Taking HR's holistic view to the top job

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HRDs' skills aren't replicated anywhere else in the organisation

It was a natural switch for me to move from HR director to CEO, but I appreciate that’s not the case for everyone. In HR I have always supported and advised others in their decision-making, so realised I could lead the business myself. So when approached to head up the JC Bully Group I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

I had been offered a COO job in the past that hadn’t come to fruition, but in hindsight I think that allowed me to set my sights on the role I really wanted. Quite often HRDs move sideways before moving up but I don’t believe that should, or needs to be, the case.

It wasn’t a shock to the system either; there are so many parts of the HRD’s role that have helped me when transitioning. The length and breadth of experience that you get from having worked in HR is enormous – understanding the business from the ground up is key to being a great HRD.

The hardest part is taking care not to get dragged back into HR; partly because I love it, but also because the people that knew me as HRD struggle to see me wearing my new hat. Confidence to move on and exert your new skillset is imperative to not going backwards. I’ve arrived equipped with the skills to deal with anything the CEO role throws at me.

However, it still isn’t a straightforward path to the top. HR suffers from negative perceptions in many traditional businesses – although those firms are generally being disrupted by technology, and are being forced to rethink the value of HR’s role in finding entrepreneurial talent to bring to an organisation. This is especially true for start-ups.

Shockingly, I was once told that my HR department performed the role of the ‘police’ within the organisation. With those kinds of perceptions it’s not difficult to see why so many HRDs struggle to move into the CEO role. In my case it just made me more resolute to prove the value that HR brings.

People in an organisation add a dimension that is hard to replicate. HR is often overlooked and unrepresented at board level because of this ridiculously outdated view.

But I believe things are changing. With technological disruption comes change. And the flux is an opportunity to raise the profile of HR within organisations, especially when it comes to finding talent. HRDs must contribute at every level in the business; demonstrating value and being recognised for that. Having confidence and belief in what you contribute as well as a proven track record will move you to the next level.

HRDs’ skills aren’t replicated anywhere else in an organisation – they’re all about engagement, understanding what people want from work, how they are motivated by the role that they have and what makes them tick. In turn that means you have a better appreciation of what makes the business tick too. Process often gets in the way, but those people who can see the value of getting an extra 5% to 10% out of people by allowing them to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work will make the difference between an OK and a hugely successful business.

There is simply no other department or role that has the same holistic view of the organisation – a key USP when interviewing for the CEO role.

Julia Marsan is CEO of JC Bully Group

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