The Real Reason HR Is Hated: CEO Commitment Phobia

Dawn Burke Dawn Hrdlica, Driving Productivity, Good HR, HR, Leadership, Organizational Development, T+D, Talent Management Power Rankings, Talent Strategy, The HR Profession

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the Fistful of Talent/SumTotal Hangout with Kris Dunn and Tim Sackett where we had a fabulous HR rant session. I closed out the session with my “everybody hates HR” pet peeve, which I think is a gross overgeneralization. More importantly, I questioned if employees really do “hate HR,” how is HR getting the sole blame for this? Where is CEO culpability and how are CEOs getting a free pass with this outcome?  If employees are dissatisfied, underdeveloped or underperforming, that is a systemic problem. If a company has a systemic problem, it is the fault of the CEO.

I’m calling for a public, focused commitment from CEOs to support the strategic function that is HR. CEOs, quit stringing HR along like your 9th grade crush. Do you want to take me to prom or don’t you?!  I think you do, and I think it will be worth your while.

CEO Culpability

One highly publicized HBR article had some interesting, albeit very general, quotes regarding CEOs’ disappointments with CHROs. I submit CEOs have some explaining to do as well. Here are a few quotes from the article:

  1. “They (CHROs) are focused on internal matters such as engagement, empowerment, and managing cultural issues. What they can’t do very well is relate HR to real-world business needs.”

Engagement, empowerment and managing cultural issues are real-world business needs. This isn’t 1950 for God’s sake. Ask Howard Schultz. Or Tony Hsieh. Or Herb Kelleher. Or Dan T. Cathey. Or The Gallup Organization. Or China Gorman. Or Josh Bersin. Or Jason Lauritsen. Or Joe Gerstand. Or my CEO, David Gray. I could go on.

It used to be only “forward-thinking” CEOs who understood the value of employee engagement to the bottom-line, the demands of millennials, and the strategic advantage culture has on business. That was 15 years ago. Now it should be all CEOs.  Yet still, I know too many HR pros who spend way too much mental and physical time having to continually prove, convince, and out-debate other executives on these bottom-line issues. If a CEO continues to block progress in these areas, that is on him/her.

  1. “They (CHROs) don’t know how key decisions are made, and they have great difficulty analyzing why people—or whole parts of the organization—aren’t meeting the business’ performance goals.”

The reason for this is simple. CEOs have been way too late inviting HR pros into these discussions. Frankly, CEOs should mentor all business units on how key decisions are made. Succession planning is always a hot topic, yet stats show executive succession work is painfully crappy. Here’s a new study from Stanford University that may scare you a bit on executive succession planning.

  1. “They (CEOs) would like to be able to use their CHROs the way they use their CFOs—as sounding boards and trusted partners.”

I have a shockingly easy fix to this. How about invite me into a conversation? How can you trust me if you don’t talk, interact or listen to me? CEOs can make anything they want happen. Inviting an HR pro to sit in, observe, or participate in strategic conversations takes one email and cost zero dollars.

And since CFOs were cited as “trusted partners,” I’ll throw this in for good measure. One of the “HR Sucks” articles said HR is a commodity (Definition of Commodity: Generic, mass-produced, unspecialized, obsolete, service whose wide availability diminishes its importance). Try as I might, I’ve been unable to locate articles that say CFOs are commodities. Everyone needs a CFO, don’t they? A CFO at one company pretty much does the same thing for any company. So why are CFOs an essential and HR a commodity? I want to say it’s because CFO jobs are dominated by men (88% are men) and Top HR jobs are dominated by women. But I won’t. It’s probably cause CEOs don’t know everything about finance but do think they are great with people.

Many will ask, “Isn’t it the Sr. HR Leader’s job to influence the CEO on the strategic importance of these issues?” That is an extremely relevant, fair question. My short answer is YES. But CEOs need to give HR a fighting chance.

CEOs and Boards, we need these commitments from you:

  • CEO, provide HR face time. If you are not ready for HR to sit beside you now, then at least groom us for the future, as you would all other operational heads.
  • CEO, partner with HR on what parts of the function do bring organizational value. HR is a bloated catch-all that has become untenable. If you don’t work together with HR pros to clarify and define what HR disciplines support the business strategically, I fear we may be working against each other.
  • Boards, holding CEOs accountable for understanding talent management is much more than simply filling jobs or managing legalities. Any CEO who doesn’t get that HR is an essential, long-term, strategic business partner necessitated by the consistent shifts in workforce needs, the demands of customers, and the enlightenment that has come with modern technology should. be. fired.

So, your employees are dissatisfied… what is HR are CEOs going to do about it? My thoughts? They’re going to support their strategic partner that is HR and take us to the prom already. We’re all going to have a damn good time, too.

Dawn Burke

Dawn Burke, founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, most recently serving as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at DawnHBurke.com and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.