Episode 6: How can HR become more Business Relevant? (Interview with Nick Holley, Director of Learning at CRF)

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Welcome to the first episode of Series 2 of the Digital HR Leaders podcast. We hear a lot about how HR needs to change, particularly in regard to becoming more digital and analytical and all to deliver greater business value. But how can HR become more business relevant? That's the topic for this week's podcast where my guest is Nick Holley. You can listen below or by visiting the podcast website here.

Nick has extensive experience. Not only in researching key trends in HR. He was voted the fifth most influential thinker in HR by Human Resource magazine. He also works with major global businesses, but he also has a background in senior HR roles as a partner at Arthur Andersen and a Director of Global People Development at Vodafone.

This gives Nick a highly focused commercial and practical outlook on HR. As well as running his own Consulting business. He is Director of Learning for the Corporate Research Forum. One of the largest HR networks in Europe where he runs open and bespoke in-company programs helping HR business partners, HR directors and Group HR directors become less HR and more business focused. 

In our podcast Nick and I discuss:

  • How HR can prepare their organisations for a more ambiguous and disruptive world

  • We talk about some of the traps that HR tends to fall into when using data

  • We look at the characteristics required to be a successful CHRO and how that is changing

  • We also look into the crystal ball and ponder what the role of HR will be in 2025

This episode is a must listen for HR professionals looking to increase their business impact and position their organisations to be disruptors. 

Support for this podcast is brought to you by ClickIQ - find out more at www.clickiq.co.uk.

Interview transcript

David Green: Nick, welcome to the Digital HR Leaders show we're delighted to have you.

Nick Holley: Thank you.

David Green: Can you give us a quick introduction to you and your vision for HR.

Nick Holley: My vision for HR is fairly simple and it comes back to a lot of my background. So 10 years of my life I worked at Merrill Lynch as an investment banker, never heard of HR, didn't even know it existed.

Then I changed careers completely and I went into OD for about 17 years. My last job I was head of Global People Development at Vodafone. And then the last 13 years, I've had a portfolio, started as a  professor at Henley Business School although I'm not an academic and I'm also working at the Corporate Research Forum at the moment and part of the reason to work with CRF closely is because we share the same vision of HR, which is HR is not about HR. HR is about the business.

It is not about HR and too often HRs full of solutions looking for problems, the latest fad, the latest Silver Bullet. Rather than working out what is the problem in your company that you're trying to address.

David Green: On to that I've heard you say and you've written quite a few times that CEOs don't care about HR. Do you want to expand on that?

Nick Holley: I'd like to, so tomorrow's UNLEASH and two or three years ago in Amsterdam on the main stage, I stood up and I said CEOs don't care about HR. Now at the time, I was still at Henley and the following week I was in Shanghai and I got an email from the Dean's secretary saying are you aware there's a shitstorm on Twitter? No, because  Twitter's blocked. He said well, apparently you said CEO's don't care about HR and all the very senior HR folks are really angry and John thinks you should go on Twitter and apologise. I was kind of, I don't think I will be. The point I was making was CEOs don't care about HR. They don't care about Finance. They don't care about Marketing. What they care about is delivering their numbers. And all of them are under more and more pressure these days. And what they don't care about are all the basics of HR unless we don't do them well. And one of them used the phrase, and this is based by the way on interviewing about 45 CEOs in the public sector, charities private sector Etc.

And one of the made a great point, he said I don't care about that stuff unless there's noise in the system. So if it's getting in the way of people doing the business I care. What they care about is you helping deliver their numbers. So if you can engage with the business agenda and deliver what they need, they will love you.

And it's funny, a lot of HR directors got very upset about it because I think they were up themselves, because they care about HR and it comes back to the same point is not about HR. So why would they care about HR. They care about people. But they don't care about the function of HR.

David Green: I think that's probably one of the big challenges and problems for HR. It's been too inward looking and not enough outward-looking and as you said, if HR is helping the CEOs hit their business numbers and helping drive business strategy around people then they're doing their job properly aren't they?

Nick Holley: Absolutely but I think too many people in HR shy away from the numbers.

I was running a program and we were talking about value creation and what HR can do to deliver value and this chap halfway through started banging and said, Nick, I think I speak for everybody in the room when I say nobody went into or at least I didn't go into HR because I love the numbers.

