Leadership roles in HR just got bigger

by External11 Nov 2013

A recent HR benchmarking report in the UK has found that HR’s influence in the workplace and with the C-suite has increased more than 50% over a relatively short period of time. Great news!

The report found that changes in HR leadership as well as improvements in HR systems had led to greater recognition from the top and to the function playing an increased role as a strategic partner. More good news!

Whilst the report was from the UK, anecdotally similar improvements in the HR function’s stature are being experienced locally.
Lacking formal research that Australian HR leaders and their functions are being held in higher esteem, the best evidence is actual outcomes. This month we look at the trend that is seeing HR leaders being asked to step up and take on expanded remits.
Whilst each organisation and its situation is different, some HR executives are being asked to take on functions on top of the traditional HR remit. This is a great indicator that in these businesses the sentiment about the HR function is very positive and ‘on the up’!
There are excellent examples of this trend in some of Australia’s leading ASXlisted organisations, including Leighton Holdings, Mirvac, Stockland and GrainCorp. These businesses have HR leaders who manage much broader remits than the straight HR function.
Dharma Chandran joined the Leighton Group in October 2011 (initially on an interim basis) before being appointed Chief Human Resources Officer in January 2012. Just recently, Dharma has taken on the role of Chief HR and Corporate Services Officer.
In this current role, Dharma has responsibility for the legal and internal communications in addition to the human resources functions for the Group company.
Leighton operates across Australia-Pacific, Asia, India, the Middle East and southern Africa, with a workforce of over 56,000 and a total revenue of $23,127m.
Another example of an HR leader whose remit has expanded is Brad Moore of Mirvac. Mirvac is a leading integrated real estate group listed on the ASX, with a market capitalisation of approx. $5.1bn and revenues of approx. $700m.
Brad joined Mirvac in January 2010 as Group General Manager Human Resources. In January this year, he was appointed to the role of Group Executive, Services. In this role, he overseas human resources, information technology, procurement, health, safety and environment, sustainability, project management office and group facilities.
Further examples of HR leaders with expanded remits are Heather Miles of GrainCorp and Michael Rosmarin of Stockland.
Michael joined Stockland in July 2010 as Executive General Manager, Human Resources. In 2012, he took on the position of Group Executive, Strategy and Human Resources, and he was recently promoted into his current role of Chief Operating Officer.
Heather’s remit was expanded from day one when she was appointed General Manager Corporate Services in November 2010 for the ASX-listed GrainCorp. In her role, Heather is responsible for human resources, company risk, insurance, legal, company secretarial and sustainability.
It’s an interesting question to look at why this trend is playing out and the background to it.
Clearly, all four of the executives have demonstrated their capability to drive outcomes that are not just HR related. But how?
Whilst each situation is different, in the four examples cited there is one clear observable common factor. Each of these leaders has significant career experience outside of HR. Does this make a difference? An emphatic yes is the view of Dharma and Brad.
Dharma is very much of the view that HR professionals who take on roles and challenges outside of HR for a period of time provide themselves with rich, educational and valuable experience.
This experience often serves them well in their future careers, giving them the confidence and capability to manage other functions as well as HR.
So how does an HR professional get line experience? In Brad’s view, one of the keys is having a sponsor. A sponsor might be an MD or C-suite executive who has seen demonstrated commercial delivery in the HR function and, on the back of this, offers an opportunity to move into a line role. In Brad’s view, it’s crucial to have that sponsorship.
Other strategies to obtain line experience include volunteering for cross-functional projects, undertaking formal study in business management, and working with a mentor.
Whilst it makes sense that line experience will offer great career options, the vast majority in the HR profession are very reluctant to step outside the function as a career growth strategy.
In the most recent HR Viewpoint Survey managed by The Next Step, 3,000 HR professionals voiced their views. The survey found less than 5% of HR professionals were attracted to move into a line role and thought such a move was their best professional development strategy. Mind snapping!
It’s great to see that in some leading Australian organisations HR leaders are contributing at such a demonstrable level that they are being asked to take on broader remits. It’s a great story for HR and those following behind these leaders in the profession, but what’s the key message? Take every opportunity to obtain experience outside of the HR function. This simple strategy seems to have worked for these HR leaders.
Craig Mason is the Managing Director of The Next Step, a specialist consulting practice in the human resources market. For more information, call (02) 8256 2500 or email cmason@thenextstep.com.au. Website: www.thenextstep.com.au


  • by Wayne Gobert 20/11/2013 9:30:58 PM

    A very positive sign of the ever growing impact of People & Culture on business. Interesting to see the gradual evolution of a more strategic style of HR person and CEO's who get the human connection.