If I knew then what I know now… Reflections of HRDs internationally

Report of a study by David Clutterbuck Partnership, 2021

In mid 2021, with the help of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK (CIPD), and the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), Professor David Clutterbuck asked Human Resource Directors for their views on the question What do you know now that you would have benefitted from knowing before you became an HRD?

Responses from heads of HR in 17 countries drew a picture of the difficult, complex and sometimes traumatic transition that HR practitioners make to the role of HR Director. At the heart of the findings is that the director role is a completely different one, for which many are ill-prepared. It requires a shift in thinking, a deep knowledge of the business, an ability to ‘speak’ business language and a level of skill in navigating board and organisational politics.

“It is a lonely role. Get some support around you to ensure you can sense check and talk through issues and problems in a safe way. You cannot do everything at once, so a plan is essential.”

Many were unprepared for the need to become adroit influencers, and the need to spend time educating fellow directors and to ‘sell’ the HR strategy.

“You’re in the marketing business. Having a vision is not enough. You need to be able to articulate it and sell it at every opportunity – with your business partners, HR team, current and prospective staff. A strong alliance with Communications colleagues is important to achieve this.”

HR Directors have high expectations placed on them by other directors. They are expected to be highly accountable at all times, to lead by example, to deal with all of the difficult and complex people issues, to be highly reactive in unusual situations, e.g. COVID, stay composed at all times but little support in the way of coaching or mentoring extended to them.

There seems to be a business assumption that HR doesn’t need coaching likely due to the perception that HR takes care of everything and everyone. I think we’re very good at being seen to hold it and ourselves together, because that’s what is expected, but we are still employees…

The unique position of HRDs and the fact that HR issues are not always at the top of a list of senior management concerns, can make it harder for HRDs than other directors in the early stages of taking on the role.

It’s a hard and often lonely role as you’re not quite a peer and are the confidant of the CEO

From this study and many conversations held with aspiring HR Directors, Professor Clutterbuck concluded:

  1. Hardly anyone goes into the new role fully prepared for it
  2. Organisations don’t often provide much help in making the transition – it is up to the HR professional to educate themselves, using all the networking resources they can.
  3. C-suite and Board colleagues won’t give new HRDs an easy ride – they have to prove themselves and the value they bring to the table.

Melissa Richardson, Art of Mentoring
Professor David Clutterbuck, David Clutterbuck Partnership




© Melissa Richardson 2022


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