Saturday, 24 March 2012

Is The Quality of HR Senior Leadership in Decline?

Neil Roden, ex-RBS, suggests in a PM article that the quality of HR senior leadership is declining. Apart from the factors mentioned in the article, there are several other reasons to support this perception:

HR’s influence on strategy has weakened during the recession. Lay-offs undermine trust and confidence. The function has not been seen to address governance issues in high profile corporate failures. The inability to say “No”, to hold a position under pressure or manage the politics of the boardroom seems diminished.

The media supports this theme. Extra cash for guaranteed attendance during the London 2012 Olympics is interpreted as a failure to plan ahead and negotiate wisely. Inadequate staff numbers in the NHS and education reflects poor HR policy implementation.

Perception is not necessarily reality.

Some HR leaders have a significant impact on the future success of their businesses. They have CEOs who trust their judgement and back their actions especially on “difficult” issues. They demonstrate courage, have superb influencing skills and are visible even during tough times. Critically, they all have corporate OD responsibility.

Perhaps Roden should not be too surprised. Shareholders want board members to demonstrate good governance across the whole business rather than just offering individual functional insight.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


I have just finished my latest assignment and have been working for Pyramid ODI in four very different countries and cultures during the last year. Three special traits stand out in the memory.

Passionate lawyers – not a combo we would normally expect, but in this charity, helping a minority group, their dedication was infectious.

Knowing to say “No” – learning to reject bad business. An engineering order book that is full of nasty surprises; throwing away customers and profit. Can they learn fast enough?

Know what you do not know – a guy with the self-awareness and humility to recognise that the strategic change project had grown way beyond his current skill set. Willing to learn; he will succeed.

What is “extra-ordinary” at your company?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


Most of us enjoy a good joke. And, of course, the secret of good comedy is timing. Every weekend, you will also hear at least one sports commentator say that someone “showed perfect timing” or “makes time” when they achieved something out of the ordinary. Do we recognise that the same is true in business?

I recently sat in on a three-day Kaizen event. The objective was to identify areas of potential improvement by firstly mapping their key process – usually a fantastic technique.

The timing of the event, relative to the organization’s urgent need to deliver some high-value orders to key customers, appeared odd. Other actions, to mitigate risk and improve gross margin, were also put on hold.

In closing the event, the sponsor signalled that it may take two years to complete the process redesign, but left no guidance as to how this should happen. Chaos may ensue. Customers may continue to complain. Orders will be late. Is a perfectly good business, with hard working employees and a strong brand, being put at risk?

Did this experienced leader get it wrong? He was new to this business. His portfolio included many other plants serving other markets. He only spent a few days visiting before making an intuitive decision - what worked elsewhere should work here.

Before his “part-time” appointment to the role, his superiors invested little time in assessing the situation or the needs of the individuals involved. Collectively, they failed to complete an honest “Root Cause Analysis” of the issues.

This is a specific example, but I fear it is not unique. Executives must be seen to act decisively. If they are remote from the action, they simply do not know what they do not know. They must “make time” for old fashioned problem analysis if they want to achieve the extra-ordinary.

Was the executive’s intuition correct? Time will tell, but what do you think? Was the timing of the initiative poor? Is process improvement always more urgent than satisfying customers and delivering current commitments on time?