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HRD 2009: HR must be “confidante” to CEO in a recession

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CEOs want their HR directors to be a “sounding board” on all people issues during the downturn, according to a leading expert.

Speaking at a seminar at the CIPD’s HRD conference, which explored what CEOs want from HR professionals, Steve Tappin, author of The Secrets of CEOs and advisor to some of the world’s top CEOs, said: “Ultimately, CEOs want HR to be a confidante and sounding board on all people issues. They want to work with HR on how to practically exploit the downturn.”

Harriet Green, CEO of Premier Farnell plc, and one of five FTSE 250 female CEOs, echoed these views in the same seminar, by saying that her global head of HR is her “counsellor”. She added that there are three key responsibilities that CEOs require of HR. “First, they must be a partner in the development strategy. Second, they need to own the people agenda in the business. And third, they need to demonstrate the ‘how’, so that is behaviours and competencies.”

Green added that there also has to be a trust and respect between a CEO and HR director in order to have a good, equal relationship, and that a representative from HR must be present in all strategy and people development meetings.

Tappin also advised delegates that the downturn is not necessarily a bad thing and is actually an opportunity for HR to seize the talent agenda and get talent to the heart of the business.

“This is the chance for HR to assume a bigger role. CEOs talk about talent but then a restructure means that it becomes a cost, so it is up to HR to keep the talent flame burning,” he said.

He added that 80% of CEOs “don’t get talent or HRD”, which makes it difficult to make things happen in the business, and it can be an uphill struggle.

“You must really understand your CEO, and recognise their flexibilities and focus,” he advised. “Coach CEOs on engagement and motivating in the face of the storm. Protect your area of the business.”

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