One of the best blog posts I’ve recently read was written by my fellow FOT’er, Meredith Soleau. “What CEOs Hate About HR People” was so perfectly on point. I often hear similar grumbles about HR people from executives and leaders that I have interviewed when gathering data to inform consulting gigs. Bottom line: if you, Mr. or Ms. HR Person, want a seat at the executive table, then for cryin’ out loud, please think and act like an executive.
I’ve been a HR person. I still claim to be a HR person, albeit a “third-party, objective consultant-type who helps HR people be more effective HR people”. I get the CEO perspective about HR people, I really do. At the same time, I also think HR people have viable grievances against CEOs and other C-suite types. So, in the spirit of balance, supporting the underdog, and otherwise providing a pair or two of big girl and big boy pants, here is my list (informed by my personal experience, that of many colleagues in my past lives and current clients in the HR space) of what HR people hate about CEOs (and other C-people).
- You don’t play your position (read: behave like a CEO or a C-level executive). Being a C-level executive in an organization – any size organization – means you have RESPONSIBILITIES. It means people listen to what you say and watch what you do VERY CAREFULLY, and take both VERY SERIOUSLY. You’re the BOSS. So quit saying s&@! Like, “let’s fire him / her, everyone…” You may think you’re joking. Your employees don’t. And it’s the HR people who have to cover your butt, even if we don’t know exactly what you mean, either.
- You hire people who are just like you. Or you hire “yes people” – people who do whatever you tell them. Either way, you are not surrounding yourself with people who can, and will, provide you with different perspectives on the business and your leadership, and who can help improve both. Then you tell HR people to recruit and hire better employees, to develop strong leaders, and otherwise pull rabbits out of grubby hats. Your employees will not work to improve their skills, their leadership, and their impact on the business unless they see executives doing so in a very visible way. That means hiring people who are smarter, more capable, and ultimately, different from you.
- You don’t own your messages, in particular, the difficult ones. As Nan Russell wrote, “how you handle the difficult communications, is, itself a message…” When you hide behind emails, voice mail, text messages, or worse, when you essentially blame others for the message you have to deliver, your actions convey the bigger message of zero respect, caring, or compassion not only for your employee, but for your position as an executive and a leader. Not only do people resent the message, they resent, and ultimately distrust, the messenger. And it’s worse when you “delegate” the delivery of said difficult messages to your HR person: you suck us into the morass of disrespect and distrust. We’re there to help you run a business, not to cover your cowardly butt.
- You shirk your responsibility for employee engagement, and instead make HR responsible for employee engagement and productivity. While research shows that employee engagement is most influenced by direct supervisors, your organization’s supervisors won’t own employee engagement if they don’t see that you, the executive, own it, prioritize it, and walk the talk about it. When you pooh-pooh employee engagement, so will your organization’s direct supervisors. So step up and take responsibility for employee engagement.
- You don’t manage your people. You know, those animated beings that actually are the engine that execute your business day to day? As a leader and executive, it is YOUR responsibility to ensure that your organization’s employees understand the company’s business, strategic direction, initiatives, and markets. Quit expecting HR to do it. Quit expecting HR processes to take the place of good, solid leadership and management practices.
I totally agree with all the complaints CEOs have about HR people. I totally agree with the complaints HR people have about CEOs and other C-people. The bottom line is, if both HR people and C-people could do what the other wants from them, we most likely would have highly effective and functional organizations. And we would see HR people and C-people more than co-existing out of necessity, but instead, working closely together as partners and colleagues. Wouldn’t that be cool?