Think differently

Human Resources, the preferred path to becoming a 'great' leader

Sylvie Deffayet Davrout , Professor, Leadership Development Chair Director
Jean Baptiste Cocheteux , Mobivia

Read this insight from Sylvie Deffayet Davrout, Professor at EDHEC Business School and Director of the Leadership Development Chair, and Jean Baptiste Cocheteux, Chief Talent Officer at Mobivia and HR teacher at EDHEC.

Reading time :
13 Dec 2022

A former boss of a large group once said to the co-author of this article*: "Be happy, you have the most strategic position in the company!". He was right, because companies bet on men and women and not on strategies. The HR function is becoming one of the most - if not THE - strategic functions in the company, but it also remains one of the most misunderstood, especially among students.


On the HR agenda: transformational leadership

The HR function is at the helm to drive digital transformation and make the "Data Driven Company" possible. It is no longer a support function, but an enabling function. This underlying trend, which existed before the Covid crisis, has been confirmed and considerably accelerated since then. Transforming itself in order to transform its surroundings: this is the dynamic that the HR function has been following for several years now. It is up to the HR function to respond to the new challenges in order to develop and maintain the company's sustainable competitive advantage in a context of the Great Resignation and the war for talent, with employees who have the upper hand and are shaking up the balance of power.

Alongside this major societal and generational movement, we need to integrate the transformation of the business, which has never been so profound and rapid: omnichannel and tomorrow metacanality, the explosion of Big Data, an increasingly volatile and unpredictable environment, etc. This is where the HR function comes in to transform the experience and commitment of all stakeholders as an accelerator of transformation and to create the conditions for agility in the company.

Shya Guan, a young Chinese graduate of EDHEC, started her career in HR like many others. "As a new recruit to the Talent & Learning team at Clarins, I have witnessed and am impressed by the strategic role of the HR function. In my job, I deal with different key aspects related to the employee's 'life moments' - experience - such as engagement, well-being, diversity and inclusion, performance, etc. The HR function thus shapes the environment in which we live on a daily basis".


The HR Leader as guarantor of "organisational capacity"

The more the organisation is able to continuously update its capabilities (or even create new ones) the more effectively it adapts to change and maintains its advantage. This embodiment of the agile enterprise is made possible by and through the HR function. The icing on the cake is that agility itself becomes an organisational capability in its own right, making the transformation endogenous and irreversible. By equipping itself with an agile environment and practices, the company can differentiate itself, while attracting and developing the best talents, with the intention of involving them extensively in the permanent reinvention of business models.

Once anchored in the company's operations and practices, agility becomes permanent, is inscribed in the company's DNA and allows the company to transform itself permanently. We thus move from the learning company to the transforming company.

For example:

  • The Mobivia group relied on its best HR talents to invent a new model in a phase of strong growth, while meeting the new challenges of the Economy of Use, and avoiding being overtaken by new players.
  • At Boehringer-Ingelheim, the German leader in healthcare, the HR function has made the transformation of the model possible, with digitalisation, personalisation of interactions with stakeholders and patients.
  • Another example is Shine, which, by relying on an innovative HR policy, attracts and retains its young talent, while involving them in the creation of the business model.


HR leadership at its best

When students from the best grandes ecoles decide to embark on an HR career, they do so on purpose, because they want to impact and contribute to building the "new world", while giving meaning to their professional lives. In HR, they will be in the best place to do so. With the HR function so highly exposed and exciting, there is a royal road to develop your leadership and skills to become a great Executive afterwards, because let's say it again without any complex: in reality there is very little to separate the 2 profiles now!

* Jean Baptiste Cocheteux, Chief Talent Officer at Mobivia Group and HR teacher at EDHEC Business School


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