Invaluable HR

Invaluable HR

Sandy Begbie, Chief Operations Officer for Standard Life plc, summary of how HR Directors and CEOs can build a successful value-adding relationship

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I am very lucky to have a close working relationship with my chief executive officer (CEO), who is passionate about the people agenda. But I have worked in roles in the past where that hasn’t always been the case. Many of my peers often bemoan their CEO, who struggles to see the value in the People function. 

At a recent KPMG breakfast event, I participated in a discussion on how HR Directors and CEOs can build a successful value-adding relationship to the organisation’s benefit. My advice can be summarised into the following key points:   

1) Know your audience

HR Directors need to be smart about how they engage their senior colleagues, and be confident enough to adapt their approach to suit different stakeholders. Some colleagues will naturally need to see the data or analytics which substantiates your position. Others are more concerned with process (‘how will we get this done?’), or focus on how to win the hearts and minds of employees.

2) Watch your language 

I wonder how much stakeholders judge HR because it is called HR and not the People function. If you talk about people, it removes the historical connotations of being a transactional, process-focused function. Some of the typical HR terminology that we use (such as ‘partners’) adds a formality to the relationship between HR and the business. In actual fact, we are a part of that business, not separate to it.  

3) Use data and analytics to maximum effect 

Most senior teams I’ve worked with always use facts and evidence to inform decision making and this should apply to people-related decisions. Whilst HR is historically a ‘soft’ discipline, the rise of data and technology means that we have an unprecedented opportunity to use hard evidence and facts for people decisions. Using this data to demonstrate the relationships between people initiatives and business outcomes is extremely powerful for business leaders, and immediately places you more strategically.  

4) Promote Board effectiveness

I spend time working with the Chairman, the CEO, and other board members, including Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) - on their effectiveness as a senior team. Providing this advice gives you permission to be a ‘trusted advisor’ at that level. We have also worked on developing a very in-depth induction programme for our NEDs, which demonstrates the business understanding of the People function.  

5) Focus on development, setting the tone at the top  

As an organisation we have a strong focus on development at every level. I work with each Board executive to develop a detailed, stretching development plans This strong focus on individual development sets the tone at the top, and flows down through the layers of the business. 

6) Be the eyes and ears 

I strongly believe that HR has a key role to play as a risk function, acting as the organisation’s conscience. As part of this, we can be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the CEO, and often ask the questions of the CEO that no-one else wants to. We need to ensure the culture of the organisation is driving the right behaviours. And in instances where this isn’t the case – take steps to understand why, and address it. 

 I believe there has never been a better time for People professionals to engage their CEOs and add true, measurable value to the business.

Sandy Begbie, Chief Operations Officer, Standard Life plc. Sandy has recently joined the Client Advisory Board of KPMG’s P³ - People Powered Performance team in a Non Executive Director capacity. 

This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.

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