Who Should HR Report To? And Why Are We Worrying About it, Anyway?

Editor’s Note: Dr. John Sullivan has been a strategist in HR and talent management for over 30 years. His specialty is HR strategy and designing world class HR systems and tools for Fortune 200 firms. He’s never been shy about telling it like it is.

That’s why TLNT asked him to share his thinking in a video series titled “$#*!@ Dr. John Sullivan Says!” Look for these videos weekly here at TLNT.

Should an organization’s top HR officer report to the CEO, the CFO, or someone else entirely?

It’s a topic HR leaders discuss a lot among themselves, Dr. John Sullivan says, but ultimately, “it’s a silly conversation. You don’t get a choice. The organization assigns who you will report to. And if you spend too much time worrying about who you report to, you won’t get your job done.”

It’s HR’s version of “Catch 22”

“It’s a Catch 22,” he notes. “If you’re a great performer and you produce strategic results, guess what? You get to report to the CEO … (so) who do you report to? It depends on the results you produce, on the approach you utilize.”

In fact, he says, HR leaders should turn around the question and ask themselves: what criteria it takes to report to the CEO?

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And, no matter who you report to, it doesn’t mean you are exempt from having to impress the others. You need to know what criteria it takes to impress them, and no matter who you report to, you’ll need to be able to impress the others and meet their success criteria, too.

Dr. John also says that HR can impact who they report to if they run the organization’s executive search function internally.

When you do that, “you end up hiring the CEO, the COO, and the CFO. If it turns out that if you are responsible for hiring them, they see you (and) you impress them, they’re more likely to treat you the proper way,” and let you report to who you believe you ultimately should report to, after they are on the job.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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