What would a top HR pro look like?

March 13, 2012 by Wally Bock

Last week, Meredith Soleau, wrote a provocative post on Fistful of Talent with the title, “What CEOs Hate About HR People.” Here’s how she set the stage for the piece.

“So here I am, on assignment from the Boss Man, writing about what CEOs hate about HR people. I’ve interviewed five CEOs. Their companies range from 100 employees to 1,000 employees. I have promised them all anonymity. They didn’t ask for their privacy, I just offered it up front (I figure they have better things to do with their time than deal with hate emails from FOT readers).”

You can read the piece to find out what the CEO’s Meredith interviewed don’t like about HR. Her post sparked the thought that I’ve known some stellar HR folk in my day and I began to wonder what the difference is between the ones hated by Meredith’s CEOs and the effective ones.

I called three friends. One, Ray, is a retired CEO of several different subsidiaries of a global company. A second, Jack, is a retired Executive Vice President of a Fortune 500 company. Tim is serving in his third CEO job. The first one was in a company he founded.

I called each one and asked if he ever knew any “great HR people.” They all said “Yes.” One thing led to another and we wound up on a conference call Sunday evening. That was fun because the three CEOs had never met. I asked if I could use their real names, and they all preferred not to. As one of them said, “I have plenty of other things to do right now, and I don’t want to get hung up answering phone calls and emails.”

We all agreed that there were plenty of effective HR people out there. We also agreed on two specifics.

HR is a staff function. The effective HR people recognize that but they, “know business and the business.” They make an effort to understand what really happens in the offices, warehouses, and factory floors of the companies where they work and in the marketplace where the company competes.

Effective HR people, like all effective executives, bring solutions and possibilities. Jack put this strongly and well: “I didn’t need more ideas. I can get them from my grandchildren. What I needed was completed staff work.”

On one hand, this is not a lot. Understand business and the business and use that knowledge and deep knowledge of HR to bring solutions and possibilities. But that leaves one big question: “Where do those people come from?” How do you create development opportunities that help people with interest and aptitude become truly effective HR executives?

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

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  • GREAT ARTICLE! Knowing the business is very important. And I love Jack’s perspective on ideas!

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