How to maintain a strong CEO/HRD relationship

The CEO of international company Bayer reveals how she maintains a strong working rapport with her HRD even when faced with the challenge of change management.

How to maintain a strong CEO/HRD relationship
Global corporation Bayer – which has around 1,100 employees in Australia and New Zealand – has undertaken a global transformation project, ultimately aiming to create a culture of innovation and a different approach to leadership.

Bayer Australia/NZ’s CEO Jacqueline Applegate said that achieving this goal is reliant on the company’s ability to focus on improving Bayer’s leaders.

“We’re creating an environment where our people are willing to step forward, are willing to take risks, to be proactive and challenge the status quo,” she explained. “The way we feel we’ll do that is by building our leadership capability.”

Applegate refers to her HRD as her “right hand” in the process – but she is aware that there are big issues that HR needs to address in the near future.

“Knowledge management and big data is fundamentally important,” she said. “The connectivity of the world is closer than it’s ever been. In corporations historically, information was siloed. Today, we need to bring connectivity to that data.”

Applegate shared her top three tips for building and maintaining a strong relationship between the CEO and HRD:
  1. With any relationship you need to know each other. You need to have a trust and respect for one another. Be clear on the journey you want to go on. My HRD Isador and I spent the time to get to know one another. I got to understand where he comes from, what values drive him. He understands the values that drive me.
  2. Have each other’s back. It’s so important when you’re working together and it’s critical when you’re working in a multinational. You’re dealing with lots of levels, lots of stakeholders. Again, trust is critical.
  3. Always encourage different opinions. I like to hire people who are smarter than me. I expect my people to constructively challenge me and give me timely feedback. If I had a bunch of ‘mini mes’ around I would not be successful. The worst dynamic you can have is groupthink – it’s very dangerous.

“[My HRD] brings the emotional quotient, which we desperately need at times,” Applegate said. “Whether it’s the behaviour of our people, or the potential reaction to a business decision, it’s that human side of business. It’s asking and challenging our business: What’s in it for our people?”

She also disclosed three “essentials” for getting transformation projects over the line:
  1. Your top leaders must be on-board with you; you need that buy in.
  2. You must have the right people and tools in your HR department. We transformed our OD area and brought in powerhouse people who can help us above and beyond leadership development. This benefits not just the top leaders but also middle management/ Never underestimate the middle management; they can be a filter up and down, so you need to take them on the journey with you.
  3. Try to get engagement from all levels. That’s what we did. We transformed and focused on the leadership development of our top and middle management, and at the same time, we set up these non-hierarchical communities where people can engage and volunteer, step in and step out.
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