The Company Secretary – the HR Director’s best ally?

Being an HR Director can sometimes be a lonely business.  You are responsible for the people aspects of the organisations strategy, but in certain circumstances, such as the transformation of the Executive Team or senior talent management and succession planning, you may have to do this in a vacuum from your team.  Have you ever considered that the Company Secretary is in a similar position and building a good relationship with them could help you both to achieve your goals?

A high performing Company Secretary understands how the Board works.  They influence the board agendas so help determine what items are discussed and in addition they sit in every Board and Sub Committee (including the Remuneration and Nomination Committees).  This means they are well placed to provide advice on preparing high impact board papers, the politics of the Board, how to make a positive impression and ensure that the right information reaches the Non Executive Directors.

If you have a seat at the Board table, then they can act as an observer of Board meetings and could see Board dynamics you may not because you are concentrating on taking an active role. If it is your intention to advocate potentially disruptive or transformational ways of working or new organisational structures to the Board then the Company Secretary could help.  They could assist you refine or shape your approach in order to get the best outcome with the colleagues you need to get on side.

Company Secretaries are often involved in the recruitment and induction of new Non-Executive directors and want to steer the Chair to recruit a diverse, effective board. HR Directors will want the same.  In companies where Boards are taking a more active interest in talent below Board level, there is likely to be increased need for a close working relationship between the HR Director and the Company Secretary. During periods of particular challenge, such as the re-structuring of Executive teams, they are sometimes the only other officer who knows what is happening so can be a helpful source of support.

Whilst part of their role is to act as an independent challenge to the business (including the HR Director), a good relationship of mutual respect between the Company Secretary and HR Director should ensure that this challenge is positive and beneficial.   A high performing Company Secretary will build relationships across the business and be comfortable walking the tightrope of maintaining that independence whilst engaging with the business to support the delivery of the organisations strategic objectives ethically and legally.   The HR Director will have similar cross company knowledge and relationships and it may be helpful to compare notes from time to time.

The Company Secretary are the keepers of the organisation’s secrets and are often the only person in the organisation who do what they do.   They usually report to the CEO or Chair (or both), who may not have the capacity, inclination or ability to talk to the Company Secretary about their career aspirations or potential career development. The offer of support on this subject from a senior colleague like the HR Director could be gratefully received. Likewise, the Company Secretary could support the HR Director and provide honest advice and feedback if required.

Finally, both the Company Secretariat and the HR functions can be perceived by the business as a cost base so it might be helpful to collaborate and compare notes on how you are both proving your individual teams’ value to the business.

Whether you have a seat at the Board table or not, I believe that a good relationship between HR Director and Company Secretary can be mutually beneficial and good for the business.  This is certainly something I have always sought to achieve when I was a Company Secretary.

Why not arrange a coffee with your HR Director (if you don’t already have them), have the conversation and see where it can lead for both of you?