A Most Depressing Report — If You’re a Global Chief HR Officer

The report of a global CEO survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, and sponsored by IBM and Oracle (an interesting pairing), just crossed my desk.

The report — CEO perspectives: How HR can take a on a bigger role in driving growth — is not very encouraging. Either CEOs are talking out of both sides of their mouths (HR’s choice, I’m sure) or global Chief HR Officers are in bigger trouble than we thought.

The survey, conducted in May 2012, included 235 C-level executives, 134 of whom are CEOs. A total of 38 countries were represented from North America (47 percent), Western Europe (40 percent), Eastern Europe (8 percent) and the Middle East (4 percent). A range of industries were included and half of the companies had $500 million or more in annual revenues. Additionally, six (6) in-depth interviews were conducted with four (4) CEOs and two respected academics.

Does HR need to develop a “therapeutic” CEO relationship?

While the Economist Intelligence Unit authors tried to spin the results in a positive way, there’s just no getting around the conclusion that even big company CHROs are having a hard time getting access to the strategic business discussions at the top of their organizations.

While 76 percent of the surveyed CEOs say their relationship with the head of HR is close and trustful, only 55 percent report that the head of HR is a key player in strategic planning.

chro-at-the-table-eiuWhat I found really interesting was the perception by the authors that the way to greater inclusion in strategic decision making is to become “a confidante and informal executive coach” to the CEO. It said, “If the CEO has repeatedly relied on the head of HR for certain important matters, and they still see eye to eye, he or she is more likely to invite the HR head to participate in other areas as a matter of course.”

So, developing a personal, “therapeutic” relationship with the CEO is the first best practice the report’s authors recommend. But you’re doomed, I guess, if you don’t see eye to eye.

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Some interesting (but depressing) data

Becoming liked and trusted by the CEO is the way forward to weighing in on strategic business decisions. This, despite the finding that 50 percent of the surveyed CEOs spend five (5) hours or less a month – in either one-on-one or group settings – with their head of HR. I wonder how you figure out if you even see eye-to-eye in less than five hours a month.

The report has lots of interesting – and depressing – data, and you should probably take a look. But I think this gets filed under: Duh!

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s bottom line appears to be that CHROs whose CEOs like them get more involvement in the business. I hope IBM and Oracle didn’t spend big bucks on this research.

This originally appeared on China Gorman’s blog at ChinaGorman.com.

China Gorman is a successful global business executive in the competitive Human Capital Management (HCM) sector. She is a sought-after consultant, speaker and writer bringing the CEO perspective to the challenges of building cultures of humanity for top performance and innovation, and strengthening the business impact of Human Resources.

Well known for her tenure as CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, COO and interim CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and President of Lee Hecht Harrison, China works with HCM organizations all over the world to enhance their brands and their go-to-market strategies. Additionally, she serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Jobs for America’s Graduates as well as the Advisory Boards of Elevated Careers, the Workforce Institute at Kronos, and WorldBlu. Addtionally, she chairs the Globoforce WorkHuman Advisory Board and the Universum North America Board. China is the author of the popular blog Data Point Tuesday, and is published and frequently quoted in media properties like Fortune, TLNT, Huffington Post, Inc., Fast Company, U.S. News & World Report and many others.

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3 Comments on “A Most Depressing Report — If You’re a Global Chief HR Officer

  1. Hi China —- I have the uitmost respect for EIU. And I find it more interesting and “telling” to look at surveys with CEO/COO participants data than HR. HR unfortunately doesn’t always “see” things the same as CEOs do. And it is the CEO’s opinion that we need to listen to. We in HR would be a lot better off if we listened more to CEOs than other HR people or HR consultants. Enough.
    My take (and I haven’t read the study) is that it is HR’s responsibility to get in the CEOs door. I do think that if a CEO trusts you you have a better chance of getting his attention. However, I’m not sure it has anything to do with “like”. In one company where I reported to the CEO I didnt like him (sorry no her) or he me. But we learned to understand where each of us were coming from. And as HR I had the choice of sulking in my office or — over time — finding ways to show the CEO where he was wrong.
    And I think that at top management levels there is less “liking” one another than “respecting” one another. And that’s the way it should be.

  2. Interesting study, but some of the conclusions/recommendations arrived at by the authors couldn’t be more distressing.

    So lets see: Get the CEO to like you, a lot, so you can become his/her personal and professional therapist, do the CEO’s job by insuring that the executive team (and presumably direct reports of the CEO) play nice with each other, make impressive statements about strategy implementation even though you weren’t a participant in its development, and ask your boss if you can become a member of the board and attend more ‘big boy’ meetings. Aargh!!

    What’s painfully obvious and completely missed by the authors is the fact that neither the CEO nor the CHRO understand exactly what the CHRO is supposed to do. So they default to ‘people issues’ because that’s supposed to be HR’s expertise.

    HR leaders don’t ‘buddy up’ with the CEO, nor do they run around and either placate executive team issues or act as the henchman and do the dirty deed. Doing those things simply drives a wedge between the CEO and his/her team, and serves to isolate the HR leader as someone to be careful around. Trying to impress everybody with your strategy savvy statements, without the benefit of understanding the back story, is a risky proposition at best, and will likely come across as self-serving. Finally, asking for permission to attend meetings simply subordinates the CHRO, and abdicates whatever equalization he/she is trying to achieve.

    Successful HR leaders know their job and use that knowledge to level the playing field. Their relationship with the CEO and the Executive Team needs to be based upon mutual respect, not popularity with the Big Guy. Their job is to configure a plan that supports success today and prepares the organization for success tomorrow. Their job is to sell that plan and make sure everybody understands and commits to the dependencies. Their job is to flawlessly execute the plan and hold executives accountable for delivering on their commitments. Do these things and your seat at the big table is guaranteed.

  3. China – I originally read this on your blog and was unable to comment at that moment. The report is depressing, indeed. Aside from the obvious figures and opinions demonstrating that HR still lags behind in the credibility department, there were a few other areas that stood out.

    In particular the section about the expected informal coaching role between the CXO and HR person. I found it interesting that there seemed to be an implied trust factor related to interpersonal, communication style and emotional intelligence coaching. Yet within that relationship, apparently, there is a lack of trust to include the HR person in business strategy decisions. Am I interpreting that accurately?

    Kelly B @TalentTalks

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