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By David Harder on December, 21, 2017

When Do Human Capital Executives Take a Fall for the CEO?

An effective partnership between a CEO and the Chief Human Resource Officer has become one of the key factors of an organization’s success. However, there is an all too common breakdown that very few business journalists discuss. When a chief human resource officer comes to me with a career opportunity. During our discussion, I invariably ask, “Is the CEO leading the culture?” If the answer is no, I suggest they keep looking. When an executive has already taken the role, I suggest she or he “keep your bags packed.” Research for my new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution only supported my view.


For example, let’s use employee engagement as an example of the breakdown.


The CEO walks into the human resources office and tells the human resource executive to “fix the employee engagement problem.” By the time the CEO has hit the door, he or she is disengaged. The chief human resources officer launches an engagement program. The employees look past her or his shoulder to the CEO and witness “business as usual.” The organization conducts an employee survey. The results make the managers feel even more inadequate in producing engagement. A consulting organization suggests it is their fault. Leadership is sent to another development retreat. They come back enthused and the employees respond, “so what.”


Does any of this sound familiar?


If only 13% of the world’s workers are engaged we can presume that many CEOs are also disengaged. CEOs have a wide variety of responsibilities on their plates. For many, it has been all too easy to completely turn issues of culture to the human resources group. As a result, the employees don’t change. Successful engagement requires a fully democratic approach to the problem. Full engagement requires an awakening and growth almost always includes discomfort. We find that disengaged people must learn how to change in order to engage. Many of our workers are so out-of-sync with change, they are simply going through the motions.


When a CEO turns culture and engagement leadership to human resources, progress is more difficult than pushing an egg up a hill with one’s chin. In this scenario, when the culture change fails, who gets thrown under the bus?


Much of our consulting industry does little to change this pattern. For years, talent development has been reserved for the high potentials. America’s employers spend a fortune on leadership but little on transforming everyone else’s behavior. As a result, employee engagement becomes a chronic illness.


Organizations that make it to Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work” issues make culture number one. And, we find CEOs that embrace the reality that category leadership requires a fully awake and enthused population. They recognize that employer brand has become more important than consumer brand. They often have the reality and humility to be coached by the chief human resource officer on messaging, responsibilities, and engagement accountability.


Here are a few suggestions for human resources executive who are seeking a new opportunity.


  • Ask the CEO about his or her philosophy of human capital.
  • What role do they play in culture definition and leadership?
  • How receptive is the CEO to your coaching?
  • How does the CEO envision your partnership?


The answers will probably tell you exactly what to expect.


Happy holidays.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.


(C) Copyright, 2017, Inspired Work, Inc. – (All Rights Reserved)


To discuss your workplace or your career with David Harder, schedule fifteen-minutes, Here.