; and emotional intelligence, or how they deal with facets like ambivalence, work pressure, and risk. The researchers then analyzed the frequency of finding such traits in the different types of working executives and compared the results.

Their analysis derives a conclusion that is essential for organizations to perceive. The similarity in the traits of Chief Operations Officer with the Chief Executive Officer was obviously discernible because their roles and responsibilities are often similar and overlap with each other. But apart from that, the executives whose traits coincided the most with those of CEO happened to be the Chief Human Resources Officer. The observation is unpredictable and leads to an essential realization that CHRO should play a pivotal part in the business strategy and become future business leaders and so more organizations should consider CHROs when looking to fill the position of CEO.

In the modern economy, wherein recruiting the correct employees, creating a great organizational structure, and incorporating the right working culture would be considered as the essential tasks for business strategy, a profound experience as a CHRO would make a leader more likely to succeed at those tasks.

Mary Bara the current CEO of general motors had started with an engineering internship at a manufacturing plant, and continued working for General Motors for the most part of her life till she becomes vice president of global human resources from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently became the CEO in January 2014. When Burger King was owned by Grand Metropolitan which is now known as Diageo, Nigel Travis became the head of HR, and two years later, he had filled the position of the managing director of EMEA. From 2005 to 2008, he was the president of CEO of Papa John’s International, Inc. In 2009, he became CEO of Dunkin’ Brands Group. Anne Mulcahy (CEO of Xerox) Bernard Fontana (CEO of Areva) are other such examples where the HR head successfully took over the business and delivered excellent results.

Analysing the above facts that are comprised of the insights on the qualities needed in tomorrow’s business leaders, it can be inferred that, the qualities like sagacity, having a discerning eye and deep knowledge of human resources would be sacrosanct. These qualities are inherent in a CHRO and that makes up for the fact that a Human Resource leader can become a future business leader.