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By David Harder on November, 15, 2016

New Behavior for CEOs and Human Resources



How to solve a dilemma with the right partner



Reading Harvard Business Review and The Atlantic provides an illusion that I possess at least an additional 10 points of IQ. Last year, HRB published, “It’s Time To Blow Up HR and build something new” but it offered little in terms of new thought and missed the boat on a number of key issues. Personally, I find these periodic attacks on the human resource profession to be ill informed. It seems like a profession to blame because of all the shortcomings we have developed in dealing with the human side of business. In light of the fact that we are in a new talent war that will grow because of the rate of change, it is a mistake to beat up a profession that does its best in building talent.


I offered a critique and individual viewpoint about that article. In reviewing the many letters and e-mails I received it feels appropriate to bring the story back. First, lets quote some of the content from HBR:


“Recent complaints about the HR function have touched a nerve in a large; sympathetic audience, particularly in the United States. The most vocal critics say that HR managers focus too much on “administrivia” and lack vision and strategic insight.”


We knew that.


At times, it is difficult to tell if the intended reader is the HR executive or the CEO. This leads to the crux of a major problem. Much of HBR’s articles speak to CEOs in how to elevate the function of human resources. But, the average CEO needs a new outlook as well. We ought to be forging an entirely new relationship between the CEO and Chief Human Resource Officer that is based on mutual accountability with talent issues that belong to the CEO as well as what belongs to human resources.


Pointedly, category leaders and organizations that hit the “best places to work” lists have cultures that are led by the CEO or business owner and that initiative is artfully supported by human resources.


Many of us tend to hide in our existing competencies. Many CEOs are not especially comfortable in taking charge of their cultures. They are so busy pleasing shareholders and the board that human issues feel intrusive. But, giving culture or employee engagement over to human resources is a big strategic mistake. Why? The employees will look over the shoulders of HR executives to the business owner or CEO. When they see “business as usual” culture will not improve. It must come from the top.


From another vantage point, many human professionals want a seat at the table but they are not especially comfortable earning it. I find that organizations such as SHRM offer a wide variety of certifications that are based on “administrvia” but not they are not showing their students how to develop a strong business voice, the bearing of authority and the viewpoints of C level executives. When we throw the impact of technology on the administrative functions of human resource, the need to build strategic viewpoints and strong presentation skills become only more important. Yes, technology frees us up to do more valuable work but for those individuals who don’t define what that work looks like, there will be trouble.


It is a little like this: In the next ten years robotics and artificial intelligence will redefine how we work and how we live. The behavioral challenge is that many of us were conditioned by industrial revolution thinking where our value was measured by how many and how effectively we finished tasks. When we have been in robotic behavior for any length of time, the right brain is ignored. Someone in that position might initially swear they are only cut out for robotic work when we will need strategy, innovation, empathy and especially the ability to regularly reinvent ourselves. In fact this invention process is needed at the level of “becoming.” When we are constantly learning how to keep up with change we must first learn how to change ourselves and to learn how to do that so artfully that we are consternating “becoming.”


The strongest and most effective relationships between CEOs and Chief Human Resources Officer are very different from much of what I have described. These partnerships share the responsibility of culture, talent development and workforce bench strength. The CEO walks the talk and leads culture as well as engagement initiatives. The human resource executives visits the frontline and executes the improvements. Often a strong human resource executive has the courage to coach the CEO and become very clear in what is needed to make the company as successful as possible. Developing that courage is unusual but there are big payoffs. The ones who do this tend to be the most well paid and the ones in demand.


Because if we are to base our success on a strong culture, it is the CEO that must send the message. In the absence of that leadership, the people will be looking right past human resources watching and waiting to see if the CEO is telling the truth, walking the talk, getting ready to lay off more workers and will all too often take any ancillary messages about human capital with a grain of salt.


Let’s step back into the topic of discomfort. Human resource executives belong at the table. But, it is also time to coach the CEO to take charge of his or her culture. It is time to teach them how to do that. And, It is time to be persistent in that quest.


Louis Gerstner once said,


“The world is full of CEOs that think that just because they write a memo or they write a letter inside an annual report or they give a little video speech that gets sent around to the company, they think that’s what’s really going to affect employees.”


It takes so much more.


In almost every leading organization, the CEO is right there with everybody and their impact can turn our perception of success on its head.


An example:


Did you know that the average tenure of full-time cashiers at Trader Joe’s is eighteen years? John Shields is credited with taking the company from a small regional specialty grocer in 1988 to a national powerhouse.


He said,


“I go to every store and ask the employees what corporate is doing to mess things up and then I change it.”


He listened and as a result, the employees of Trader Joe’s are insanely loyal.


My point can and in some cases will be shot down with cynicism or even contempt.


But, before you retire this idea, take out a highlighter and open Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Place to Work issues and look for what these organizations have in common. At the core, you will find CEOs that do indeed work closely with human resources. But, you will also find the same CEOs leading the charge. You will find CEOs that have taken charge of the human capital equation. As a result, you will find human resource executives who are more valuable than ever because human capital is job number one. Additionally, the companies that have been on Fortune’s list five years in a row and they have one characteristic in common:


They foster strong relationships amongst their workers.


Don’t you think that began with a CEO who took the initiative to form a relationship with them?


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


Reach us 310-277-4850.


Reach David at


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