What CEOs want from HR directors

Take note – highly successful industry leaders have shared exactly what it takes to get the top

What CEOs want from HR directors
HR has finally earned its spot at the table but it takes a lot to get to the top – here, industry leaders share exactly what attributes you’ll need to net that director’s job.

Have a head for numbers

“[CEOs want] someone who can have a discussion with the CFO about numbers, not just about remuneration, without being frightened,” says Aine Hurley, head of HR at Odgers Berndtson.

 “CEOs often point out to me that in their discussions with HR, there are no numbers. That’s not going to be acceptable going forward, and HRDs who cannot deliver on that will be side-lined.”

Put yourself out there

“How do you get effective collaboration between teams and leaders, the business and customers, and the business and vendors?” asks Martyn Phillips, former HRD turned CEO. “You put yourself about in the organisation.”

“It’s about listening to people,” he says. “Just because you happen to be more senior, doesn’t mean you have all the answers.”

Wayne Clarke, founding partner of the Global Growth, agrees; “Understand the customer and the people you serve, even better than the CEO does,” he says.

“Have an in-depth understanding of the role of the people on the frontline,” he advises. “If an HRD does that, they will have the edge on other board members.”

Go global 

“International experience has moved from being a ‘nice to have’ to being critical,” says head-hunter Sam Allen.

In today’s technology-driven world, even small businesses can have a global reach which means CEOs are looking for someone with serious international experience.

“CEOs want people who have lived in a different market,” says Allen, but to really set yourself above the rest, you’ll have to take on a challenge.

According to Allen, experience in regions like China or Eastern Europe are often seen as more valuable than the comparatively “easy life” of Paris, New York or Hong Kong.

Be proactive in seeking international opportunities and ask for a secondment if possible, she advises.

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Be a guide

Business is becoming ever more transparent as time goes on and HR professionals must take the responsibility for guiding their CEOs and boards as they adapt to these changes.

 “Authority and hierarchy are breaking down,” says HRD turned CEO Martyn Phillips. “The HRD has to help the CEO navigate this immediate and transparent world.” 

Phillips says higher-level HR professionals must adapt to the increasing transparency in business and help the CEO come to terms with how the world of work is changing.

Have more than one trick up your sleeve

“CEOs want evidence you haven’t been in a ‘one trick organisation’,” says head-hunter Sam Allen Allen.

If you get the opportunity, work across a variety sectors and gain valuable skills from different industries.

Having a successful career that spans several sectors shows you can “cope with ambiguity and learn different models,” says Allen.

Focus on your development

“[HR professionals] need to step back and think long and hard about how they can develop,” says Allen, if they can’t, they’re taking themselves out of the running for top level jobs.

 As a high-level recruiter, Allen says she sees “a lot of complacence” among HRDs when it comes to their own development; ““If you are not fundamentally looking to develop yourself, you will start to go backwards,” she warns.

When recruiting for an HRD role, Allen looks for evidence that the candidate is continually looking to develop and improve themselves, whether that be through additional qualifications, industry experience or voluntary work.

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