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What your CEO expects: HR beyond the people sphere

Steve Johnson of Transfirmation Partners and Ian Flemington of Canon explain some of the challenges and pitfalls of HR working with the CEO.

Video transcript below:

Steve Johnson, Managing Director, Transfirmation Partners
Steve Johnson:
 I think often HR gets accused of developing systems and processes that only HR can understand.  So it’s making whatever the plan is that HR develops accessible to the business, that the business has confidence it’s actually going to work.

Reporter:  HRDs can often find working with the CEO challenging.  They have got a seat at the table but now how to form a functional and positive relationship with the other execs around it.  Steve Johnson of Transfirmation Partners says HR has a perception problem to deal with.

Steve Johnson:  Certainly Mackenzie who did some research recently suggested while 80% of CEOs actually want HR to be a key part of driving the business, in reality they are suggesting, CEOs in the same study are suggesting that they didn’t have the confidence in HR.  So I think for HR there is a big challenge there to at least overcome the perception problem, let alone get really engaged in the business and actually make a real contribution.

Reporter:  Ian Flemington of Canon believes CEOs expect HRDs to take part in business strategy discussion as well as be agents of internal change.
Ian Flemington, General Manager, HR and Communications, Canon, Australia
Ian Flemington:
 I think the CEO expects HRD to have the ability to work beyond just the people sphere, so to understand the business and be able to contribute to the business at that strategic level.  And he also expects the HRD to be a change agent, so not just understand how to identify changes that are needed but to be really effective in leading those changes across the organisation.

Steve Johnson:  HR Directors need to be involved in business strategy from the word GO.  So it’s important that HR Directors equip themselves with the capabilities to make a real contribution to business strategy.  And that means getting a deep understanding of the industry as well as the company’s competitive strategy and growth plan.  

Ian Flemington:  So for example if you think about current issues that are going on in most businesses in Australia, how do we deal with issues of [parallel importing] for example.  That’s not just the people initiative or a people issue that would come up further down the track.  It’s how do we address that from a frontline business perspective.  I think we should be able to talk to that, how we then support that from a people perspective is secondary to how we deal it from an organisation view.

Reporter:  Undoubtedly the foundations of a positive working relationship is trust and hard work.   Johnson and Flemington both agree that these elements are important in forming a tighter bond with executives.

Steve Johnson:  Trust is something that’s earned.  So that could stand for two simple things.  Reliability and Repeatability.  CEOs don’t like surprises, neither executive leaders.  So the key is no surprises and always delivering on your promise.  So that means you deliver what’s promised and you earn your keep.  And that’s what CEOs expect.  

Ian Flemington:  I guess I think the way for a less experienced HR professional to build relationship with any member of the executive team, is really to identify opportunities to get involved in cross functional projects.  I think we have to recognise that the discretionary effort is involved in building those relationships, is really the differentiator in making them succeed and that involves going outside of the HR sphere and working on projects that might not even touch the people area, but putting your hand up, getting involved and building your exposure through that project work, they will then lead into exposure with those leaders.

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