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We Ask the Experts

What makes a
good HR leader?

Fujitsu Murphy MHR Premier Foods Astrazeneca

From managing the employee life cycle, training up and developing employees and looking after areas such as talent attraction, engagement and retention, HR plays a core role in the workplace. It is a role that was viewed as particularly integral in the coronavirus pandemic, as the function played a central role in supporting both staff and the business.

In fact, Sage’s 'HR in the moment: Changing expectations and perceptions of HR' report found that 72% of HR leaders said that the pandemic has increased their value and wider understanding of their role across the business. In addition, 59% felt that they are now playing a more influential role in the organisation. While, it is clear that HR plays a core role in organisations, what exactly makes a good HR leader?

While every HR honcho will likely have their own perception of what makes a good leader, this is the very question we put to our Advisory Board experts. With responses ranging from good leadership to showing empathy, and demonstrating a commitment learning, read what the experts had to say below.

Jason Fowler,

VP, HR Director,
Fujitsu

“You must be a business leader in your own right, with a thorough understanding of your business, who then happens to have a people specialism. This means knowing your market through spending time with your customers, your competitors and analysts, and using this knowledge to guide your thinking and the purpose of your department.

“You also must be someone who accepts they’re a work in progress and be demonstrably committed to learning – both by seeking and acting on feedback, and by always making sure you practice what you preach to the business in your own work and personal life.”

 

Jason Fowler,

VP, HR Director,
Fujitsu

“You must be a business leader in your own right, with a thorough understanding of your business, who then happens to have a people specialism. This means knowing your market through spending time with your customers, your competitors and analysts, and using this knowledge to guide your thinking and the purpose of your department.

“You also must be someone who accepts they’re a work in progress and be demonstrably committed to learning – both by seeking and acting on feedback, and by always making sure you practice what you preach to the business in your own work and personal life.”

 

Dawn Moore,

Group People and Communications Director, Murphy

“Increasingly in organisations, very few of the things that make great HR leaders have much to do with technical HR capability. For example, being able to demonstrate a high degree of commerciality and being able to directly correlate and quantify the impact of HR activity on an organisation’s success is key.

“Secondly, while what an HR leader delivers is obviously important, even more important is how that is done. Great HR leaders become respected members of executive teams by delivering with conviction, mutually respectful collaboration, consistency, and accuracy.

“Similarly, HR leaders, more than any other, need to be seen as role models, particularly of the values of the organisation. Great HR leaders communicate with transparency and honesty. They also think constantly about their audience and the best way of interacting with them.

“Finally, great HR leaders add real value to the businesses they work for and with. They take time to truly understand what a business is trying to achieve, its values and its culture. This allows them to ensure HR activity is truly relevant to that particular organisation.”

Dawn Moore,

Group People and Communications Director, Murphy

“Increasingly in organisations, very few of the things that make great HR leaders have much to do with technical HR capability. For example, being able to demonstrate a high degree of commerciality and being able to directly correlate and quantify the impact of HR activity on an organisation’s success is key.

“Secondly, while what an HR leader delivers is obviously important, even more important is how that is done. Great HR leaders become respected members of executive teams by delivering with conviction, mutually respectful collaboration, consistency, and accuracy.

“Similarly, HR leaders, more than any other, need to be seen as role models, particularly of the values of the organisation. Great HR leaders communicate with transparency and honesty. They also think constantly about their audience and the best way of interacting with them.

“Finally, great HR leaders add real value to the businesses they work for and with. They take time to truly understand what a business is trying to achieve, its values and its culture. This allows them to ensure HR activity is truly relevant to that particular organisation.”

Jeanette Wheeler,

Chief HR Officer,
MHR International

“In today’s world, a good HR leader should champion empathy as their superpower and storytelling as their special skill. These strengths enable HR leaders to take a balanced view of the many experiences and needs of the business and its people, whilst also being able to influence and speak to each business area in a language which resonates with them to drive the business forward. Through storytelling, an HR leader can unite each area of the organisation behind a shared language and narrative, whilst also conveying the experiences of others effectively when recommending strategy or action to other leaders.

