HR chief turned CEO shows how to get to the top table

Clarifying culture, keeping in touch with the front line, quantifying investments and engaging staff should be HR’s key priorities, according to the chief executive of RAC Roadside.

Debbie Hewitt said HR directors hoping to impress their chief executives should avoid placing too much emphasis on reviews, and ensure the company culture was defined before bringing people in from outside.

“Codify the culture in a way that your chief executive can use in the business, and define the context of what you do, because it changes the way the management makes decisions,” she said.

Hewitt, who rose to CEO from group HR director at RAC, also stressed the importance of speaking in quantifiable terms when selling ideas to the boss.

“Even if you can’t give it a pound sign, give it a scale of one to 10 of whether you think it will be highly successful, or give it a rough score even – at least it catches the attention of the chief executive,” she said.

Christopher Garnett, chief executive of train operator GNER, echoed this when speaking about the relationship between the CEO and the HR director. He stressed there was only one point for HR to bear in mind. “How is it helping the business?” he said. “Show how [whatever you are doing] is helping the business improve.”

How to impress your CEO

Debbie Hewitt

Be clear about the culture you have and the culture you want
Engage front-line staff
Quantify investment in people activities

Christopher Garnett

Lead change by focusing on doing things differently
Engage staff by focusing on giving authority to others
Actively demonstrate an understanding of yourself and others


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