Why CEOs hate dealing with Human Resources

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series looking at why CEOs often can’t get along with their human resources departments. In Part 2, we’ll hear directly from the HR side.

How many times have you heard the chief executive groan “Do we really need HR at this meeting?”

Why is it that many CEOs simply hate dealing with their human resources managers?

Sitcoms such as “The Office” and comic strips such as “Dilbert” have a heyday poking fun at HR staff. Is HR really as insensitive, overly administrative and generally annoying to work with as it’s often depicted?

After supporting CEOs for more than 26 years with HR challenges and strengthening their human capital strategies, we know firsthand the obstacles HR has demonstrating their value to achieving critical business strategies and objectives. We also know there are almost always two sides to every story.

First, let’s look from the CEO’s viewpoint. It’s true that HR professionals can miss golden opportunities to prove the value they bring to the table.

Here are five common problems CEOs experience with HR.

Not understanding the business. The executive table suffers no fools. HR must understand how the company runs, makes money, the CEO’s vision for growth and how HR can drive and align its programs toward these goals. When training new HR managers, first on the list should be a facility tour, introductions to every department and an emphatic reminder that HR wouldn’t exist without these people.

We’re not here just to accomplish every cool program we want; we’re here to assist the company’s overall mission. If HR doesn’t learn the business inside out, it will be viewed as administrative and ancillary to the leadership team. Top HR leaders are indispensable to the executive team; they add value to discussions that aren’t only HR specific, communicate return on investment and speak intelligently to pressing issues facing a busy board.

Not having credibility with their peers or just not getting along. The HR director who says “That’s not in my bandwidth” is setting up for his or her own death knell. HR must possess a well-rounded skill set toward any problem, be technically solid in the core areas of human resources and, most importantly, be right in difficult situations.

Not really “knowing your stuff” or faking an answer instead of researching the correct solution is the fastest way to lose credibility from management. CEOs understand HR can’t be a constant fountain of knowledge, but misfiring on the toughest HR situations is hard to recover from.

Not getting along with other executives? Sorry, but no excuses here. If HR can’t be a good example of people skills, who can? This is one of those “life isn’t fair” moments, but that’s the way it is. HR always must be in the lead as a team player.

Weak analytical skills. HR employees unable to see the financial impact of projects lose credibility fast, not only with the CEO but also with operations, finance and the board. A Denver CEO in the emerging technology space explained, “They have probably gotten into HR because they have strong social skills but don’t possess the analytical side. This becomes a problem when the hard issues arise. They can’t handle them, and then the CEO has to step in.”

Telling the CEO “You can’t do this” with difficult employee situations. This was a particular pet peeve of a CEO in my corporate past. My best approach was learning to educate and share best management practices and potential legal concerns and then let the CEO choose her path. By presenting information in a logical and understandable style, the CEO successfully navigated those tricky employment waters.

CEOs count on HR to solve problems where they’re not an expert, but they’re also not used to being told what they “have” to do. The HR leader who learns both tact and diplomacy quickly becomes a trusted adviser and confidant.

A little too quiet in the chair. You don’t get invited to the executive meetings because you want to be there. You’re invited when you provide valuable insight, you’re current on all company news and developments, and management doesn’t want to have the discussion without you.

Jean Imbler-Jansen, SPHR, is president of Strategic HR Solutions, an executive search firm and HR consultancy in Boulder. Reach her at 303-247-9500 or jimbler@sHRsrecruiting.com.

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