I went into HR because I love people. And my little voice was going oh no. Luckily he gave me the answer and I said so you just said you speak for everybody in the room, does he? And they absolutely destroyed him. Because good people, good HR people understand the numbers because I'm sorry. It is about the numbers.

The classic is employee engagement, the big fad of HR. If you read some of Rob Briner's work etc. There actually is a correlation between Employee Engagement and firm performance. The only problem is the causality works the wrong way. So the more successful the company is the more engaged employees are. Now what that means to me is I'm not totally opposed to employee engagement, but we're not doing Employee Engagement to do Employee Engagement.

If you can demonstrate to me that in certain parts of your business more engaged employees result in better performance, then we should engage with it. But otherwise, it's another one of these solutions looking for a problem.

David Green: And interestingly, in one of the CRF reports on Strategic Workforce Analytics there's a great example from Clark's. Where they actually wanted to understand whether engagement was a leading or lagging indicator and they found for them it was a leading indicator of Business Performance, particularly in regards to their stores and then as you said, that's when it becomes valid, not doing it just for engagement's sake.

Nick Holley: Absolutely and I'm totally comfortable with that because you're starting with how do we improve performance in our stores? Not starting with how do we do Employee Engagement?

David Green: Yeah, so obviously we mentioned UNLEASH and obviously the conference is taking place three times a year now and and and Vegas and Paris I think this year and big focus of UNLEASH and a lot of the other conferences out that there is the future of work and the role HR can play in that. What I want to understand is how can HR help prepare  their organszations for what is a more ambiguous world moving forward.

Nick Holley: I'm going to be speaking at exactly that subject on the future of work tomorrow and I just googled the future of work, any idea how many clicks or how many sites  you can go to?

David Green: Several millions probably...

Nick Holley: 3 billion - ridiculous! And all of them are trying to predict the future of work.

So there's one organisation, I can't remember who it was, but it predicted 43 percent of jobs are going to be automated, then the OECD is saying nine percent of jobs is being automated. I think the problem for us and it's the word ambiguous. The only outcome we can't predict is the one we expect or the only outcome we won't get is the one we expect. What we do know is it's going to be different. But how we don't know and I think that's the role of HR. It's not trying to predict a certain outcome or prepare for it. But prepare organisations for what is going to be a very very different world of work. So I think that means we need to be as HR much more externally focused on what's going on outside.

Bring that in, synthesising it. So we can begin to share those using that as a provocateur, as a challenge to the business to help them think is this really where we want to be going? And then being the architect to build the capability of the organisation to operate in this very ambiguous environment .The problem, and I'll share a little story. I was doing some work, I won't say who it was, but it was a it was a privatised  government organisation and they brought me in to work with their leadership team to look at ambiguity. And frankly, it was a disaster. Because what they thought I was going to do was come and give them a whole bunch of analytical tools and forecasting techniques that would allow them to create certainty in this world of ambiguity and I kept saying but the definition of ambiguity is there is no solution and the point you've got as a leadership team is to be comfortable with that.

 And somebody goes, it's not my phrase, somebody gave me a great phrase. What you've got to do is hold a strong opinion weakly. So you've got to do your analysis move on the basis of what you find out, but then you've got to be willing to accept you're probably wrong and you need to shift direction, but equally not moving in this environment isn't acceptable.

David Green: And I guess that's one of the challenges for HR, you know HR design programs that are one size fits all, they spend maybe a year or so implementing it across the organisation and they think okay we can just not need to look at that for three years. What you're suggesting there is this needs to be much more continuous. We need to be looking and knowing, running the numbers on a continual basis and actually adjusting as we go forward.

Nick Holley: Absolutely. And I think the trouble is because we're so inwardly focused on the world of HR, which traditionally has been about processes that you say you roll out on an annual cycle. We need to look at our businesses. Where, for instance in the world of strategy the idea that you have a three, four, five year plan, I think has disappeared.

It's more scenario planning. It's not about identifying one potential future. It's about identifying multiple futures and thinking through what would you do if they happen. And as you begin to narrow them down, these futures aren't going to happen, fine. We're still in this environment  where it could be one of these three things. You don't wait for it, but you move but you're then willing to shift because you suddenly find out... I can't remember who wrote the book, it's a brilliant book called being wrong.