“HR leaders can use this storytelling skill to increase their effectiveness at Board-level by relating employee experience to leaders who may not be as in tune with the people part of the business – meaning they can be more effective in their role and continue to drive forward HR’s presence at Board-level – influencing stakeholders through this empathy and storytelling in a way which benefits all corners of the organisation.”

 

Jeanette Wheeler,

Chief HR Officer,
MHR International

“In today’s world, a good HR leader should champion empathy as their superpower and storytelling as their special skill. These strengths enable HR leaders to take a balanced view of the many experiences and needs of the business and its people, whilst also being able to influence and speak to each business area in a language which resonates with them to drive the business forward. Through storytelling, an HR leader can unite each area of the organisation behind a shared language and narrative, whilst also conveying the experiences of others effectively when recommending strategy or action to other leaders.

“HR leaders can use this storytelling skill to increase their effectiveness at Board-level by relating employee experience to leaders who may not be as in tune with the people part of the business – meaning they can be more effective in their role and continue to drive forward HR’s presence at Board-level – influencing stakeholders through this empathy and storytelling in a way which benefits all corners of the organisation.”

 

David Wilkinson,

Group HR Director,
Premier Foods

“A brilliant HR leader needs to be more than just a functional expert – they must be someone who can understand their team and find a mutual balance for everyone. This often boils down to three key values:

  • “Be commercially aware and business savvy. Understand the strategic priorities of your organisation, and how the people agenda can help to achieve them. Be visible to your team, and confident in the purpose of your function.
  • “Broaden your understanding. Get exposure across several HR disciplines to widen your perspective. If you can, try to spend time outside of the function, especially in a line management role, so that you can accumulate varied experiences.
  • “Develop great influencing skills. So much of HR requires us to be able to influence complex situations with diverse teams and stakeholders, who sometimes have conflicting priorities. Being able to navigate this and find mutually beneficial outcomes is key to being a strong leader.”

David Wilkinson,

Group HR Director,
Premier Foods

“A brilliant HR leader needs to be more than just a functional expert – they must be someone who can understand their team and find a mutual balance for everyone. This often boils down to three key values:

  • “Be commercially aware and business savvy. Understand the strategic priorities of your organisation, and how the people agenda can help to achieve them. Be visible to your team, and confident in the purpose of your function.
  • “Broaden your understanding. Get exposure across several HR disciplines to widen your perspective. If you can, try to spend time outside of the function, especially in a line management role, so that you can accumulate varied experiences.
  • “Develop great influencing skills. So much of HR requires us to be able to influence complex situations with diverse teams and stakeholders, who sometimes have conflicting priorities. Being able to navigate this and find mutually beneficial outcomes is key to being a strong leader.”

Maggie Spong,

Vice President Talent Acquisition,
AstraZeneca

“Successful HR professionals build relationships across the entire business and collaborate with purpose. It’s about developing people and being a strong coach who can manage expectations, prioritise rigorously and listen strongly. Leaders look forward, analyse best practice and use their knowledge of the business to balance evolving needs with the latest trends.

“Furthermore, leaders who foster a culture that champions diversity and collaboration can more effectively support colleagues to perform at their best. Creating a psychologically safe environment empowers people to be their authentic self and challenge conventional thinking, ultimately leading to greater innovation. This way of working is called ‘inclusive leadership’ and at AstraZeneca we aim to model inclusive leadership at every career level, to cultivate a strong sense of belonging. As an HR leader, encouraging others to seek and value differences will help to achieve both individual and business goals.”

 

Maggie Spong,

Vice President Talent Acquisition,
AstraZeneca

“Successful HR professionals build relationships across the entire business and collaborate with purpose. It’s about developing people and being a strong coach who can manage expectations, prioritise rigorously and listen strongly. Leaders look forward, analyse best practice and use their knowledge of the business to balance evolving needs with the latest trends.

“Furthermore, leaders who foster a culture that champions diversity and collaboration can more effectively support colleagues to perform at their best. Creating a psychologically safe environment empowers people to be their authentic self and challenge conventional thinking, ultimately leading to greater innovation. This way of working is called ‘inclusive leadership’ and at AstraZeneca we aim to model inclusive leadership at every career level, to cultivate a strong sense of belonging. As an HR leader, encouraging others to seek and value differences will help to achieve both individual and business goals.”

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