Ben Davies, ChapmanCG Managing Director for EMEA, facilitated two excellent HR leader roundtable sessions at the Zurich offices of Givaudian and the Zug offices of Johnson & Johnson. Ben was joined by Kirsty Jucker, a Director with ChapmanCG based in Zurich. The groups included CHRO's, Global HR leaders and EMEA HR Heads from various industries who enjoyed the opportunity to share their views and learn from each other over a working lunch.

Our host for Givaudian was Melody Carlton, the Global HR Lead for Fragrances, who welcomed the group and outlined the company’s global operations today, as well as the focus for 2016. Parviz Dhamodiwalla, our host at Johnson & Johnson and the Global Head of Talent for the consumer business, shared an overview of the HR model J&J have in place, and also some insights into the performance management approach the company is using.

Managing Transformation

To help frame this topic Zoltan Szeni, most recently the EMEA Head of HR with E&Y, presented a short case study on the transformation that the organisation has gone through, pulling out his key takeaways from the experience. As the discussion developed there were four elements that summarised how HR transformation can be made easier, as follows:

  • Think about the location of your CoE and organisation hubs based on business needs, as opposed to historical locations or models.
  • Communication and role modeling is critical – senior business leaders should show the way while HR acts as the guide.
  • HR must be able to change as well – best results may include upskilling your HR team and taking the time to assess their capabilities, rather than assuming that every member of the HR team is ready to be a change agent.
  • Previous HR models are not cutting it - organisations are using their own adaptions to deliver HR that is relevant to the business. ‘One size fits all’ is not working for most.

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The Classic Question – is HR Operating as a Business Partner?

It was useful to hear the groups’ thoughts on a topic we hear a lot about all over the world – how can HR be a better Business Partner? Is this HR’s responsibility? Is it dependant on the business leader? Or the company culture? Or even the HR model?

Within the Zurich HR community present, there seemed to be an openness to cross-business and HR transfers, with some commenting that business leaders moving into HR was the easier part, HR to business was not so straightforward. This facilitated the coaching of HR leaders on the business, to empower them and enable a higher level of understanding through involvement in business reviews, which set up the right level of discussion to enable input above and beyond operational HR.

That aside, there was a sense that the interest and appetite of the HR leader to be involved and passionate about the business outcomes set some HR leaders apart from others in their ability to lock onto the business strategy and get ahead of the business leader when it came to HR partnering. Of course, there is much debate on this topic, but the overwhelming view is that more should be done to instill a level of commercial acumen and depth in HR leaders. There was a general consensus that in order to ensure this question is not being asked in ten years’ time, the next HR generation will need the following:

  1. Exposure to the business, so time spent in business roles;
  2. Challenging the status quo of traditional HR models to push HR to be commercial – roles that mix HR and sales or operations; job sharing
  3. Business leaders who are educated and inspired by what HR can provide beyond transactional activity.

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The Performance Management Conundrum

Having heard from J&J about the current approach to performance management, it was agreed that finding a ‘one size fits all’ approach is very difficult; however it was encouraging to hear that organisations are experimenting with new approaches to fit their corporate cultures. Removing ratings, providing managers with bonus pools to give them more accountability for performance decisions, and 'pulse' feedback, rather than annual performance reviews were all discussed.

The overall conclusion of the discussion was that this is still a work in progress. Some companies are wedded to processes and structures that now define the corporate culture, while others feel that the remodeling of processes represents their culture far more closely than the classic frameworks. There is no doubt that this topic will continue to be on HR leaders’ agendas in 2016/17, and maybe when we look back in 2018 there will be a clear answer and enough data from organisations that are implementing new systems to draw conclusions.

Many thanks go to Givaudian and Johnson & Johnson for hosting these insightful networking discussions. We look forward to the next HR Leader groups in Switzerland, which are scheduled for September.

Ben Davies is a Managing Director with ChapmanCG based in Europe. Ben leads global and regional HR searches across the EMEA region and is a member of the firm’s executive management team. Kirsty Jucker is a Director with ChapmanCG based in Zürich where she works with the team to identify quality HR talent in Europe and the Middle East regions.