How Can HR Best Support the CEO and Managers?

3 Nov

There are many business leaders (particularly CEOs) who are superb at visualizing the interplay of “hard” business factors and making critical decisions, but not so good at leading people beyond those in the immediate functional business team.   The CEO may not want to be. Isn’t that why HR is there? The CEO does not want to get too involved in day-to-day distractions and counts on HR to look after a number of things, mostly to do with the people.

HR may not agree. HR may want to be seen primarily as a business strategist, equally aloof to day-to-day distractions, more at ease at the “table” than on the shop floor, but that may be a mistake. The VP HR may be sensitive to the frequent criticism that Human Resources people do not understand the business well enough and overreact to distance himself/herself from the HR “touchy feely” stereotype. It is essential that HR fully understands the business, but it is what HR does with that knowledge that is most important and people management may indeed be a priority.


From my experience (the HR perspective), there are a number of basic people related things the CEO looks for from HR, for example:

  • When the HR person is escorting the CEO around the business premises, he/she knows the names of employees and can “tip off” the CEO in time for the CEO to dazzle people by appearing to know who everyone is
  • HR is a supreme problem solver and particularly efficient in handling issues with the CEO’s staff, or complaints etc. that have been submitted directly to the CEO, including petitions
  • HR is able to quickly recruit great people to fill critical vacancies to ensure continuity and avoid complaints to the CEO from people who think HR could do better.   This is probably the biggest challenge to HR as internal client expectations are often unrealistic. Or are they?
  • Meeting legal and compliance requirements with the least disruption or the need for the CEO to get directly involved, particularly if there are complaints e.g. human rights or occupational health and safety

If HR is able to meet the types of people issues described above, then the VP HR is more likely to be trusted and respected by the CEO to equally contribute on business matters. Does that make sense?


  • Line managers/supervisors want HR to be helpful and deal with their problems as quickly as possible, particularly problem employees when the supervisor may be anxious to discipline or terminate. Managers want HR to tell them how they can do it, not why they cannot do it!
  • Line managers/supervisors may NEED (not necessarily want) thorough training to meet their responsibilities as effectively as possible, and minimize the number of crises or avoidable conflicts, particularly on people related issues
  • Managers want HR to communicate helpfully in the language of their operation rather than complicated HR jargon that too often seems focused on telling them why they can’t do what they want to do. They are more likely to respond positively to HR advice if it is shared in an atmosphere of mutual respect rather than delivered in lecture style

HR helping by ensuring that appropriate management training is provided, can give the manager/supervisor greater confidence. The manager can use the acquired knowledge to anticipate and avoid problems and instead focus more on proactively promoting opportunities. By developing greater people expertise, the relationship between HR and the manager is likely to be mutually supportive rather than unbalanced when adequate training and support has not been received by the manager and philosophies can be very different.

Humility and recognizing reality (by all parties) is necessary to develop a winning formula. The CEO, for example, must recognize what he/she is good at and acknowledge necessary support he/she must count on from the executive team or others within the organization. In the same way the CEO may need PR support in developing skills to handle the media and publicly presenting the interests of the organization, the CEO may need HR support to set the scene in the way employee and workplace issues are handled on a day to day basis.

The smart CEO may learn how to respond and say the right things in presenting to and socializing with employees, but will count on HR to ensure that the workplace, from an employee relations perspective, is as effective as possible and the policies and programs in place are best designed to meet specific business needs. This winning formula may earn HR a place at the table, but not just as a talker, but a doer in the most practical and necessary way! What do you think? Do you believe that the people support we give to the CEO and to managers is essential to our HR success?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.




6 Responses to “How Can HR Best Support the CEO and Managers?”

  1. Gavrilović Živojin November 5, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Hi Ian

    Excellent article.

    ,, The CEO does not want to get too involved in day-to-day distractions and counts on HR to look after a number of things, mostly to do with the people ”.
    They are incapable of directors who do not know to manage an organization.

    If HR is able to meet the types of people issues described above, then the VP of HR is more likely to be trusted and respected by the CEO to equally contribute on business matters. Does that make sense?
    Yes, it makes sense and it means that HR needs to take a dominant role in corporate culture and management company.