And I think it's a super read for HR because the problem is most people in business under pressure from the media etc can never admit to being wrong. Whereas 99 times out of a hundred we are wrong. Good leaders, good HR people have got to have the confidence to say when I made that decision It was the right decision at the time but the world has changed, I've got new data, I was wrong, we need to shift. But it's so much about ego, I can never ever admit to other people I'm wrong. You've got to have the confidence to say, no I was wrong. We need to change.

David Green: Well, that's a science thing. Isn't it? Really? I mean, how many times was Einstein wrong before he eventually got it right?

Failure isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you learn from it.

Nick Holley: Absolutely it reminds me of another one of my favorite quotes from Einstein, which is it if I had an hour to save the world, I'd spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes saving the world. And obviously I go and work with a lot of HR functions and they'll start off by talking me through what they're doing and the question I will always ask them is what is the business problem that that is the answer to? And what frightens me is not just that they often can't answer the question. That often they haven't even thought of the question. I was working with one organization their training catalogue had all these NLP courses in it and so what is the business problem that NLP is the solution? Dunno, so why are you running an NLP course? Well, I'm a master NLP practitioner. Really that's why you're running NLP courses and you can't work out why nobody's going on them.

David Green: They probably didn't even break down what the abbreviation meant.

So ambiguity is one thing, disruption is another. HR is traditionally involved in building organisational capability. How can it help companies actually become a disruptor themselves.

Nick Holley: I want to just step back and make the point you made about building capability because I think there's something fundamentally missing in all of HR functions that they misdefine their  purpose.

So they define their purpose as doing HR stuff whereas to me the purpose of HR isn't doing HR stuff. It's building the capability of an organisation to deliver its strategy. And in a world of disruption my belief is that the world is moving so fast and disruption is so huge. And by the way, that's not just technology its demographics its politics Etc.

Look what happened at the weekend. We need to become disruptors. Because I think the companies that will fail are the companies that try and react to disruption rather than moving ahead. And therefore I think HR's role is to create capability in organisations to become the disruptors in their industry.

And I think there are lots of things but I see four key things. One is risk taking. I think HR has a major role as the cultural gardeners to create a culture in which risk-taking isn't punished, but we work out what good risk-taking is and that's not just let's take massive risks and bet the business on it.

But let's take small experiments and let's learn from the move and move and learn. I think a second issue is collaboration. Most good disruption doesn't come from the lone genius. It comes from groups of people usually from very very different backgrounds. So again if HR just sits within HR rather than engaging with the with the rest of the business and the external environment.

I think a third thing is agility, which isn't just structure. I think it's a way of thinking around putting the customers first about being willing to experiment etcetera doing things at speed and the fourth thing is hyper-awareness, which is most disruption isn't happening at corporate head office.

It's happening out there in the business on the periphery. So your corporate people, your senior people aren't seeing it. It's your front line staff. So my my daughter worked for a while, she was in the fashion industry, she worked in a summer job when she was at Uni at Zara, and it fascinated me, they were trained to question customers. Not on what size do you want? But what do you like, what don't you like? What are some of the trends you see coming? What are you going to be buying in the future. Every evening when they shut the store, they would debrief all the people in the store and then they would send a report overnight to La Coruna in Northern Spain.

The next morning they're sitting down together analysing and the key thing is together. And when you see the video of their offices, they're all open plan because you've got the the people who are driving the designs here, then the manufacturing etc and they can get from I think they're phrase is design to shelf in three weeks.

And that is hyper-awareness because it's based on not like some of the old fashioned businesses where they kind of like to predict a year in advance and work out people like stripes or green or whatever, but every single day they're changing what they're selling.

David Green: And I guess it's back to your chat with the NLP. That's where it could be a good use if you're in a B2C organisation in particular by actually understanding what your employees are saying in relation to customers and actually learning from some of those comments and as you said, the three weeks is pretty formidable and probably why they're so successful.

Nick Holley: Yeah, but again it comes down to it,it's not that I'm anti-NLP. It's this thing about solutions looking for problems. All of these things have in them a core and a nugget of good sense. 

I had a seminal moment. So I'd never worked in HR, I'd worked in OD and I worked in a recently privatised utility. And I'd read Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad's the Core Competence. I thought this was brilliant. So I had core competence networks and leading edge this that and the other and I went to EFMD conference in Copenhagen in 1993. And I remember it to this day because Paul Evans from INSEAD stood up and he said I wrote this speech but I've thrown it away because all I'm hearing is the organisation is doing this stuff and I don't understand why they're doing it because the world is full of solutions looking for problems. And a little light went off in here. Why are you doing what you're doing? In an electricity utility you sell this stuff on the basis of price. My job as Head of OD was to simplify the business and take cost out. And what was I doing? Adding complexity and adding costs and I think the problem is too many HR people are in the space I started in which is kind of what I was taught to do. Rather than being more pragmatic, faster-moving and actually understanding what is your business all about? Because in that business its cost.

