Q&A with Cameron Judson: Extracting HR’s intrinsic value

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Cameron Judson
Non-Executive Director

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Does HR have a seat at the C-suite table? Or perhaps more importantly, does the C-suite even value HR?

That’s always an interesting question. Obviously, the question itself is deliberately provocative, but I think the real answer ebbs and flows based on organisational context. My particular approach is this: if you believe that people are key to complementing the service experience and user experience, then you need to have HR at the table. 

But I think the real question is: do they have a mandate? Do they have a voice? Do they shape the go-to-market strategy for customers?

There are lots of organisations where HR’s function is still very transactional. Think about what happens in a downturn – marketing spend gets cut, and learning and development becomes tougher. So if you think of the cycle in terms of growing talent in an organisation, you need to be constantly investing in development.

How can HR take a more hands-on approach to being a revenue builder, rather than being seen as a cost centre?

I take the view that there are four Ps to HR:

  1. People
  2. Productivity
  3. Performance
  4. Profit

When you work with very commercial HR leaders, they get the significant contribution they can make to organisational performance across those four Ps. Why? Because the best organisations really do value people, and the best organisations using any number of data points will tell you that that’s the key point of difference in terms of the cultural experience, the customer experience and even profits.

But do you find there’s a tendency in HR to only focus on one or two of those Ps?

It comes back to who the HR leader is working for. Who is the leader of the organisation they are directly reporting to, and what do they stand for? What do they believe in?

I’ve seen environments where HR leaders have a clear understanding of what the organisation is trying to achieve, and they are essentially allowed to run to the boundary with it. But I’ve also worked in organisations where HR is straightjacketed – they want to mitigate risk, manage policy and oversee safety, and they never step outside of those focus areas.

So in a case like that, where you’re an HR leader but the C-suite wants you to only focus on mitigating risk, what options do you have other than leaving the organisation?

Well, do you believe you can change the culture as an individual or as part of a cohort of key people? If you don’t believe you can change the culture, you probably should apply your talents elsewhere.

Is one of the key challenges simply that it’s hard to keep your culture intact when you are constantly cutting the workforce?

If you look at the most recent tech layoffs in the US, some organisations have managed it brilliantly and some of them have done it very poorly. But they were ultimately facing the same challenge. They employed lots of people, built a great foundation around their culture and their employee value proposition (EVP), and then either the leader of the organisation or the CFO, or maybe even the HR leader has taken a particular approach to restructuring the business.

Some of those brands have been damaged by that experience. But some of them have been handled with dignity, courtesy and great communication. Different HR leaders in different organisational contexts may face the same challenges but execute their strategies differently.

If you talk to anyone within corporate, personal conflict almost always leads to the lowering of productivity and morale. How do we fix that?

Leaders generally, not just in HR, need to have difficult conversations that require courage. Some leaders are prepared to have them and some are not. So in a lot of ways, I think about that in the context of the four Ps. Consider someone in the sales office who has poor behaviour but consistently puts up big numbers on the board. Leadership tolerates the poor behaviour because of their output, but over time that behaviour starts destroying their culture.

Simon Sinek recently posted something very insightful along the lines of: we’ve always measured performance, but we have very few measures for respect. So you might be performing, but do I respect your contribution to the culture?

What’s the value in having HR leaders report directly to the C-suite?

There are two really important parts to it. One is becoming the trusted advisor to the CEO. That allows you to better test the pulse of the culture, the pulse of the organisation, and give the C-suite a greater sense of what the key people challenges are at any point in time. Two is having the ability to change hats, to leave the C-suite and be seen amongst peers. HR leaders can then work to influence the culture through their peer group.

The best HR leaders I’ve worked with are the ones that can strike that balance. They can easily slip into a role when talking to the C-suite as the trusted adviser, in order to provide them with what is happening across the organisation. And then they can change hats as soon as they leave that room and use all their soft skills around influence and great communication to enact change.

Do you want to turn HR from a cost centre to a profit centre? You won’t want to miss our next webinar to see how Apprento has used AbilityMap to achieve 95% accuracy in its hiring.

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