Boyden Executive Search

Boyden UK & Ireland's Nick Robeson, poses the critical question about stepping up during a time of crisis.

By Nick Robeson
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By the end of this critical experience, in the context of your business, you will have highlighted your strengths or weaknesses as a leader. Did you step up or did you hide behind the decisions of your superior? Were you passive or active?

The concertina of challenges we now face around workforce planning, diversity/inclusion, optimization, and the race for rapid digitalization are not only unique but there is no track record, no playlist within today's workforce to draw upon. This is about raw leadership and crisis management skills. During several of Boyden’s “Leaders in Crisis” discussions, it was made clear that the behaviors demonstrated now by business leaders will define the future of their organisation.

Those that freeze in the line of fire or to continue the analogy go absent without leave will not be forgiven when it comes to the next review of top team talent.

Those who demonstrated true empathy, inspirational leadership, exceptional communication skills and clarity of purpose whilst under intense fire will be those who quite quickly make the “must not lose” shortlist. But now is possibly too soon to gauge as this period, from a future workplace perspective, is the calm before the storm. With mass redundancies inevitable, with established workspaces transforming or indeed disappearing the true test of leadership is still to come. As we begin the game of organisational musical chairs, who will be left standing when the music stops and who will you have hired to deliver transformational change?

The function receiving  greatest exposure right now is Human Resources and at this early stage would seem to be responding well to being very much on the frontline of Inclusion, Covid-19, Organizational Design, Redundancies, Furloughing, Part-time working, Wellbeing and Future of Work. Just some of the responsibilities that sit on the CHRO’s shoulders, but what are the real game changers when it comes to people investment/ROI post Covid? - in the inevitable tsunami of “must do’s”, where will the CHRO feature in the race for priority boarding?

I began in Executive Search in 1994 when the transformation programmes that businesses were experiencing was in relation to the rapid adoption of new technology (C++/JAVA!!). Within a couple of years, we saw the rise of the “celebrity” Chief Information Officer, many of whom were ultimately hoisted by their own petard by over promising and spectacularly under delivering. There was much PR spin about the CIO being positioned on the Board rather than under the CFO but it never actually gained traction.

Is this the potential fate of the CHRO? If ever there was a time for leadership in Human Resources to define its seat at the table, to firmly establish itself as the long overdue strategic business partner at that Board table, then that time is now.

But, and here is the rub. This only works if your “Chief” HRO can operate strategically and not as is more often the case operationally or worse still just administratively. To become a measurable contributor to profits instead of an overhead cost to be carried, to be the catalyst for transformational change on representation of Female, BAME and LGBT+ talent in your business and to reshape your workforce ethically requires great competence.

The challenge for the Chief Executive is to ensure that they recognise this fundamental requirement, acknowledge the level of capability they put in place or inherited and where left with any doubt furnish themselves rapidly with the right level of capability to lead world class transformational leadership at Board level in Human Resources.

After all it is the people that make the strategic difference!

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