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Tony Roy

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What your CEO is thinking and may not be telling you


How well do you know your customers? How well do you know the competition? The answers to those questions can have a significant impact on how your CEO perceives you and your department and how much stock he/she puts into your recommendations.

According to a recent survey of 194 UK business leaders, 30% of the C-suite reported their biggest irritation with their HR department is a lack of knowledge about customers. One-in-five (21%) said their HR department is not tuned in enough to the competitive front.

While business acumen has long been part of the HR job description, the financial hit companies took in the latest downturn has amplified the emphasis CEOs are placing on this area. The recession redefined the market. It redefined business strategy. And it redefined what CEOs expect from their HR executives.

Today’s HR executive is required to have the intelligence of Stephen Hawking, the business savvy of Richard Branson, the oratory finesse of Winston Churchill, the intuition of Sherlock Holmes, the creativity of J.K. Rowling and the empathy of Princess Diana. 

Like many companies across the globe, UK businesses are recovering from deep cuts in revenue, negative perceptions of their employment brand tied to downsising, and a compromised employee morale. While the majority of UK business leaders described their company’s financial situation as steady or improving, 28% said it is declining or uncertain. Nearly the same amount are concerned top talent will leave their organisations as the economy improves.

CEOs are looking to their entire cabinet of executives to play a more active role in shaping business direction, marketing strategy, new revenue opportunities, competitive differentiators and a better customer experience. HR is a critical part of the conversation, but just how loudly your voice is heard may depend on the following factors:

Do you have the credentials? 22% of UK business leaders consider it important for their HR executive to have an MBA. Some even consider it to be a requirement. What CEOs say they’re looking for is a keen sense of business mechanics to better correlate HR functions and programmes with overall performance.  

Have you done your homework?  UK business leaders not only expect their HR executive to be fluent in market positioning and competitive developments, they also want insights on outside HR initiatives.

42%of UK business leaders find it helpful for their HR department to provide them with  intelligence on what other companies in their space are doing in terms of HR and business strategies.  CEOs want reassurance that their approach to talent acquisition, development and retention is sharper than other industry players. 
Do you tell them what they want to hear?
  When asked to identify the type of information they absolutely don’t want to see, three-in-five UK business leaders (61%) pointed to anything that is “touchy feely” in nature. The same amount said they don’t want to receive any communications that present problems without solutions. CEOs are looking for critical thinkers who filter in the “must know” and filter out the fluff and who come to the table with ideas instead of dilemmas. 

Do you speak their language?
   CEOs speak in terms of revenue, profitability, margin and growth.   One-third of UK business leaders (33%) reported they find it most useful when their HR leaders present programmes, policies or initiatives as a business plan. It’s not enough to have a great idea. You need to showcase the anticipated return on investment in real dollar terms and establish measurements for success. A major complaint for one-in-five UK business leaders (21%) is feeling that HR doesn’t set appropriate metrics and benchmarking to assess how their efforts are paying off for the organisation.

What is your read on employees? One of the most valuable things HR provides to senior executives is a direct line into what employees are thinking and how they’re performing. 39% of UK business leaders find research regarding employee satisfaction particularly useful. 37% reported they want to see more information on which employees are exceeding their goals. Business leaders want to know who the top talent is, how that talent is being groomed and whether employees are motivated to stay with the company.
How often does your CEO hear from you? While 25% of UK business leaders reported that their HR department tends to over-communicate with minutiae, 22% said HR doesn’t communicate enough. It’s not always easy to find a happy medium, but business leaders say it’s helpful to establish with them how often you should be communicating, what they want to hear in person or see in an email, what constitutes a fire alarm and what can wait.    

Can you adapt quickly? The number one irritation cited by UK business leaders when it comes to HR is a lack of flexibility. Half reported that their HR department is too caught up in policy or process and pointed to the growing need for agility especially in today’s market. 

Tony Roy is President of CareerBuilder EMEA


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