Hitting the top spot: considering the trajectory to Group HRD


Working in HR? Ambitious? You may well have felt the siren-call of the elusive Group HRD role at some point in your career.

Securing this role isn’t likely to be easy, even for the most capable and experienced of candidates. And often, the opaque underbelly of how to actually hook the number one job can be difficult for people to get to grips with. With this in mind, here are some general considerations to keep in mind when sketching out your career trajectory.

A brief caveat: plotting your path to the top isn’t an exact science – there’ll be many factors at play. So while we can draw a picture in general strokes, every case will be different.

The first step is to decide where you want to get to based on the realities of the roles themselves, and an honest appreciation of your own capability and potential. Many will assume that the desired finish line sits in a FTSE100 company with the “number one” status this position brings. But this working environment isn’t for everybody, and for many a FTSE250 climate can be more rewarding and sustainable.

We can begin by drawing some generalisations about the difference between HR in FTSE250 and FTSE100 companies.


- The organisation tends to be a corporate beast with established ways of doing things. Change involves persuading people who are already invested in a certain way of working to buy into your initiatives and join you.
- Often, every area of talent has been “done before”. Your job as HRD is to refine, upgrade, and tweak, deciding where’s best to place your bets for investment and development.
- FTSE100 companies function by placing an emphasis on RemCo, NomCo, and corporate governance. This added level of complexity, and the requisite time and effort you’ll have to expend engaging with it, means that not everyone will enjoy or be suited for the role.


- HR is less well-established. There may well be significant gaps in the framework, giving you an opportunity to firmly flesh out the basics and put your stamp on the changes you make.
- You’ll be required to be more firmly rooted in the organization as a whole, justifying decisions in the financial big picture and having closer links with other functions. You may have a bit more “wiggle room” and freedom to implement change.
- Interventions may be more finite, practical, and short-term.

We come across a fair number of Divisional HRDs looking to make the step up to Group, but stuck in a chicken-and-egg situation: organisations are looking for candidates with experience of corporate governance for the upwards move, but they can’t get that experience unless they’re already in the role (or one of the hard-to-come-by jobs that give you this experience without being Group HRD).

A diagonal step into HRD of a FTSE250 can help you gain this experience, fleshing out your profile and allowing you to step back in at a higher level. However, there are some considerations here.

It’s easy to get swept up in the everyday hiring, firing, and managing disputes when you’re closer to the operational realities in a FTSE250 company. When you come to interview for the more strategic role of HRD in a FTSE100, you’ll be missing the necessary complexity and elevation of purpose for the move.

On the flip side, it will play to your favour if you can talk about how you developed a bigger, better story for the FTSE250 you were heading up – a wider organisational agenda that measures up against the external measuring bar with a bigger perspective. Keep in mind that you’ll need to do more than just upgrade the basics if you want to prove your readiness for the upwards move. Case studies like this one on creating a global talent and succession planning framework and this one on building leadership capability may give you some ideas for these sorts of intrinsic, systemic change.

Even once you have this under your belt, remember that FTSE100s will often have their succession planning for the HRD role mapped out for some years to come. Stepping straight back in at the top isn’t guaranteed, and you’ll need to be strategic about the move.

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