The last few weeks have placed HR Directors once again in the spotlight. HRDs are juggling a fine balancing act between managing another lock down and working from home with home schooling whilst ensuring the well being and productivity of their employees. This is a particularly challenging time for HR Directors who are already at risk of burn out by the changes in working practices and the unpredictability of HR during the last year.

Alongside overseeing the constant changes to the workplace and as we see a renewed focus on people, talent and management, HR leaders now have a opportunity to become trusted advisors to their CEOs and board. As companies restructure their business to cope with unforeseeable future and changing business demands,  HRDs must grasp this chance to alter how they are seen by the board and, crucially, how they see themselves.

It is at times like these that we see the need for empathy and listening, in order to create a trusting and caring culture. It is of utmost importance for companies to role model compassionate leadership at both a board but also individual manager level.

These attributes are commonly held by HR Directors yet few go onto become CEOs, nor are they usually their CEOs most trusted advisor. This is ironic as the people skills that HRDs are experts in are increasingly critical at every level of the organisation – especially with remote working.

HRDs can help ensure businesses act with a purpose their workforce understands. We will remember the actions of those organisations that did all they could to treat their employees in a respectful and empathetic way during this crisis. C-Suite Executives are beginning to recognise this and are realising the need for broader development opportunities for high potential HR executives.

When working with boards, I encourage them to require high potential HR executives to take strategic project responsibility and stretch roles in other functional areas to develop their commercial awareness and confidence ready for senior and board positions. Without this experience, skillset and language, despite their underlying executive traits, it is unlikely that HR Directors will fulfil their potential – at significant loss to the organisation.

What can HRDs do?

Ambitious HRDs have been upskilling themselves with influencing skills, advanced presentation skills and coaching skills. They are attending more webinars and Master Classes on topics such as “How to become your CEOs most trusted advisor” and “How to link HR initiatives to Revenue/Employee and other financial KPIs.”

And as a result, these HRDs are resonating with their CEOs by linking their people skills, such as explaining the impact of employee isolation for example, to the potential impact on retention, productivity and revenue/employee.

HRDs need to support some of the crucial decisions being made at the moment by truly owning the organisation’s people data and knowing how to use it. HR can support decision making by providing the right numbers and being proactive in seeing new opportunities. If an HRD gives good and correct information to their boards they can turn any new and updated HR processes into business opportunities. For example, remote working opens up the opportunity of sourcing talent internationally. HRDs who recognise this opportunity and can provide cross border insights will be able to help the company recruit the right talent from anywhere.

In a broader context accurate data will help many organisations adapt to change. Lock down restrictions may continue to ebb and flow and companies will have to ramp or scale back on operations accordingly. This is a crucial time for HRDs to ensure they have the right processes in place to ensure their workforce is treated the right way when scaling – both up and down and also have the tools to predict when those changes might have to happen.

Proof is in the numbers

The HRD Pathfinder Club (of senior UK HR directors) conducted a survey at the end of last year, which showed an increase in the last three months of female HRDs being elevated to more senior levels within their business. The results also showed that 47 per cent of HRDs who responded reported a better working relationship with their CEO, and 35 per cent with their CFO.

I am speaking to more HRDs who, as a result of the current turmoil and crisis, have a direct line to the CEO and are seeing a virtuous circle of cause and effect. They are given more support and budget, enabling them to put into practice people initiatives that deliver improved commercial results and enhance the business, allowing for further investment in the workforce.

HRDs can use Covid as an opportunity to be a businessperson first and the people-expert second. The HR function has shown how integral it is to building a company’s culture and purpose.

HR now has a chance to move where it belongs – to the centre of the organisation, ensuring that decisions are guided by the right HR KPIs. That is how to win the support and confidence of your CEO and to become their most trusted advisor.