David Green: Which leads us nicely onto people analytics. I always say the first mantra of people analytics is start with the business problem not the data.

And I know I've heard you say that before. Apart from that one, what are some of the other traps you see HR falling into when it comes to people analytics.

Nick Holley: I don't want to rush over that first one because I do think its just so so fundamental. So when I was at Henley, I did a big piece of research into Big Data because Big Data was the big idea, and the more I looked into it the more I found that people were fixated with the data rather than say working out what the problem was. But even more than that. The problem is most people in HR were fixated with the data they could collect and therefore the answers it could give them rather than coming back to the Einstein question - what is the problem we're facing here? And again, it's not my story. But I love the story of you're walking down the street at night outside here and you come across somebody under a streetlight scrambling around and you say "what are you doing?", oh I dropped my car keys. So did you drop them there? No I dropped them over there, but it's dark there. I can't see this. I'm looking here in the light where I can see.

And that's the danger. So the first problem is we don't define the problem. The second thing is we look at the data we've got. And too often we just look at the data within HR, whereas to me it's actually the linkages between HR director and Marketing, Sales, Risk, the numbers. When I did my research, ironically the best people I found at using analytics were the British Army. Which kind of surprised me but there are a number of reasons they were good at it. And to me the Core lesson was the first thing they did was they co-located their Finance analytics team and their HR analytics team and they became one team because the problem they'd face was when the adjutant general in the Army said so how many people have we got in the Army you get one number from Finance based on budget and you get an FTE number from HR and they don't match.

And it's not who's right or wrong. It's let's just get one answer. So I think that to me is the key thing. I think the third issue is at the end of the day, data, analytics, whatever you want to call it is useless unless you do something different as a result. And therefore first of all, we start with the wrong questions, but then we've got to think of the answers in terms of people want to know insights that they can action.

And again, it's not my phrase, you know the phrase persuasive analytics. It's all very well doing the analysis, but if you present it in a way that doesn't make sense to the people that need to act on it. Which usually are not the people within HR and of course, if you do what most HR does which is reporting on stuff the CEO doesn't care about, coming back to the previous thing, and we're just sending all these numbers and at least one CEO said this is making me fundamentally doubt the intellectual capability of my HR Director because they're giving me all this data that I don't care about. And I get they need to care about it whereas what I really want to know is how we're going to increase sales? How are we going to increase productivity? How are we going to be faster to market? How we're going to beat our number? Now if you can show me data and when I did the research, there are some great examples of companies that were doing fantastic stuff. I think one of the dangers in any of these conversations is it's very fashionable to beat HR up. Actually in my opinion, there are some fantastic HR people there who are really engaging with this but they'd they just don't start.

I always think about left to right or right to left. You start on the left with the business strategy and then analytics blah blah blah to what you do, too often people are starting on the right, with what are we going to do? Then they do the analytics to justify what they've already decided to do and then can't work out why nobody's engaging with it because it doesn't make a difference.

David Green: I've seen examples of that, where organisations, they learn from what people have done on the outside and they'll develop a predictive flight risk model and actually once they've spent six months perfecting that and getting it really accurate they're really excited they go to the business and people say but attrition is not a problem.

Nick Holley: Yes exactly, but it's gone from 3.4 to 3.5 or or you know, it's 20%. So what? I'll tell you one little story because it's from a company in the city. So this it's about analytics. It's also about metrics, I think too often we measure the wrong thing. So wonderful story, big investment bank and they said we have a great succession planning process. I said, how do you know? Oh we've got what was it 96% 112. A nice hard number. What that meant was in the top three hundred, ninety-six percent of the roles they had one emergency successor, one immediate and two etc. So I said, okay. So in what percentage of times where somebody's left one of those roles have you replaced them with somebody identified in the succession plan? We've never measured that, so that was fascinating. They went away and measured it. Guess what the number was.

David Green: I know I should say ninety one percent but I suspect it's very low.

