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.
WHAT DOES THE CEO WANT?
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?
WHAT DO LINE MANAGERS WANT
- 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.