When I was invited to lead The HR World Debate, Mike Beesley, CEO at RSG, asked me to think about what made me really passionate about my role. My answer to this is always the same; put simply, I want to help people and businesses grow and to be the best they can be. While I feel that this passion is key to achieving success in HR, over the course of my career I’ve come to believe that perhaps another element plays an even more pivotal role in finding triumph in the industry; that of holding a strong business acumen and great leadership. The rare gems of people I have come across in the HR industry have all held in common a strong understanding of how their organisation works, however all too often HR people can stumble when asked the simple question ‘Do you know how your business makes money?’.

Thinking about my career so far, I have reflected on what various business leaders asked for from their HR departments. I remembered some common goals they had all referred to – ‘strategic HR’, ‘true business partnering’, ‘a seat at the table’ – and as I reflect on whether there is always a common understanding of what this means, and on the trade offs required to move from a transactional HR function to a more strategic one, it didn’t surprise me that a CEB study on HR Operational Efficiency found that, while over 80% of the organisations studied had completed or were undergoing an HR Transformation project, only 16% of completed projects were successful.

When I joined Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) back in 2003, their HR function was the function to be in. It was cutting edge, well structured and resourced – The Ulrich Model at its best. In contrast, I now find myself in a very transactional HR environment at RB (Reckitt Benckiser). I considered the fact that although their HR was fantastic, RBS then went on to face a huge crisis in 2011, which they are still recovering from today; yet RB, for all their transactional HR, continue to be a very successful company. For that reason, I can quite understand why business leaders at companies such as RB might challenge how strategic an HR function they would want. For me the answer is that transactional models have taken us so far; a strategic model will sustain and build our success – it’s the ‘future-proofing’ piece. The question is how will we do it?

When thinking about how HR will develop and what it will look like in the future, I refer to a study by the Hay Group, which concludes that HR is on the cusp of change and will look radically different by 2030. However, just 28% of respondents surveyed felt that their HR practices were in a position to help them to deliver their organisational strategy. Interestingly, business acumen and innovation were deemed the universal competencies required for successful business partnering, so is the real problem here that we are facing a skills gap? How would we honestly rate our team’s capabilities? Perhaps the debate surrounding reactive vs proactive HR is just a pre-cursor to the wider debate of how HR will play a leading role in the transformation of organisations, whilst simultaneously managing its own evolution?

As much as I would like to say that the result of The HR World Debate has been to provide the definitive Holy Grail of guides to implementing a successful HR strategy, of course, this is not the case. However, what I can assure you is that the event brought to light the various experiences, insights and opinions of my peers who are collectively paving the way to a positively perceived, more effective HR. Learning from one another will play a fundamental part in how we evolve and shape the future of HR and, while you may be familiar with some of the methodologies and concepts outlined in this white paper, I hope you will also come across some new ideas that will give you some food for thought on how you structure your HR now and in the future.

- Gillian Fox, Global Director of Talent and OE, RB (Reckitt Benckiser)

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