Sex, drugs and human resources

HR directors should be like an orchestra conductor in how they manage talent and energise a company's culture.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 23 Feb 2015

Although HR rarely sells, it should really be sexier than it is. The main reason is pretty obvious: most organisations have problems, and most of those problems are human problems. Ergo, any part of the organisation tasked with managing human resources should be central. This has always been the case and surprisingly little has changed despite the growing importance of technology in the workplace, which has reduced dependence on people. In fact, organisations appear to be more aware of the importance of people problems than they ever have been. Yet if HR is to have a bright future it will first have to master three key challenges:

Managing top talent: It's been quite a few years since McKinsey first introduced the notion of a war for talent, yet competition for the best will continue to intensify. As USC Marshall School of Business professor Edward Lawler noted: 'The difference in many critical jobs between good talent performance and poor talent performance is 100 to 1.' In line with this, HR should have a specialist arm devoted to attracting, managing and retaining top talent.

Upgrading leadership: The idea of HR as 'strategic partner' too often ends up translating into an admin or execution arm for the board or chief executive. What HR needs to do is to elevate the quality of leadership in the organisation. That is, operate as the main engine for leadership effectiveness, which will also involve monitoring and evaluating the performance of the C-suite, as opposed to being abducted or co-opted by it.

Creating culture: Every organisation has a dynamic culture, which evolves through the years. Rather than being a passive spectator of it – assessing it via climate surveys – HR must be the main catalyst of culture. Indeed, it should be HR's responsibility to ensure that the explicit and implicit rules of interaction truly reflect the values of the organisation, the vision of leadership and the motivations and needs of most employees.

All this will require much more focus on people and much less focus on processes, which should really be outsourced. The result will make the role of the HR director much more like that of a football coach or orchestra conductor, and less like a lawyer or accountant.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of

Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter at @drtcp.

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