Hiring a Head of HR? What competencies are REALLY important?

Musings from TMCG’s Chief HRologist- Sarajane Mackenzie

There has been much written about what attributes a Head of Human Resource needs in order to help companies and other organizations to be successful in this ever-changing landscape. Most of the articles are referring to CHROs at large corporations where they must have the agility to leap from mountain top to mountain top, have the ability to understand and use business analytics like a CIO, and must have a global perspective and global business understanding like a CEO. No wonder it is so demanding when you are in one of those positions.

So, what about the majority of businesses and organizations? 99.9% of American businesses for example, have fewer than 500 employees. While they also need super women and super men to lead their HR function, I could argue that there are different nuances to the key competencies, that should be considered when hiring these highly important positions. Here are 3 to consider:

  1. Business Advisor & Strategist Even in a small company, the Head of HR whether they are a Manager, Director, VP or SVP, needs to understand the business or organization, where it is today and where everyone wants the organization to be in 3 years’ time. They must be able to understand how the HR function can support that growth or change and be able to execute on that vision. This requires business confidence, deep knowledge of the ever-evolving HR function, and the ability to see both the big picture and the here-and-now. They must be able to telescope in and out.
  2. People Expert You want a person in this role that has a deep understanding of people, really diverse humanity. And with that, understanding what makes everyone “tick”, what motivates them to do their best work, how are the various people going to work as a team, and how are the teams going to work across the business? How are the managers managing? This is both a “Heart & Mind” attribute, since the more your HR Head can understand the emotional side of people the more insight they will have. People after all are not widgets. So high emotional IQ and some life wisdom needed, even if they are young.
  3. Brave Champion To do this job well you need someone who can exhibit managerial courage, who can stand up and speak out when they think something is wrong for the business and for people. The HR Head needs to be able to be a “People Advocate”. They need to model this behavior so everyone at all levels understand how they should act and react in certain situations. This is true whether it is harassment or unfair labor practices and everything in between. Since they are both a Strategist and a People Expert, they should be able to explain why a course of action, big or small, isn’t ideal or perhaps downright wrong. They can help the organization wade through the waters of change and up the embankments. When other executives exhibit less confidence, the HR Head can lead by example. Without having “grit” it is tough to lead the HR function well, since there are so many opportunities to take the path of least resistance.

So, at smaller companies and organizations I would say that it is less about being an international Chess Master moving pieces in a well thought out manner throughout the globe, and more about being a hands-on HR Master. An “HR Master” would understand themselves, others, organizational dynamics and the implications and application of that knowledge. A tall order for a great position!

The Mackenzie Consulting Group

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