Tea with Linda Holbeche: The Authority of HR

The other day I had the pleasure to meet and talk with Linda Holbeche. I have read Linda’s stuff over the years and was not disappointed to hear her views in person. She was such a positive and enthusiastic person, with clear commitment to women in general and HR in particular – to both being the most powerful contribution they can be. She was talking about developing leadership for sustainable futures, how tricky it is to “close the gap” on identified development needs and on how to encourage all in HR to move towards a strategic and OD-oriented mind-set. Strategic problem solving seems key to moving businesses forward in a useful way in these critical and changing times.

We discussed where we thought HR was going and what was missing in the profession these days. We shared views on how the development of an HR professional who has only operated from the role of HR, i.e. one of indirect influence in an organisation is almost inevitably flawed. Key aspects of personal strength, powers of influence and leadership, only truly comes forth and fully develops when exposed and challenged from a position of having direct accountability for an area of business. Linda seemed to be coming from the angle of working with many HR people and the CIPD specifically. I was coming from my experience working with the careers and personal development of hundreds of managers and professionals.

We discussed the role of ‘accountability’ as I see this is a powerful tool that totally transforms the context for individuals. Accountability gives the individual a position of authority, from which any leadership or communication – requests or invitations for instance, land with more of a force than if coming from a position of advice or opinion. My suggestion was that each HR person takes accountability for some aspect that the business considers:

a) Isn’t working so well right now and
b) Is critical to future success and fulfilment of current strategy.

This could be “quality of people management”, “quality of new hires” or “strategic use of talent” for instance. If you own this as your job, you will have very different conversations than if you are “advising,” “guiding” or “enabling” such matters. It will still be your job to ensure you have business buy-in, that your plans are realistic, practical, relevant and agreeable to all the key stakeholders. And it will be your problem if you don’t get your targeted results. But you will have more power, more authority and more fun in the process!

We discussed a lot more, some of which may result in at least one or two new online development tools being developed……. watch this space!!

Elva Ainsworth


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