    The smart CEO may learn how to respond and say the right things and presenting to and socializing with employees, …
    Can not find a smart director because at such places are set by political, familial, and other relationships.
    This is another sign that HR professionals must take a leadership role and not to watch the incompetent directors destroying factories and workers thrown into the street.

    Best Regards

    • ianclive November 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

      Hi Zivojin,

      Thank you for your kind words and your very helpful comments. I agree that success of an organization depends on the effectiveness of its management and Human Resources must provide the best support to ensure that management develop their skills to be competent in all respects including peop0le management.

      Thank you also for the link to your very interesting video.

      Very best wishes,


  2. Carolina November 6, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    Hello Ian,

    What is your opinion on an organization where the CEO is actually involved on the day to day of course resulting in slower results, lack of empowerment, decision making and ownership of those leaders in the organization. What will you recommend for this type of environment?

    Thank you,

    • ianclive November 6, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

      Hi Carolina,

      That is an excellent question. It does depend very much on the style and disposition of the CEO and the specific circumstances and environment. A new CEO (new broom) may start off very controlling to make changes he/she considers necessary, but as things progress be more ready to empower and listen to people he/she trusts. A CEO who has been in place for a while may have a naturally controlling style, but similarly may give greater freedom to people he/she trusts and that includes HR.

      In my experience, it is the trust the CEO has in other executives and HR that determines their acceptance and the degree of freedom given. The HR person may have superb skills and professional knowledge but that does not guarantee acceptance by the CEO. HR lecturing the CEO about how HR could do more is unlikely to help. I believe (as discussed in my article) that the key to HR gaining trust of the CEO is handling the needs and problems of the CEO fast and efficiently. They may, initially, not be big business issues, but of great importance (including annoyance) to the CEO and if HR handles them consistently well, HR is likely to be increasingly involved in bigger issues including more direct involvement in the business.

      It also helps if HR gains the trust of managers in general. If they are more likely to go to HR for advice, rather than bothering the CEO (or VPs) that similarly may give HR credibility and readiness of the CEO and peers to welcome HR as a partner involved in business issues of all kinds including planning.

      Just a few thoughts, Carolina. Thank you for your very pertinent comments.


  3. Sooze November 8, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    My first thoughts were “why bother since no one relies on HR until there is a problem.” After all, most organizations relay on HR to carry out the “dirty” work (separations, terminations, dismissals, suspensions, etc.) without realizing that upper management has made the call to carry out those types of actions and also believing that their hands don’t get dirty. That was always a point I made to any employee who was on the receiving end of a disciplinary action–it wasn’t HRs decision, but rather came from line supervisors and/or upper management.
    After reading through the article, what you have laid out is an excellent template on how an organization can be at its best when the players interact with each other with respect and trust. Credibility (for HR) is usually easy to establish provided the HR staff knows what they are doing and does it well. Establishing credibility (for management) may take a while longer because they are not particularly people-friendly, but rather bottom-line/profit-driven. However, in order for an organization to run well, there must be a link of some sort where HR and upper management can see where respect and trust should be upper most in their dealings with each other. One simply can not expect HR to do the “touchy-feely” or “dirty” aspects of a company without some input from upper management and upper management can not expect HR to carry out its various functions without some input from HR.
    Once again, a very fine article, Ian.

    • ianclive November 11, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

      Hi Susan,

      Thank you for your kind words. It is always a pleasure to hear from you and benefit from your insight. My organizational experience is similar to the way you describe. I liked the problem solving, trouble shooting side of HR and saw it as a way we add value to the organization and hopefully help management to develop more capability to handle more of their own issues.

      In most situations handled by HR, management had to remain directly part of the action and although HR may take the lead in disciplinary investigation, mediating disputes etc., the manager (reinforcing accountability) actually delivered the discipline or terminated the employee. In that situation, of course, the cowardly manager could later tell the employee that it wasn’t him or her, but HR who made the decision and forced the manager to do whatever. Sometimes we cannot win if the manager is in denial and not willing to take responsibility.

      Thank you, Susan, for expanding the discussion in such a helpful way.

      Very best wishes,


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