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Two’s company, three’s a crowd?: the executive social life of the HR director

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Publication date16/04/2013
Number of pages39
Pages1-39
Original languageEnglish
EventEIASM Strategic Human Resources Management - Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 15/04/201316/04/2013

Conference

ConferenceEIASM Strategic Human Resources Management
CountryDenmark
CityCopenhagen
Period15/04/1316/04/13

Abstract

For all the debate over executive pay and the ensuing “shareholder spring” which accompanied it, we still understand little about the value of the combined capabilities of those charged with the responsibility of executing decisions on behalf of the owners of capital. This paper represents a first step along the way to better understanding the value of executive capital by examining the relational attributes possessed by senior organizational leaders operating in the human resources function. Our decision to focus on individual executives in HR turns on several factors. First, although now a decade and a half since the publication of Human Resources Champions (Ulrich, 1997), the debate over the competence of HR executives still remains firmly rooted in establishing the key capabilities of individuals rather than establishing their relational and collaborative social capital and legitimacy in the eyes of the other key functional players in the executive spaces in which they operate. Consequently, this has given rise to a second factor sparking our interest in HR executives – namely, whilst the majority of other functional leads can confidently claim to have secured a seat around the boardroom table, those in the HR function still, apparently, remain on the outside of the boardroom looking in. In challenging this perceived lack of executive credibility, we demonstrate by way of both results from a survey with several hundred executives and accompanying research interviews with boardroom players, including chief executives and finance directors amongst others, that many HR executives not only possess the skills and credibility to operate in the upper echelons of the executive cadre of their organizations but, in addition, by examining life through their eyes, we can begin to explore the executive craft utilized by organizational leaders. This craft, we argue, can if properly understood, can be seen as an intangible source of competitive advantage.