Nick Holley: 8. And the thing that scares me about that because it's such an HR centric approach. It's not just passive, they are wasting a massive amount of time in getting line managers to enter these totally irrelevant names into boxes. If you think of the amount of time people spent doing that or the amount of time they created a system to allow them to pull all this together and report on it and the amount of times and then reporting the data to people in the business who are probably saying this kind of feels irrelevant, but they're supposed to know what they're talking about.

So I think, we're actually wasting time and money on this stuff.

David Green: Yes, I agree. Interesting as you said, winding back a bit. You did say there's lots of good HR people out there and good people analytics people. I completely concur with that. Obviously, you've worked with organisations all over the world. If you look at Nick's LinkedIn profile, you'll see some of those organisations without highlighting any of them here. In your travels and experience of working with some of these companies. What do you think makes a good CHRO?

Nick Holley: I've got to be very careful here otherwise, I'll piss off some more HR people.

So let me simplify down to two or three things. For me, it's not skill sets or whatever, it's mindset. So first of all a good HRD/CHRO whatever you want to call them. They think of themselves not as the representative of HR on the leadership team. They think of themselves as a member of the leadership team.

So that first of all is a mindset which what does that mean? It means they are fascinated by not just business but their business, so I was working in the Middle East working with the HR Director of one of the biggest companies in the world and I was in her office and on her desk were a load of magazines. Not on the desk, coffee table, load of magazines, SHRM and all that kind of stuff and we had this conversation. I went back a month later and on her desk were oil and gas monthly, petrochemical, so that's number one. Is you are fascinated by your business. That then gives you something to talk about.

I think the other two things that HR needs particularly at HR Director level is a unique combination of political savvy and integrity. So first of all, organisations are messy places. All the best HR people I know understand the real world. They know in their companies where decisions are really made, where does the power really sit, who are the movers and shakers?

So for instance they know who is the second most important person you need to build a relationship with. Number one is the CEO, number two is the CEOs executive assistant because they're incredibly powerful people. So that thing, the danger is that can be seen as manipulative and frankly whenever I have talked to people about political savvy a lot of HR people, go that's nasty, that sort of thing. But if you combine that with integrity then people will trust you and then you can get the stuff done. And I remember when I interviewed these 45 CEOs. The last question I asked all of them was why have you had to sack you CHRO? All of them had. One answer was the business had grown beyond their capability. Intellectually they couldn't operate the level of complexity we had. Great people, I'm still friendly with them.

Second one, which I think is a really important thing is lots of talk and no delivery. No follow-through. No discipline. No Etc. All of them had had to sack their HR director for a lack of integrity, because all of them had said one of the most valuable things from my HR Director was to be my personal confidante and to do that you have to be able to trust them totally. And one of them told me a story and said, we were having this very personal chat and I shared some personal things and about a week later my marketing director repeated them back to me.

And I know there was only one place and that is unacceptable. Also by integrity. I mean you don't think about yourself or HR. Whatever you're doing you do for the organisation and Hugh Mitchell who I worked quite closely with he used to be the Chief People Officer or HR director at Shell, I think one of the great HR directors and that was his big thing, he was politically savvy but people trusted him because they knew that above everything all he cared about was the future of Shell. And they knew he wasn't playing silly games. He was actually navigating his way around. So for instance the Chair would come and visit him before every board meeting for about an hour to understand what was really going on? Because he knew first of all that he was deep in the business, really knew what was going on and he would tell them the right stuff.

He tells me another story that he was in an executive meeting and CEO hadn't done a great job. So first of all, he knows he has to do something about it. Because he's accountable for that. Equally he knows he's not going to confront him in front of all their peers because then it just becomes a confrontation.

So he waits until the end of the meeting, followed the CEO of to his office. Let the CEO going first walked in behind him. Theatrically shut the door behind him and goes. Well, that wasn't your finest hour was it? I think that's what I mean by politically savyy and of course because the CEO trusts him. He knows that's not just a flippant comment and it turned into a great conversation.

Toby Peyton-Jones's the HR Director at Siemens. He told me a wonderful story, his Board weren't behaving particularly well, so he just waited there quietly and said hmm, If our direct reports were in the room watching us behave like this, what do you think they'd say? And then just stood back. Now that to me is you understand HR you understand people, you understand all the theory, you've got that commercial mindset, but it is about the business, but the differentiator to me is that ability to really get things done in messy complex dysfunctional organisations.

