The Learning Spotlight
Human Resource Heroes – Do they exist or have they all Sold Out?
By John Grubbs
Most CEOs come from three functions in most companies – sales, finance and operations. Ever wonder why so few human resources (HR) executives are chosen to sit in the corner office? Has the position of HR been devalued to an ancillary function on the executive team? If so, how did it get this
When Jack Welch took over General Electric in the early 1980s, he transformed the company from a product oriented entity to a people oriented, talent machine. With the nickname “Neutron Jack” he carved away the bureaucratic “fat” to reveal a leaner and meaner performance based organization. The transformation made GE a virtual leadership factory and companies began to select
and woo potential talent from the GE school of leadership excellence. Welch knew that talent was the key to organizational performance and he broke the trends of leadership selection that had become common in that era. Though not from the HR function, he made human resources and talent excellence the critical role of the CEO.
Amidst the success that GE experience in the next two decades, why didn’t more companies copy this view on talent? Why haven’t more CEOs come from the HR discipline? While most CEOs agree that the only real competitive advantage comes from talent, many of them continue to devalue the HR function. Yet, the best and most dynamic companies all agree that the real advantage comes from
putting talent at the heart of every business plan and strategy. Let’s explore some potential reasons for this classic example of “cognitive dissonance”.
The reason we may know this is true and don’t take action (cognitive dissonance) is simple and compelling. It is painful and uncomfortable for me as a member of the HR function to admit. Too many HR executives have simply “sold out” to the favors of the rest of the executive team. They have sacrificed what they know to be true in order to keep a seat at the table of
The typical HR executive gains favor among peers by the mitigation or avoidance of lawsuits. Their short time in the spotlight with discussions of protecting the organization and the threats of multi-million dollar litigation are like “quick hits” on the executive crack pipe. They get the attention of the entire executive team for a moment and the perceived value of the HR function
goes up in their own minds. Unfortunately, this euphoria is short-lived. The small piece of the agenda is pushed to the side the real game of competitive business resumes. Organizational strategy and operational excellence take over and the mandatory HR piece is glazed over with an “OK thank you, what’s next?”
I believe there are HR Heroes out there today. These heroes believe talent (and its proper deployment) is the true key to organizational success. These HR executives believe that the fear of litigation and the formation of more bureaucratic company policy are far down on the list of functional priorities. They believe the formation and execution of a clearly defined and deliberate
“talent strategy” are the key function of the entire executive team.
These HR Heroes have influence among the executive team and support the principle that success comes from “leading” indicators rather than “trailing” indicators such as profit margin and revenue. These true “leaders” are focused on what determines results rather than the results themselves.
The emergence of titles such Chief Talent Officer and Chief Human Resources Officer represent the fact that these HR Heroes are truly out there somewhere. HR in these organizations is an integral part of the business strategy rather than a necessary cost of doing business.
If HR doesn’t report to the CEO or have a seat on the senior executive team, the organization is a dinosaur awaiting extinction. If the core of the business strategy for the next five, ten and fifteen years isn’t focused on retaining, recruiting and developing the best team, consider this article carefully. There are methods to engage senior management that require extreme candor and diplomacy and
above all a willingness to go “all in” when necessary.
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