Dream role for HR in curing CEO worries

I had the good fortune last week of being handed a copy of The Conference Board’s 2004 iteration of its ‘CEO Challenge’ research series. Inside, the international research organisation surveys more than 500 global business leaders on their current business challenges and priorities.

The findings may come as a surprise to some, but of the top 10 things chief executive officers lose sleep over, all are issues which HR has either a direct or an indirect impact upon.

We, my friends, are in the hot seat.

There were five priorities raised, all surrounding talent, which we must get our heads around. Stimulating innovation and creativity sits at number four on the list. What has HR done here? Do we lead efforts to provide an employment platform which engenders creativity? Do we enable or disable our entrepreneurs?

Another top item was the availability of talented managers and executives. Marketplace demographics have been coming at us since McKinsey’s War for Talent work. We know availability will thin over the coming years. Are you working here to gain an advantage over your competitors? Have you developed the sourcing discipline to keep abreast of key people at your competitors? Do you leverage alliances and mergers appropriately?

Everyone talks about being an employer of choice. To become one, to engender employee loyalty, commitment and job satisfaction (number eight on the list) means developing and building a team of what author of Competing for Talent: Key Recruitment and Retention Strategies for Becoming an Employer of Choice, Nancy Alrichs, calls managers of choice. What tools has HR put in place to develop the managers to drive loyalty? If the available talent is becoming scarce, loyalty from the people you have must be a priority. HR cannot simply measure employee satisfaction and walk away, we must actively work to improve it. What are you doing?

Happy, talented people, transferring their knowledge, ideas and practices within the company (the number nine priority), is the key to organisational success. You can’t let your best and brightest remain in quiet silos, they must imbue your employee population with their creativity and expertise. Has HR identified mechanisms and venues that let knowledge move across functional and business lines?

Finally, HR must work with senior leaders to develop robust succession planning processes, noted as the tenth priority of the list. Talent will falter, talent will leave, but HR owns the mandate for organisational resiliency. Are you leading this effort? If not, who is?

When research like this surfaces, it calls HR back to a very simple question: What keeps your CEO awake at night? Do you know? If you don’t, you should. And if you do, what is HR doing about it? Are the CEO’s priorities your priorities? If not, why not?

By Lance Richards, senior director of international HR for Kelly Services and adviser to SHRM

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