David Green: And that's probably something we need to apply throughout HR, HR needs to stop talking about the business as the business. They are part of the business.

And I think that that's certainly something that I've come across quite frequently. I'm sure I'm sure you have as well.

Nick Holley: So at CRF we run an HR business partner program and it's always oversubscribed and by the way, we spend time talking about political savvy on it and people get a bit upset because the first thing I say in the first minute is I hate the phrase HR Business Partner. Now we call it that because for a marketing thing you're going to get the right people on it, but we're not partners as you said we're part of the business and if you have this attitude. For instance, I annoy lot of HR people because I'll say who manages the people in your business and quite rightly they'll say line managers. And I'll say so who is accountable for people management? Line managers. No, HR is accountable. No, you don't understand what I'm saying. What I'm saying is if it's not being done well, it's no good saying the line managers are not doing it well. You've got to work out why? Are you giving them the wrong messaging? Are you not recruiting and promoting the right people? Are you not giving the right development? Do you have people actually who just shouldn't be managing people but you force them to because it's the only way they can get promotion and get the job and then the big office etc. And we need to stand back and that's where the analytics really does come in.

Because it's not just gut feeling which I think has a part to play. But you've then got to back it up to work out what is really going on? What can we do that will really make a difference? And how can we use that to persuade leaders, managers, whoever, who actually have to lead and manage the business that they need to do it differently.

David Green: I guess that's the big thing with people analytics, we can apply that inside, it can help HR business partners have more impactful conversations with the business, so actually sales managers, leaders can actually get things done. yes, you're right, it's a combination of having the data and actually having the experience and the knowledge as well.

Nick Holley: So another story, another great HR director who interestingly now runs the financial services business now, a guy called Phil Smith who I used to work with him in the Prudential and Arthur Andersen and I remember, I won't mention the company, but one of his very first executive team meetings where he was the HR Director of a large organisation and they were talking about a big CAPex decision. So Phil has sat on quietly in the corner and been working out the NPV. And he goes hang on a minute the denominator in the the NPV calculation is wrong. That's not our weighted average cost of capital, it's this and I've just done a quick recalculation. This is negative NPV. And three things happen. The first thing that happened was the Finance Director was going Oh, his team had given him the wrong numbers. And afterwards Phil said, he should probably have mentioned it to him first, but the second thing which I think is the most important thing he saved the decision from making a value destructive decision. It was nothing to do with people, workforce or whatever, but that's not how he saw himself. The other thing because I knew some of the people on the Board, it totally changed their view of Phil. Rather than he's the HR person who you know, at the end of the meeting, oh by the way Phil have you got any new statistics on retention or or absentee or whatever they would turn to him for every single decision and this for instance is what he used to do at Shell.

Again the political savvy he would wait until everybody around the room had presented. And then he sitting opposite the Chief Executive because he always sat in that chair so he could make eye contact with him, he would say so that's interesting. So what I think we've just discussed is this which did two things that gave the CEO the chance to stop and reflect on what was going on and it meant he controlled the agenda because of course he could summarise and it's not that he summarised it for his own ends. But he summarised it to really pull together and provide the real insights in the business which by the way, he really really understood because he worked in the business, which is another thing by the way good HR people in my opinion have spent time working in a non HR role.

David Green: And I think we're starting to see that a little bit more. Some of the CHROs that I'm coming across now are people that have actually worked outside HR and maybe this is their first job. They might have run sales or operations or occasionally finance and then they're kind of coming into HR which is interesting.

Nick Holley: I think in the US a third of CHROs of the largest companies come from a non HR background and people that have an HR centric view of the world throw their hands up in horror. Whereas my view is if it's working that's fine. And again, I did some research into that. It works really really well when first of all the person knows what they don't know.

So they don't come in pretending they know everything which means secondly they really learn. They really really focus on learning. The third thing is they realise they have to at the next level down surround themselves with a real experts and they have to really really be rigorous and every HR Director I've ever spoken to when I've said, what's your biggest regret? Is when I took on the role, I didn't clear out the block as quickly enough. That there were people who in my heart of hearts I knew actually weren't going to make it but these people coming in they will get rid of the ones they don't rate quickly and they'll surround themselves with real experts.

And by the way, they will surround themselves with people who work and collaborate as a team. So equally what they don't want on their team is somebody who's representing L&D, somebody's representing resourcing. No, when you're on our team together, we are working for the sake of the whole organisation not for your bit of HR.

