All change! Developments in HR leadership.

Published: 18 April 2012

Are changing trends in senior HR recruitment leading to a higher level of risk aversion in candidate selection?  Are professionals choosing more linear career paths in terms of sector?  Will we continue to see innovation in workforce and talent management without greater diversity in the nature of senior appointments? 

These are all valid questions that are being asked more and more frequently by those in the know about trends in HR leadership.  There is without doubt a greater appreciation of the role of Human Resources in pursuit of strategic goals.  As such, the visibility of HR posts within organisations is growing exponentially and their input to the corporate agenda is increasingly dynamic and high profile.  However, whilst these are all positive developments, thought may need to be given to the scope and breadth of talent that organisations seek to attract. 

Debbie Sutton, Managing Partner of Berwick Partner’s Human Resources division offers her observations on current trends;

“When I first started out in HR recruitment some 14 years ago, the ubiquitous question about candidates was “have they worked with the unions or not?” Things have changed dramatically since then.  Nowadays, clients often have a very sophisticated appreciation of the skills mix they require.  They really understand the strategic trajectory that HR will need to impact upon and they are highly discerning about what that means from an experience perspective.

Naturally I welcome this.  However, sometimes there can be a little too much clarity and clients are not necessarily willing to consider talented individuals who have come from other sectors.  I definitely feel that moving candidates across diverse businesses has become far more difficult.  

Instinct tells me that because the demands on HR to be ‘in the business’ have increased, there is a tremendous focus on commercial nous and functional knowledge.  In order for clients to feel comfortable in matching candidates to their organisation at short list stage, they view sector experience as a pre-requisite.  This attitude stymies me as a headhunter thinking laterally about where candidates might come from.  It also denies my clients the opportunity that diversity can bring to any business; a richness of creativity, a different expertise coupled with fresh thinking.

Clearly there are still examples of sectorally diverse senior HR appointments.  There is a recent case study of a very strong candidate being taken out of a Professional Services environment and placed in an Energy company as their new Talent Director.  There is also a current example of a Healthcare professional moving to Leisure as Human Resources Director.  On the face of it these are great, left field appointments, but actually when I dig down into the CV, the previous experience does cross match – either the internal customer is not that dissimilar; professional/well educated or the business challenges are similar; driving a customer service ethos across a large multi-site estate.

The outlook is not negative.  Far from it!  I am hugely enthusiastic about how my clients are realising the potential of HR as a business tool, particularly in these economically difficult times.  However, I am also realistic that in order to attract the calibre of candidates that they desire, clients will need to think broadly about who they are hiring into their HR leadership roles and perhaps understand the wealth of skills that can be found outside their particular sector.”

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