From the Archives: Memo to HR

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Until last week’s post about Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting, the post below from March 18, 2011 was the most read of all my posts.  Interesting.

TO:                         HR

FROM:                  China Gorman

RE:                         News flash!

Date:                     March 18, 2011

Guess what?  Your CEO probably gets it.

I know HR pros like to kvetch about the C-Suite in their organizations:

  • “My CEO doesn’t get it.”
  • “The CEO and CFO run the business like people are widgets.”
  • “I can’t get the C-Suite interested in cutting edge HR solutions.”

Those days are over, friends.  I’ve met and talked with a number of CEOs lately.  CEOs from Fortune 200 companies, medium-sized companies and start-ups.  I’ve been struck by the conversations we’ve had.  Because in each case, these CEOs exhibit many of the behaviors HR pros are looking for from their CEOs.  Here are some of the signs:

1.       Talent acquisition/development comes up early in a conversation about their top challenges.

2.       They have done reading – or in some cases, writing – about corporate culture and are actively involved in leading a change in their organization’s culture.

3.       They have embraced the research of an OD or culture expert/guru whose work they are integrating into their culture and language.

4.       Succession planning is among the top issues on which their leadership team is working.

5.       Employee engagement is critical to them.  They know the scores of their organization’s most recent employee attitude survey and are peering over the shoulders of their operations leaders to ensure the opportunities for improvement are moving forward — in line with the culture change work they’re leading.

6.       Supervisors/managers are measured by how well they manage the performance and development of their people.

7.        Diversity/inclusion enters the conversation early when talking about culture.

But here’s the thing, HR.  This is a trend.  We’re going to see more and more of these behaviors from CEOs as we experience the pending generational shift in the ultimate C-Suite in organizations large and small.

So here’s the big question:  Are you ready? Are you ready to be evidence-based in your leadership?  Are you ready to base organization and business solutions on current research and analytics?  I hope so.  Because the next generation of CEOs – as well as some in the current generation as my experience indicates – while  they’re beginning to focus on what HR would say are the right issues, they’re still the CEO.  They’re still all about the numbers.  Outcomes.  Growth.  Quality.  They still need fact and data to support their decision making.  That’s not going to change.   And if they don’t get that fact and data from HR where are they going to get it?

CEOs don’t really make critical decisions much by “gut feel” and that probably won’t change.  Ever.   Sure, some may be more spontaneous than others.  Some may be more extroverted than others.  And some may actually sound like HR professionals.  But they’re still CEOs.  They still have to deliver top and bottom line performance this quarter and next.  And they have to have a plan for the longer horizon – a plan that is based on real data and supported by the current set of facts.

Where would the average HR professional begin to source useful research data and analytics?  SHRM, CIPD, ASTD, WorldatWork – all the large HR-related professional associations are investing more and more into their research capabilities.  They all conduct and publish top notch research in every aspect of the people domain in organizations. They want their members to embrace more rigorous and sound methodologies.  Heck.  They’re pleading with their members to be consumers of relevant research because they know the day of reckoning is approaching.

Other organizations like The Conference Board, the Corporate Executive Board and Bersin & Associates all publish extraordinary research that enable HR to make fact-based decisions and to get HR metrics aligned with financial metrics.  Free sources of actionable research-based data include the SHRM Foundation, the U.S. Department of Labor,  the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and innumerable non-profit organizations that cover the waterfront of issues and functions.

Since more and more CEOs are “getting” the fact that people and culture are critical to business success, is HR “getting” that in order to respond to this CEO movement in their direction, they need to be making movement into the fact and data-based world of the CEO?  I surely hope so.

It’s past time to get comfortable with research and analytics — and making them actionable.



Filed under Data Point Tuesday, Uncategorized

16 responses to “From the Archives: Memo to HR

  1. Pingback: CEOs and HR: Then and Now | HR Examiner

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  4. China,
    Great post. Right on target. HR folks must know how to present the tangibles of the programs and understand the business of the business and to speak the language of profitability and sustainable competitive advantage.

  5. Hi China: I totally agree with your post. The bigger questions is wether HR professionals are ready to “evolve” from a transactional focus TO a strategic focus for their C-level executives. Are they ready to propose and implement Human Capital Supply Chains ?? Can HR deliver improved strategic value to the board room?? What do you think, Tim Giehll

  6. Pingback: If I Were Running A Company…The Nonprofit Tech Conference

  7. This was a great post China. You’re so right. There are many resources available to HR pros to help them make a solid case to executives. One of my favorite new areas of research is NeuroLeadership. David Rock is a pioneer in this area. He has been able to show brain-mapping evidence of how people respond to different leadership styles and work situations. So even the nebulous things like employee emotions and motivation can be documented via neuroscience.

    It’s a great new world we live in. We just need to get the rest of HR there with us.

    • Thanks, Alicia. I’ve heard of his work. Fascinating stuff. There’s so much great research and analytics out there for HR — and most of it is free! The more we use fact and data in our language the more we’ll be talking the language of business — the language of CEOs!

  8. Great blog and advice – next steps we will see changing mindset among HR

    • Thanks, Peter. HR really needs to step up. I know SHRM and CIPD are providing all kinds of great research and data. You know what they say…”you can a lead a horse to water…”

  9. Kristin Lundin

    Yes!! Thank you China. As usual, you’re right on the money. This should be a wakeup call for all the HR folks who have long belabored the “seat at the table” plea. Be ready, be prepared and remember that people used to think that you couldn’t measure marketing results. China’s right, if the CEO can’t get tangible data and fact based recommendations on Human Resources from the HR leaders, he/she will most certainly ask for them from somewhere else.

    • Thanks for your kind comment, Kristin. This is feeling like a sea change to me. The CEOs I’m talking to are using language that includes “employee engagement,” “diversity and inclusion,” and a whole host of other HR “lingo.” They know what it means and they are getting involved. Hands on involved. And they want the fact and data to support tying HR metrics to financial and operational metrics. When the CEO ties up with a noted academic and begins to implement research based learnings — absent HR — that’s not a good sign.

  10. Great idea doing this in a memo style, re: News Flash! – very funny 🙂

    I think you are right that more and more CEOs and C whatevers do “get it” and I think there’s a need for HR to get the faith and have confidence in the rise of the “they get it” culture. I also think that some CEOs do go with gut feel, because you can use statistics and data to prove all kinds of things. So I’m excited – because your memo helps me to think that what this is about is simply a coming together of people who want to make work better. And if that ain’t a News Flash! worth making a fuss about, well I don’t know what is.

    Cheers – Doug

    • Hey Doug. Glad you liked it. I like the “C whatevers” (CWs) too. I’ll give you credit when I use that. 🙂 HR will really lose ground if it keeps on assuming that CEOs and CWs don’t get it. The evidence is mounting that they do get it and are starting to move forward without HR. We have to step up to the plate and start swinging for the fences!

  11. Debbie Brown

    Bravo- excellent post China-

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