17th February 2020

In Defence of HR

We truly believe that great HR people play an important role in generating value in their organisations through the levers of people performance. There are plenty of examples of CHROs making a huge impact on organisational performance. And we’ve also been outspoken in saying HR people in general need to step up, be more visible in how they are creating value for the business.

While there are still too many HR people who are all about HR and not the business, the problem is, even the most commercially oriented HR leaders fail to break through for reasons other than their own skill and influence and having great commercially aligned HR processes.

Holding HR Back from Maximising Performance

It isn’t all on HR if 60+% of people are less than fully engaged at work (according to The Gallup Organisation). The behaviours of some CEOs and organisational leaders make it difficult to get the people agenda moving forward consistently. It’s understood that People Performance is just as important as Financial Performance.  Though, clearly some leaders haven’t got the memo yet.

People and Culture Manifests from The Top

There are CEOs and senior leaders who have behaviours and practices that make great people performance near impossible. So, we’ve just picked four of the most common for this post.

1. Wanting to be Liked

In the words of Brené Brown “Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unfair.” A senior leader not wanting to rock the boat is simply deflection for a lack of courage to deal with the situation. Whether its performance or behaviour, too many senior leaders don’t take responsibility and deal with their people problems.

Sure, HR can provide counsel to make sure a performance situation is handled in a way that maintains dignity, is fair and meets the letter of the law. However, if every leader has the courage and accepts the responsibility of acting early and effectively the time of the HR Leader can be deployed to work that creates more value.

2. Not a Team Player 

Teams are the basic units of organisational life and the ultimate competitive advantage. Organisational performance is simply a reflection of the level of alignment within teams and between teams. So, teams are the fastest, most effective way to operationalise culture and values. However, in most organisations “team” is simply a collective noun for a group of people with the same boss. Most teams aren’t teams. Most ‘exec teams’ are really a bunch of brains in a room run as a review committee.

To be a Team there needs to be high levels of trust and a clear reason or purpose for the team to exist. Members must put their responsibility for the team ahead of any individual, business unit or functional responsibility. The behaviours of high functioning teams are hard to learn and take time to embed, and few senior leaders are willing to make the time, emotional and financial investments to create real teamwork in their own team let alone across the organisation.

3. Paying Lip Service to Culture

Culture, it’s all the rage, and with good reason. It’s hard to find any senior leader who disagrees with Peter Drucker that, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” But that’s what they say. If you added up the collective hours spent on ‘strategy’ by senior leaders in your organisation would it be more or less than the number of hours dedicated to working on culture?

Culture at its core is all about the collective habits and behaviours of employees brought to life in how they treat each other and how they treat customers and suppliers. Culture is about relationships. Sadly for many leaders that’s a quagmire of ‘soft stuff’ into which they are unequipped, uninterested or unwilling to invest time, resources and emotion.

4. Unwilling to Invest in People

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that most organisations spend more money on hiring people than they do on developing the people they already have. It’s a rare thing to hear “keep that leadership program going, we will find savings in other places”. There’s never enough money to do development right. But…there’s always enough money to run a search for a vacant role.

It’s a waste of time to run detailed succession planning processes identifying individuals and cohorts of people ripe for development to prepare them for future roles and then not follow through with serious investment (investment dollars that could offset money spent on external recruitment).


We’ve only listed four behaviours here, but there are many more. The point is there are many great, commercially minded HR leaders out there, though even the best can struggle in organisations where people performance is not regarded on the same footing as financial performance by CEOs and senior leaders.

Are you a senior leader who identifies with any of these behaviours? Or, are you a CHRO who deals with these behaviours on a regular basis? If either of you answered ‘yes’ then, well, what are you going to do about it?.

If you’d like to have an open-ended discussion on shifting mindsets get in touch. We’re always happy to help our clients and potential clients think through options and opportunities. We never charge for brainstorming. Through a free-flowing discussion of ideas we’ll find out whether or not there is a good fit between what you need and what we do well. If there is, we can keep talking so that we bring you good choices. If not, we’ll be the first to say so.

Justin Miles

Justin Miles

Manager Partner, Melbourne at Generator Talent
Justin is the Managing Partner of our Melbourne office, an outcome focused leader with a track record of driving business performance through proven talent and organisation development practices. Justin’s methods and skills have been shaped by working with performance oriented leaders in great companies including PepsiCo, The Campbell Soup Company, Diageo, Rip Curl, Fonterra and Wesfarmers, in Australia, the USA and Latin America.
Justin Miles

Categories: Uncategorised

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