Four Questions Every CEO Should Ask About HR

by Michael Haberman on April 25, 2011 · 5 comments

As I was sitting down to get a late start on my post of the day Mike Grindell, the Chief Administrative Officer at 22Squared, tweeted a link to a Wall Street Journal article call Four Questions Every CEO Should Ask About IT. After having read it the proverbial light bulb went off and I had my topic for the day. Hence my title, Four Questions Every CEO Sould Ask About HR. These are not the same questions, but the WSJ article certainly provided the inspiration. There are similarities in the questions and in the answers.

Question 1: Are we using HR to transform our business or are we just adding bells and whistles? Have we sat down and really determined what people do for us and how they might impact the company beyond their labor as it is currently structured? Do we add committees because it is fashionable to do so? Do add telecommuting just because other companies have done so? Some things must exist in today’s world, such as benefits, but does the current structure really make best use of them?

Question 2: Are you ignoring important business differences as you standardize people processes across the company? Often “consistency” is preached in HR. We cannot treat people differently because we run scared that someone will complain. And if everyone in your business is the same that may work. But generally everyone in your company is not the same. They have different jobs, different interests, different talents, different personal desires and different abilities. I know of some companies that have not used telecommuting, and thus making best use of the time, talents and interests of some employees, because “not everyone can telecommute and it is not fair.” Others have standardized compensation plans that  reward mediocrity rather than rewarding talent because we have to be “fair.” We have universal policies that apply to everyone in the company, even though we have very different work groups.

Question 3: Who is making sure the company’s HR strategy is being implemented? Just as the authors of the IT article said about IT, you cannot run HR by committee. In IT the authors say “Somebody needs to own this responsibility. Thus, top executives must name an executive who will be accountable for every enterprise process, and who has the political clout to overcome resistance. A committee is not capable of such oversight.” I think the CHRO needs to be a “Super Generalist” who then has a team of specialists capable of easily working with the executive suite. The specialists own an HR process and they regularly deal with executives. The CHRO has to have the backing of the CEO and the power that goes with that backing.

Question 4: Is electronic data empowering your people or controlling them? Actually this is the same question as asked in the IT article. I thought it as relevant to HR as it is to IT. The article in the WSJ says about IT, “All that data can lead companies down two very different paths. First, it can help push decision making down to front-line employees. Alternatively, it can be used to centralize decision making and monitor employee performance….. Evidence indicates that the former approach offers benefits for both companies and employees.” There is a great deal of literature written on empowerment today and the need of younger employees to have control over their own destiny. It is what keeps them involved, it is what retains them. Have you determined what technology will enhance that effort? Have you determined what processes enhance that effort?

What else should a CEO be asking about HR? Give me your suggestions.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Brogee April 25, 2011 at 4:01 pm

How about: How can technology help solve HR pain points (and save the company $$ or resources)?


Sergey Gorbatov April 26, 2011 at 10:06 am

I would add:

* What are the sources of our competitive advantage? Is human capital one of them?
* How are HR principles integrated into all the business processes?
* Has HR deserved the seat at the table? If not… something is wrong…


John May 1, 2011 at 12:20 pm

HR needs to be at Board level and it is so often overlooked as a net contributor to a company’s profits.

When vacancies are advertisied the opportunity for Employer Branding is also overlooked as a means of converting potential job candidates into future customers.

How often has the career portal on a company’s website directed the candidates away to a job board …. Crazy, why send potential customers away.

Sales and Marketing also need to be invovled when HR are designing a website career portal for future Employer Branding opportunities.


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