No HR Leader is an Island.

As a firm specialising in senior HR search across the world, no-one is better placed than ChapmanCG in witnessing how expectations for Human Resources talent have soared over the last few years. And for good reason. Never before has so much been demanded from the function, and in many cases with far fewer resources than the past. So every HR team member counts.

For many HR leaders, this is a panic-inducing dilemma. You can be the smartest HR practitioner with the best credentials in the business, but you can’t make an impact in a global organisation single-handed. If you can’t hire and retain a stellar global HR team that can share in your mission and help convert your strategy into tangible results, your credibility will be irrevocably compromised.

That’s where ChapmanCG steps in, of course. But don’t worry, this article isn’t going to be an advertisement for our global HR executive search services. In fact, it’s the opposite. This is a passionate plea to encourage leaders to not just ‘buy’ HR talent from the outside. We want HR Leaders to poach talent from other departments within their companies.

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What’s That Sucking Sound?

It’s the sound of talent being inexorably drawn into the HR function from all other disciplines in the company. Well perhaps it’s a very light trickling sound at the moment. Just hear me out.

Most HR leaders are lousy self-promoters. And there’s a reason for that – part of their role is to be a ‘listener’ to the business, someone who can be turned to for objective counsel and coaching. If an HR leader projects too much of an ego, they can be treated with suspicion by those in the business whose trust they need to win. Some of the best HR Leaders are the ones who are adept at subsuming their personalities under a resolutely professional exterior - a ‘blank canvass’, allowing them to pivot and adjust their communication strategy depending on which individual executive they need to convince. Conversely, some of the worst HR Leaders are those who are ‘all talk’, and then disappoint with their follow-through.

Welcome to the dark arts of Human Resources, those stakeholder management tools that no-one tells you about before you enter the profession. But what has aided your success in the past may also be contributing to some negative consequences. That same ‘blank canvass’ persona also allows executives in other departments to project whatever they want onto the character of the HR Leader. And in case you hadn’t noticed, this has allowed for HR’s reputation as merely a support function and cost centre to endure in some quarters. This needs to change. It should no longer be the best kept secret of the boardroom that the HR Leader has one of the sexiest roles in the company.

Do your colleagues in the marketing department realise that you use similar skills for the talent acquisition function? How about sales and customer service skills for HR consulting and business partnering? Finance skills for compensation & benefits; legal skills for employee relations; operational skills for HR shared services; strategy & planning skills for talent management & organisation design? And what about the technology skills needed for HR information systems & analytics?

Perhaps not. But they would start to notice if you attracted talent from their departments into your HR team.

Warding Off HR’s Looming Existential Crisis.

Now is the time for HR Leaders to work hard on improving the image of their function, as well as their own personal corporate image. It’s no longer good enough just to do great HR work; you need to become a fully-fledged HR Brand Ambassador. You should promote the impact of your team’s work, and market HR as a career path of choice for specialists in other disciplines who are eager to broaden their horizons. Only when you’ve reached the status of being a talent magnet from other departments within the company should you expect to attract the best HR talent from outside. This includes getting out of the shadows and promoting yourself as an identity too. Use some of the same personal charm that you deploy in one-on-one conversations to project your image more publicly.

And why is now the time? Two reasons.

Firstly, it will not have escaped your attention that, for better or worse, we’re living in the age of social media. There is no longer any excuse to be a blank canvass when you have the power to engineer your image on corporate and social platforms. Internally, you need to build your brand as a strategic corporate leader on par with any other executive in the board room. Someone with magnetism who other people want to work for. And externally, you can use the same tools to portray yourself as someone who personifies some of the core values of the company. If you don’t have the time or inclination to work on this yourself, find a smart social media strategist who can do it for you. And be prepared to pay them out of your own pocket.

Secondly, and most importantly, the key reason for doing it now becomes clear if you switch the directions of the arrows in the original image.

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If HR can’t attract talent from other departments, then what’s stopping the polarity reversing? If HR is just a support function with no ‘personality’ of its own, why not divide its constituent responsibilities among other departments, and save the company an expensive cost centre? There is already a slow drum-beat of discussion around this idea in certain consulting companies, and it may not be too long before a mainstream global company experiments with the idea.

As an HR leader, you might be thinking ‘Nice diagram, but it’ll never happen’. Because you know the skills and effort that it takes to combine these elements into a cohesive and comprehensive people strategy. But just because you know it, don’t assume that everyone else does too.