HR’s road to the corporate board

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With HR under-represented in the boardroom, businesses are missing out on the benefits of a “strong, constructive and authentic culture,” said Peter Hartnett, head of people and culture at Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing.
 
“There is enough evidence out there that having a business that looks after, involves, and connects with its people means having a more sustained business.
 
“To this end, it is important that businesses recognise this at the highest level by creating diversity and having the ‘people’ function represented.”
 
However, Hartnett added that HR’s role in the boardroom would have to be much more than about people.
 
“If an HR professional is on the board, they need to ensure they understand and can contribute to all areas of the business, including finance, sales, marketing and operations.”
 
One hurdle to this broadening of scope was that HR, in general, may not understand the key core competency of business acumen, said Gregory Robinson, managing partner of Blenheim Partners.
 
“Unfortunately, many ‘purist’ senior HR directors may not have had the line management and P&L experience required as a base to effectively contribute to the issues addresses by boards,” he said.
 
As a senior HR professional who is currently on a corporate board, Nicole Gower, director of HR at Macquarie University, echoed this sentiment by saying that HR needs to contribute as an equal member of the board and not solely within the HR function.
 
She also cautioned HR to keep an open-minded approach to agendas put forward in the boardroom.
 
“While the HRD has an important role to provide thought leadership for executive colleagues on people matters, they need to resist the urge to become the sole owner of the people, culture and leadership agendas. These are collective accountabilities of executives and leaders more broadly.”

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