Taking the Gloves Off: CEOs and HR

A CEO recently shared with me how many of his peers were choosing not to fill staff vacancies in their Human Resources Departments. I was not surprised. Although Human Resources (HR) is a key player in one of the most complex challenges facing organizations today – attracting and retaining a high-quality workforce – rather than being valued as a strategic business partner, Human Resources is a department business leaders love to hate.

Human Resources Rhetoric

Business leaders hated HR in 2005, loved to hate HR in 2015, and there is no love lost today.

Today’s HR is light years away from the rhetorical group of ladies wearing cat sweaters sitting in a window-less room processing tenure-pay increases. “Look Sally, Harry reached a 20 year tenure mark. Let’s give Harry a pay raise.” Yet the stories continue: HR lacks visions and insight and invests heavily in programs that lack impact; HR staff capabilities are openly questioned; and HR departments are laden with preconceived notions of limited technical skills, lack of ambition, and a compliance-only focus.

Robert McDonald, as CEO, Proctor and Gamble said, “People are going to tell stories about you whether you want them to or not. Choose which ones they tell.” I love this quote for a few reasons: first, it’s true and second, it puts HR leaders across the globe in the driver’s seat. Don’t like the stories? Change the stories.

Cat sweater jokes aside, some HR leaders simply are not cut out for today’s HR. Yet, there are HR leaders applying their business knowledge and understanding of how people fit into the business equation every single day to move their organizations forward. They are at the mercy of the very negative HR stories they are committed to change. And they can’t change the stories without you.

Beyond the Rhetoric

If you’ve moved beyond the rhetoric in your organization, drop down to the comments and share with the community: How does HR fit into your strategic narrative? What actions did you take to get to where you are today, what do you do to maintain this key business relationship, and where are you and your HR leadership heading?

If you are questioning the value of HR in your organization, stay with me for bit. Think about your strategic narrative – does it communicate a shared purpose? “The cornerstone of a strategic narrative is a shared purpose. This shared purpose is the outcome that you and your customers are working toward together. It’s more than a value proposition of what you deliver to them. Or a mission of what you do for the world. It’s the journey that you are on with them.”

Does your strategic narrative include the people side of the organization and have you communicated how your shared purpose will be fulfilled? Have you included your human resource leaders and discussed your expectations of them in fulfilling your expectations?

If not, is it because of rhetoric or reality? Before you answer, think about this question and why you shouldn’t hate HR: Is it that HR executives aren’t financially savvy enough, or too focused on delivering programs rather than enhancing value, or is it that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?

Reservations not Required

You have reservations, don’t you?

Relax, this is not a one-sided business venture. The tenure of HR leaders bothered by being held accountable for delivering on expectations will be short-lived. And I am 100% ok with that. You can’t run an organization with leaders unwilling or unable to hold up their end of the relationship; you simply will have to find ones who are suited to the work.

First and foremost, HR executives need to earn the respect of their CEO and other executives so they’ll be heard if they need to point out an issue. And one of the reasons they have, hopefully, gained their confidence is because they know the business or are proving to you that that they are personally and professionally invested in learning.

In the article, People Before Strategy: A New Role for the CHRO, the authors reference  Korn Ferry research that indicate only 40 of the CHROs at Fortune 100 companies had significant work experience outside HR before they came to lead that function. This might leave a gap in terms of predicting, diagnosing, and prescribing actions that will improve business performance. However, inclusion in broader discussions will expand a CHRO’s understanding of the business. “It’s up to you to elevate HR and bridge gaps that prevent HR leadership from being a strategic partner.”

Now, go out there and make me proud.

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Lisa Rosendahl

Lisa is a leader in the human resource community with over 30 years of hands-on industry experience in the public, private and federal sectors. She fell into human resources after serving almost 10 years as an officer in the U.S. Army. She is just beginning the college search process with her daughter and husband so wish her luck.

Reader Interactions


  1. Dennis Miller says

    As an HR professional, many years ago I decided to change my fundamental thought process regarding how I view my work role to reflect a new and perhaps non-standard professional model, which may be on point with your article. That model is “I am a business manager with expertise in human resources”. When I consider outcomes from the HR function, I lead the thought, and often discussion with subordinates, to reflect that model. The not so subtle fact is that in order to be a business manager, one must truly understand, with depth and breadth, the company business. In the absence of understanding the company business, programs and policies and all the good that can originate from the human resources function will surely miss the mark a large percentage of the time, thereby facilitating the negative viewpoints pointed out in your article. For any newly minted HR professional, or anyone looking to change the manner in which sr. management views HR, I can assure them that taking this one simple step will yield visible and favorable long term results.


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