Strategist or Steward?

by Michael Haberman on November 3, 2009 · 0 comments

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Robin Lissak of Deloitte Consulting present on Influencing Top Leaders. I even Tweeted on the presentation and got some good response to those tweets. So I thought a post was in order.

Lissak talked about the disconnect between CEOs and CHROs (Chief HR Officer) in what was seen as important for an orgainzation. One disconnect was that only 50% or so of organizations even have a CHRO. They all have a CEO. Second disconnect was that only 14% of the CHROs saw themselves as being strategic while 95% of CEOs want them to be. We always talk about that “seat at the table” and here we have an opportunity to get it and we are not. WHY ARE WE SO BEHIND THE CURVE???

Lissak made the point that HR mandates for the CHRO must involve revenue growth, talent strategies and operational excellence. CEOs see these as people issues. People issues are strategic. Most HR departments are still working on operational excellence. But HR issues are administrative. The message is that CEOs don’t give a crap about HR issues. As Ulrich say in his books Human Resources Champions and HR Competencies the administrative stuff is a given. We have to do that well. However, a CEO does not care when we do it well. They only care when we do it poorly.

Dr. Lissak makes the point that people issues require a strategist while HR issues require a steward. And both of these are listed by Ulrich as HR competencies. However, my question is this, can you find those skill sets in the same person? Can the CHRO be both a strategist and a steward? The strategist needs to know the business of the business. They need to understand the customers and the value chain of the business. As Ulrich says they need to be the strategic architect, talent manager and the business ally. But the HR operations side needs someone who is that operational executor. Someone who pays attention to the detail of compliance, paperwork, proper reporting and the day-to-day employee relations. So it this the steward?

I personally believe that those are two different sets of skills. One of the things Lissak mentioned is the short tenure for many CHROs because they fail to connect with the CEO. Perhaps that is because two many CHROs have the STEWARD skill set and fail on the STRATEGIST end. Or perhaps they are too much STRATEGIST and miss the details needed on the STEWARD side and the company gets in trouble.

A solution? Hire a strategist as the CHRO, but make very sure they have a good steward as number 2!

What do you think? Tell me where I have miss read this dilemma and offer another solution.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg November 3, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Good post Mike. Very much on point in these times. As an HR Leader who has been in transition for some time seeking an opportunity as you described in the post, I am seeing companies in many cases focusing on hiring someone who can multi task on the steward side of the equation instead of focus on the strategic side of the equation. I market my skill set as being able to work with the Senior Leadership Team to set strategy in line with organizational objectives and also having the tactical ability to implement the strategy. This is what I believe organizations need whether they know it or not.

Greg Moore, SPHR


Michael D. Haberman, SPHR November 3, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Greg: Your comment lead me to ask the question, where do strategist candidates like you go to get connected up with CEO's looking for a CHRO with that capability? Are there recruiting firms specializing in this? Do they network with upper eschelon groups? The golf course?

Anyone have a suggestion? Anyone have a strategy?

It also prompts the question What happens when the CEO is not strategic? Will they be sold on a strategist CHRO?


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