Be Easy To Do Business With

HR Blogger Liz Ryan just published an interesting piece, at the Business Week Management Blog, titled "What every CEO needs to know about HR." I was drawn in, expecting to read a post addressed to CEOs. Actually it's a list of points for HR leaders. Good points to ponder, to be sure, but not what I expected.

Yet, Liz Ryan inspired me to write this blog post. Over the course of my HR career, I've had the chance to work closely with several CEOs. From my experience, plus the wisdom of Ram Charan (whose 2001 book What the CEO Wants You to Know is a small gem), here are some guidelines for HR leaders in working with the CEO and other business heads.

1.Know your stuff - CEOs are pretty smart people, generally speaking, having come up through a technical or functional path such as R&D, Sales, Finance, or Operations. Though they know an awful lot, they count on you to know your HR stuff, to be the go-to expert when it comes to HR matters.

2.Get close to your customer - The CEO is the customer of the HR leader. The CEO is counting on you to know his business, his needs, his goals, and his pressures and concerns. It's analogous to having a private physician.

3.Identify problems and provide solutions - Business is a constant stream of problems to be solved and the CEO expects that anyone who is hired, whatever their job may be, is a Problem Solver and a Solution Provider. HR is no exception.

4.Innovate - In her blog, Liz Ryan recommends keeping processes simple and scrapping old ways of doing things. I could not agree more. What she is talking about, in my view, is that HR must be an innovator. This may be the hardest shift of all for HR professionals. It means challenging "the way things have always been done." It means taking risks.

5.Operate HR like a business - The CEO expects that the head of HR will understand the basics of business and will focus on the essentials, especially Return on Investment.

6.Be thinking ahead - Much of what a business deals with day to day is the Here and Now. But the effective CEO spends time thinking ahead. Strategic thinking. Scenario planning. Networking externally to gain competitive intelligence. Asking "what if we...?" and challenging others to do the same. HR must do this too.

7.Be strong - CEOs are a strong willed bunch, by and large. In their office, it can get hot quickly. Be ready to stand up for your ideas. Have the courage of your convictions.

8.Be easy to do business with - The CEO lives in the fast lane and has a low tolerance for bureaucratic red-tape. He is counting on you to be a facilitator, one who makes things flow smoothly, and an expediter, one who gets it done.

Liz Ryan ends her blog by saying "It’s a new day in HR. Is your company on the cutting edge, or bringing up the rear?" Let me tweak that a bit and ask HR leaders, Are you and your HR team on the cutting edge? What would your CEO say?

For decades, HR leaders have been talking about "having a seat" at the table with the business leaders. This is the way to earn that seat.

HR is a very dynamic and challenging field, filled with smart, dedicated, and energized people. What are the burning issues of the moment that HR must be on top of? Liz Ryan mentions talent, culture, vision, trust, and real-time communication. Right on the money, I'd say. I would add a few more including change, stress, and growth. These are the things that should be keeping HR leaders awake at night.

Chances are, they are among the things keeping the CEO awake at night too.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday April 26, 2012


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