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Becoming the centre of leadership expertise within organizations

HR as thought leaders in management and leadership

By Brian Kreissl

I once read somewhere how HR should function as the centre of expertise relating to management and leadership within organizations, but that is rarely the case in practice. I believe the person who wrote the piece in question said this is really a missed opportunity for the HR function to prove its worth and demonstrate strategic leadership within organizations.

HR practitioners definitely have to know about management and leadership, and I have written before about the overlap between the body of knowledge relating to general management and that which pertains to human resources management. I have also discussed the fact that one of the primary roles of HR practitioners is to help develop and enhance managerial capability within organizations.

Every manager is a human resources manager

It is a huge cliché, but it’s very true that, at least to a certain extent, every manager is a human resources manager. That applies with respect to the fact that human resources management is a management function, and therefore managers and executives can be seen to have delegated certain managerial tasks to the HR department.

It also applies to HR programs and managerial decision making in recruitment and selection, compensation, performance management and termination transactions. While HR is there to create the framework for such programs and provide guidance and recommendations, these are ultimately the manager’s decisions. After all, HR can’t know each and every employee personally, and line managers have a much better understanding of what is required to be successful in the role.

From an academic perspective, the material in general management and leadership courses has a great deal of overlap with HR courses. In fact, many leadership courses in business schools are taught by professors in the HR department, and courses in organizational behaviour, theory and design – which are relevant to both HR and general management – also frequently fall under the HR umbrella.

Looking elsewhere for managerial expertise

So, why do so many senior business leaders look elsewhere when it comes to coaching, advice and training relating to management and leadership when they could often be leveraging the expertise in-house within their own corporate HR departments? Examples of this relate to leadership development, coaching, facilitation, change management and talent management – tasks that senior executives frequently outsource to external consultants instead of engaging their internal HR team.

I believe a combination of factors is at play here including a lack of understanding of the nature and purpose of the HR function and what it encompasses, an outdated understanding of HR based on a transactional model and perhaps at least some HR departments not being up to the challenge of furthering the organization’s leadership agenda and enhancing managerial capability. While HR needs to be able to flex its leadership muscle, it is vitally important to build and develop that muscle first.

Becoming the centre of management and leadership expertise

The following are some suggestions for helping to build managerial and leadership capability within HR departments, demonstrating that knowledge and transferring it to line managers within the organization:

  • Hire HR practitioners with previous people management experience.
  • Ensure the HR team has a broad business background with courses in management, leadership, organizational design and development, HR strategy and coaching.
  • Provide professional development for the HR team and consider funding external courses such as MBA programs, coaching certifications and academic programs in leadership.
  • Create and develop comprehensive leadership development programs for new and aspiring leaders as well as seasoned managers moving into more senior leadership roles.
  • Ensure human resources leaders consistently model appropriate behaviours and that the HR department follows best practices in people management for its own employees.
  • Educate senior executives about just what the HR department can do for them in relation to driving leadership effectiveness and managerial capability.
  • Identify and document key leadership competencies within the organization. Use those competencies for training, development, recruitment and succession planning purposes.
  • Conduct top talent reviews and complete succession planning for all senior leadership roles and critical positions.
  • Create individual development plans for high potential employees and aspiring leaders.
  • Develop HR programs that enhance managerial capability and reduce the administrative burden placed on leaders.
  • Establish coaching and mentoring programs for entry level and high potential employees within the organization.
  • Provide in-house executive coaching to senior business leaders.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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