The CEO Perspective - How the best make it happen!


By Archana Jerath November 16, 2018

The role of human resources as a function has evolved in an exponential manner. This transformation is a factor of many parameters, but one of the most crucial elements has been the shift in the CEO perspective on how the function and its practitioners impact business.

To understand this evolution and the manner in which it has enabled organizations to achieve business success, there is a need to explore CEO thoughts with respect to this function. In a session at the recently concluded SHRM India's Annual Conference 2018, Nick Schacht, Chief Global Development Office, SHRM spoke with two seasoned CEOs - Arjuna Sirinanda, CEO Fortude and Sanjay Verma, Divisional Vice President, PTC about their approach.

In Nick's words, "We are only as good as the people we have in our organizations." That defines the pattern that CEOs have followed in order to achieve great business results by leveraging the strength of their Human Resources departments.

Let us take a look at some specific actions taken by the CEOs to utilize the capabilities of their HR functions for organizational impact:

1. Intrinsic Involvement of HR – Arjuna shares that "HR was always intrinsically involved in every aspect of the business for us."  This entails that the role of human resources is not superficial but actually entrenched in a manner where the   head of HR is consulted on core business discussions, such as decisions related to investments, new markets to enter and customer engagement. This level of involvement makes sure that HR is as accountable and driven to contribute to the organization's goals as all other business heads. It is also a way to shift the perception from HR being viewed as a contributory function to having a direct impact. As Arjuna puts it, HR needs to be present "at the table" when decisions are made.   

2. The Role of a Bridge - Sanjay explains the dilemma of start-up CEOs when he shares that,"When you start out, you are the HR." All CEOs tend to don multiple hats and manage the various functions when the organization is small. As they grow larger, the company becomes more complex, and complex organizations need design thinking. There is a need to have professionals with the right expertise. The CEO should identify the people who can become a bridge between the leaders and employees, and HR should serve as an active conscience keeper. This means that it keeps the CEO aware of where he or she is faltering when it comes to the company's vision. The CEO's role is often filled with crucial decisions that must accelerate the business. In the course of that, there might be some people-related aspects that he or she might overlook. As per Sanjay and Arjuna, HR enables the CEO to realize what is not being seen and how to deal with it.

3. Conversion of Vision to Action – CEOs and business leaders are at the helm of defining the vision that shapes the organization. However, without ample support and ability to convert that into executable action, the vision has a high probability of failure. For example, if the CEO envisions that there is a need to have a culturally diverse team to be able to enter a new market or country, without  HR driving diversity-related processes such as hiring, cross-cultural orientation and sensitization programs, this vision or business goal cannot be met.

4. HR is Leadership's Role Too – Just as there is an emphasis on HR being involved in business, there should be similar focus on how leadership plays a role in all processes that are typically driven by HR. Hiring, career development and feedback sharing are no longer meant to be HR-driven responsibilities. The leadership teams have to perform these activities as well. CEOs who are future-focused drive efforts towards developing their managers and leaders in a way that they can take up some of the aspects of people functions. This improves their accountability towards their teams and also frees up HR to do more strategic work.

5. Linkage Between Business Scorecard and Competencies – The business leaders need to be able to see the thread that runs through from the business scorecard to the competencies that an employee is being evaluated on. Arjuna shares the example of his organization which is based on the fundamental values of CHIP – Care, Humility, Integrity, Passion. As CEO, he drives these values, which are further defined in the competencies. Such a holistic approach towards the culture allows the business and people to be connected in a more congruent manner.

6. Safety Net - Companies are regularly facing the challenge of how to guide their employees through the pace of change. Sanjay shares how his organization's emphasis is that it will be transformed into a new company every 18 months. Given this speed, they use an internally developed Change Index to measure readiness. HR is involved right from the start because for the CEO, when the decision to make a change takes place, there is a simultaneous decision on the change investments needed. Enablement and training is the biggest area of investment and therefore HR's role becomes critical. A certain amount of time for each employee is needed training, and planning and budgeting becomes better because HR is onboard from the beginning. CEOs believe that the human resources function also plays the role of a neutral arbitrator and a safe place for people within the organization. It is uniquely positioned for this role because while HR works with the CEO and leadership team to identify and create change agents, HR also supports and mentors employees who might not be comfortable with change.  

With these various roles and responsibilities to be carried out, CEOs envisage some key competencies for their HR professionals which can equip them to conduct their jobs better. These include:

  1. Listening Skills – HR needs to be able to listen and know what is happening in the organization.  This type of listening should be proactive, which means HR should listen, figure out the undercurrents and also begin working towards resolving issues before they become a problem. This is a core skill.  
  2. Business Acumen - HR needs to be at the table, says Arjuna. This broadly defines the skill that HR should understand the business of the organization, the solutions being delivered to customers and even how commercial decisions are made..

 One of the important insights that were discussed on this panel is the change in the way the world views individuals. Some decades ago, the organization was given great importance but in current times, the impact of each employee has become more critical. Creating meaningful jobs which enrich the lives of employees and thus retain them is the joint role that CEOs and HR heads must play.  

To view the session, please click on the link below.


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