Does ‘Mother HR’ Know Best? – Challenging HR’s Role in Shaping Leadership and Management Development

Published March 10, 2016

For the past 20 years I’ve been a specialist in designing and facilitating a wide range of different leadership and management development interventions.  During that time, fads and favourites have come and gone.  I’ve done my best to stay ahead of the game, but always believing that at the end of the day I carry the ultimate responsibility for enabling great people development, informed by my practice and study as well as my previous experience as a department head.

And then only yesterday I read an article by Tesco Bank’s CEO, Benny Higgins, who declares that “it’s not the job of HR to develop people”.  Instead, he suggests that “HR is there is support our process and make sure those leaders, and those individuals, have the right level of support”.  In other words, he believes that good leaders who care about enabling employees to succeed should take ownership of development.  He notes that HR “should be there to support and aid them, but not own it”.

But doesn’t ‘Mother HR’ know best?  The words of a song from Disney’s film of 2010, ‘Tangled’ come to mind.  Did you see it?  For sure not as well known as “Frozen,” but it re-tells the story of Rapunzel.  As her wicked mother combs Rapunzel’s hair, she sings…

“Mother knows best
Listen to your mother
It’s a scary world out there.
Mother knows best
One way or another
Something will go wrong, I swear”

(from Tangled, Disney Corporation, 2010)

So, imagine we cede the primary responsibility for leadership and management development to leaders and the business.  What could or will go wrong?  How can we, as HR practitioners, guard against that?  At a&dc, we use the model of ‘Business Impact’ to achieve ‘Greatest Certainty.’  This six level framework measures impact and return on investment of learning and development interventions.

Surely this provides the ‘Holy Grail’ for any development intervention? It must be HR’s legitimate and unique role to ensure that from the very moment that we begin to scope anything that aims to improve the quality of people management, we are the ones to ask questions related to what success looks like and identify ways in which we will know this has worked.

In 2014, McKinsey Quarterly reported that US companies spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development and yet only 7% of senior managers polled by a UK business school think that their companies develop global leaders effectively.  One of the report’s 4 common mistakes is failing to measure results; providing no evidence to quantify the value of their investment.  This is exactly why we developed the Greatest Certainty tool.  After all, if HR doesn’t ensure this measurement happens, as the song says “one way or another, something will go wrong I swear.” 

Read more about Business Impact and Greatest Certainty here.

Author: Karen West


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