How to Spot a Commercially Minded Head of HR

This is a genuine email I received out of the blue from an engineering exec in a tech company in Cambridge which had “HR” as the subject line:

“If you ever wonder what I have against HR (I doubt you ever wonder that!) this is an article (link to article about said Head of HR removed) about our Head of HR. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single thing showing how s/he adds any value to the company, not a specific example of anything s/he does, and no takeaways except that s/he quite likes our company.”

I even saw some radical articles such as Why We No Longer Need HR Departments and saw that even HR Magazine is tackling the topic of commercially minded HR people as they had an article called Commercial HR: How HRDs are cashing in on their expertise.

HR people can be seen as a blocker by some tech leaders as they add processes and procedures which slow things down. Whilst I am sure some HR people add unnecessary bureaucracy to a company who just wants to deliver great value to their customers, I would like to share some tips for spotting a commercially minded HR person and show an example of an HR person who adds huge value to any business.

Tips for discovering a commercially minded HR Person

Tech leaders — Here’s some tips on discovering an HR person who will not just add processes for the sake of process, but who will add true value to your company and blow wind behind your sails to help your enterprise soar towards that elusive unicorn status:

They talk about:

- how they added value to the previous company by helping them achieve their vision

- how they helped the company achieve business targets

- about problems they solved in the business that prevented executives from doing their work

- solutions they have created in response to those problems and how they fitted with the business

- specific outcomes, sometimes with numbers to back these up.

Non Commercially Minded HR Example:

An HR person not commercially minded says things like this in their LinkedIn profile or about their work:

  • An abstract list of tasks:

“My areas of expertise are HR Business Partnering, Employee Relations, Organisational Design, HR Processes and Policies, HR Strategy, Change Management, Team Management, Building Culture, Organisational Development, Organisational Design, Employee Engagement, Coaching, Leadership Development, HR Analytics, Performance Management, Job Design, Talent Management.”

  • Listing processes they set up, no indication of problems it solves or value added:

“My experience includes introducing company handbook, grievance procedures, Performance Appraisal systems, training the managers on how to set objectives which are relevant to both the employees and the managers” .

Commercially Minded HR Person example

An HR person who is commercially minded talks about problems they solve in the company and the outcomes and achievements they have made in that company. They talk about where they add value, not where they add processes.

An outstanding HR professional I met recently is Sue Handley Jones has the simplest and most compelling LinkedIn profile. Spend a single hour with this amazing woman, and you will gain insights about your company.

Here what an HR professional that adds value truly looks like:

  • talks about what she is helping achieve (for the companies with which she is involved)

“Delighted to be sharing my time between two exciting Cambridge startups, AudioTelligence and Spectral Edge, helping them both scale”.

  • talks about how she solved a genuine business problem

“I was hired to solve the problem of recruiting high quality technical people into a team located in the East Midlands”.

  • talks about the outcome and keeping the high standard of work, not just assuming value from the number of people recruited

“During my 2.5 years with Apical I grew the technical team by hiring ~50 engineers and developers, sourcing from the UK and worldwide. The achievement was to maintain Apical’s very high standards while increasing numbers”.

  • talks about practical and specific outcome of a complex project

“I also oversaw the complete refurbishment of a new 20,000 sq ft office and the successful move of the technical team to the new premises.”

When I read her LinkedIn profile, she surprised me to such an extent, I even thought she might have gotten someone else write it for her.

When I met her I discovered Sue is was very focused on what the business wanted to achieve, not putting processes in for the sake of having processes. She is insightful, she is honest, she is commercially minded and she is an asset to ANY company she works for.

So next time you look for a consultant or Head of HR, tech leaders, please look for someone like Sue.

I want to clarify I had never met Sue before I was introduced to her by Rhodri Thomas, the CEO of SpectralEdge. I wrote this article because I want to dispel the myth that HR people don’t have commercial acumen. There are some who do, and if you look for them, they will add huge value to your company. Sue has not paid me to write this article and she is not a customer of mine at the time of writing this article.



Adelina Chalmers a.k.a The Geek Whisperer

Helps Engineers who are Leaders (CEO/ CTO/ VP) get buy-in from their peers/teams/investors by transforming Communication techniques into Algorithms