All executives, and most other employees, are judged on a daily basis by what they are producing and particularly results measured against goals contributing to achievement of the business plan. In a fairly large organization, metrics may be tracked on a daily basis within an operating division and at head offices far away. Everyone is watching to see whether the numbers will be met today, this month, this quarter, this year.
Sustainability and working towards the future is critical, in principle, but results today, for most individuals, are what matters for survival and personal advantage.
Many executives, particularly CEOs and those responsible for Sales, may turn over frequently. No matter who is the leader of the pack today, it is inevitable that for most, their days are numbered. New stars will be welcomed to take their place and yesterday’s heroes will be out the door and poised to be the hope of tomorrow at another organization, as the cycle repeats.
The executive knows he/she has to get results today and knows that the opportunity to dazzle an organization and, possibly, within an industry is limited. Because of that, the focus is on results NOW, and at all costs and within his/her business lifetime. These high profile executives are generally very smart people who understand long term planning and long term opportunity very well. They can talk about it, prepare long term plans and projections, but if they are unlikely to be around to see it happen, all the focus has to be on results today and within the time frame of the current plan.
Of course, the executives all have their separate goals based on their specialty areas (e.g. Sales, Manufacturing) and the CEO counts on them all being achieved in order to meet business plan goals for the total organization. It is probably well understood that optimum results of one executive can often be at the expense of another.
Are they – the executive team – all pulling together in the same direction? Does overall corporate success by superb teamwork take precedence over their individual successes in their own functional area? That is extremely unlikely. Their individual goals (functional and personal) come first and determine their success. They must take every action necessary to achieve them. The VPs are working together, but not always marching under the same flag.
They may respect one-another but most likely spend significant time fighting, complaining about one another and each one doing whatever is necessary to meet his/her goals regardless of the impact on other goals and even the impact on future results. Today is what counts, for the CEO also, who acts as referee!
How Does Human Resources Fit In?
It is not so easy. HR is constantly told that it has to align with business goals and talk the talk of business colleagues. If the executive relationships are somewhat dysfunctional, as I suggest, how does the VP HR determine what to align to? HR has the vision and programs to contribute to the future, to sustainability and to contribute to productivity in many ways but do the executives really care? What do you think? Are they more interested in what HR can do for them today – to get problems and roadblocks out of the way, not the promise of great things in the future? Is it more important for HR to determine the true values and operating style of the organization and focus on responding within the real rather than pretend environment?
Should the success of most organizations be acknowledged as based primarily on the smart, day to day, and often reactive decisions of executives rather than a long term somewhat safe plan? Elements of both are essential, but how would they balance in real life? The question of executives to HR is likely to be “what can you do for me today?” rather than soliciting HR’s vision of the future.
My belief is that executives will want HR to address very practical things to help them achieve what each of them has to achieve today. For example:
- Hiring the right people without delay and firing people cleanly and quickly when they are no longer needed
- Keeping the union under control (getting rid of it is generally preferred) and finding ways around limitations – similarly finding a way around restrictive and annoying legislation
- Looking after employee problems and preferably without involving executives any more than absolutely necessary
- Doing all the nice things to make the company look good and seem like a great employer and giving executives as much credit as possible e.g. including them in photos and announcements and inviting them to participate in or lead high profile presentations
- Keeping the employee records in order and making HR programs as easy as possible to comply with e.g. performance management which should be more focused on results in real time rather than historically
If real business is often more immediate than imagined, are the standard HR approaches listed below really important to the CEO and VPs except as compliance rhetoric or in meeting formal planning requirements? For example:
- Acting as an equal business partner and giving input to VPs about their operations and how best to achieve results
- Being too proactive, with HR initiatives that may theoretically bring great results, but not helping achieve goals today or within the foreseeable future
- Reminding executives that negative actions today can possibly help immediate results, but are likely to have a backlash in a year or so.
Do you think that executives are looking for that type of support? Are they seeking HR words of wisdom or a dynamic HR able to respond to issues and make things happen quickly to support the organization in real time? Do you believe that the executive short term thinking I describe is reality (for survival) and if so should it be more openly acknowledged? Do executives need HR help consistent with their business challenges today, largely leaving the future to take care of itself?
What do you think? Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.