David Green: Well, we've moved to the last question unfortunately. I think we could probably talk all day. And this is a question that we ask all our guests on the digital HR leaders show. Where do you see HR's role in 2025.

Nick Holley: In the corner over there. So again it comes back to the point about ambiguity and disruption.

I just don't think you can predict where it will be. However, I think there are going to be some things. So I was working recently out on the West Coast with a HR function that was really focusing on being business HR. And and some people the in room were saying, but Nick you don't understand there's all this administrative work it takes up all my time. I don't have the time to do this stuff you're talking about and luckily I'd worked with the HR Director so I'd got the permission and said well in which case in a few years time you're out of a job. Because that's my view, what you're seeing with technology now, and I still don't think we're there yet, but it's starting to do what it says it can do on the tin. I still think there's a massive gap between the promise and reality, but it's only going to get better. Which means that all of those things I think they're just going to disappear from HR. I remember years ago when I was researching the three Box model and I was chatting to Unilever and it was fascinating the person they put in charge of shared services wasn't from an HR background.

They were from a shared services background. So they were brilliant at process mapping, there were brilliant at process management , they were outstanding at outsourced JV relationship management etc because they recognised that was the skillset. And I think that's what's going to happen. So I think that bit of HR is going to disappear and if you want to stay in that world you better be good at managing the technology or you're out of a job. I think in the other direction there is what I would call OD - organisational development, which I believe is not separate. I think that the core of good HR is organisational development. How do we build and develop the capability of an organisation which includes organizational design, includes our processes, our systems, our culture as well as the individuals in it because HR is not just the people function. It's the people and organisational function. And I could see that not necessarily sitting and being called HR I could see that sitting in the CEOs office in strategy in finance, wherever, and this is the problem. Too many people in HR are scared of that whereas to me and by the way, I am proud to work in HR.

I think it's the most fascinating most influential function of all when it's done properly, but what I care about is the impact HR can have. Not whether HR survives or what it's going to be and the last caveat is having said that that will be totally different in every organisation. And the worrying thing to me is HR, you know some HR people, ooh, that's now the answer. So we need to do that and that. No. It's what is going to be right taking into account where your organisation is trying  to go andthat  the future of work, the demographics, the technology etc in your country, your region globally, in your industry, whatever.

David Green: That's about as you said throughout understanding the business. It's also about having the right mindset and actually may be looking on some of the change that is going to come even if we can't predict what that's going to be as an opportunity and I must admit if I was an HR professional and had an opportunity to move a lot of that administration away either through atuomation or through service centres and actually focus as you said on organisational effectiveness. And actually setting the organisation up to deliver and that's a really exciting role.

Nick Holley: But and I think this is a really controversial statement. You've got to have the intellectual capability to step into that space and I'm not sure everybody in HR has that intellectual capability and we were talking about Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic and people like that and one of the things fascinating listening to real academics, people who've done the data and the analytics, is the best predictor of success in senior leadership roles is intellect. Not only intellect, but if you haven't got, the danger is that if you don't have the intellect you'll dumb the role down to the level you can operate at and I think that's letting the business down and I think therefore we as a function need to step up into that space and demonstrate that we actually can operate with that degree of complexity and ambiguity etc and really understand the numbers. It fascinates me how few HR people can just explain to me very quickly, so how do you make money in your business? Well, we sell stuff. That's not really a good enough answer.

David Green: Yeah, HR are business people at the end of the day. Nick, thank you very much. I'd love to have this conversation in 2025 and to see what's actually started to pan out.

Nick Holley: It won't be that won't be that likely what I predicted.

David Green: Thank you for joining us on the Digital HR Leaders show. How can people get in contact with you? I know you're reasonably active on social media.

Nick Holley: So I'm mainly active on Twitter. So another good friend of ours Dave Miller introduced me to HootSuite. So every day I Tweet, every hour, eight hours. I will tweet something and it's not just about HR, it'll be about the world of work. It'll be about strategy or whatever it is. I'm Nick underscore Holley and I'm also on LinkedIn. I'm not as active as Nicholas dot Holley.

David Green: Okay, and I can certainly recommend to any of you watching definitely follow Nick on Twitter, he puts some great stuff out there. Nick, thank you very much.

Nick Holley: Thank you very much.

David GreenComment