How Do You Identify HR People Who Are Truly Commercial?

Take a look through the current list of HR roles on Askgrapevine, Changeboard or Totaljobs and at least 99% of them will have job titles that reflect the process, the function or the relationship they are responsible for. So, a Head of Recruitment is responsible for the recruitment process; a Head of L&D for the learning and development process; an HR Director is responsible for the HR function; an HR Business Partner is responsible for developing a partnership relationship with the business. But is that how the success of the role is measured? By the efficiency of the process, the running of a department, the quality of the relationship? Well, of course these are important KPIs but what about all the valuable commercial outcomes we hear so much angst about – the successful resourcing of the business, the development of key skills, the growth of an effective workforce?

Very few roles are named for their commercial outcomes. A Director of Organisation Effectiveness is a well-known one and I’ve recently come across a Director of Productivity. What if all HR roles were given titles that described their commercial outcomes? We might have a Head of Ensuring Great Leaders Grow With The Company or a Director of Hiring Great Performers or an Employees Who Reflect The Brand And Win New Customers Manager.

So, given that job titles do not describe the commercial objectives of a role, how can you tell if a candidate has identified and delivered the right commercial outcomes in their previous roles rather than just delivering an off-the-shelf solution that made no real difference? How can you tell whether a candidate thinks and acts commercially?

A candidate may have the skills, knowledge and behaviours to perform the tasks of their role but this is not the same as their proven ability to identify and deliver relevant commercial outcomes. I have interviewed many perfectly competent candidates who deliver great processes but can’t explain what value they added to the organisation’s performance. Being commercial requires an HR person to understand the business strategy in people terms and then to determine how they can help deliver that strategy through targeted interventions, processes, policies, services and tools.

For example, if the company is trying to drive growth and margin improvement simultaneously, you would expect the Head of Recruitment to focus on hiring high quality employees who reflect the brand whilst reducing reliance on agencies; as opposed to slashing costs in recruitment that increase time to hire and drive down the quality of the hire. The latter intervention would increase margin but damage growth.

Key to choosing the right interventions is an ability to think outside the bounds of so-called best practice, benchmarks and fads. The commercial HR person is not constrained by their job description and chooses interventions or invents new ones that precisely deliver the current business strategy. Those who are less commercial will not be clear on why they chose a particular intervention or what difference they made to the company.

Many candidates will tell you of their achievements in the following terms: “Implemented RPO across the business in 9 months”; or “Introduced a blended learning strategy and increased e-learning uptake by 90%”. But what impact did these interventions have on the business? One would hope, in the above examples, that the introduction of Recruitment Process Outsourcing reduced the cost per hire and the new learning strategy had an impact on sales volumes or manufacturing quality. Adding such measures to the above statements would at least tell you that the candidate can talk the right commercial language. But were these the right interventions for the business at this time or just the hobbyhorse of a candidate wanting to make a name for themselves? Choosing the right interventions at the right time is what separates a truly commercial candidate from one who is just technically competent and strong on delivery.

Over the next five editions of Recruitment Insight, I will draw on my 24 years experience of recruiting HR people to explore how to spot a truly commercial candidate for five different HR roles. The first will be a Head of Learning & Development, a role that we have seen much activity on recently but few great candidates.

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