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What CEOs wish HR would understand

3 min read


HR executives who want to become trusted members of the CEO’s inner circle should understand some things about their boss without being told, said former Society for Human Resource Management CEO Susan Meisinger at SHRM’s annual conference in Chicago.

1.  CEOs don’t know everything happening in their industry.

No CEO has enough time to read every newspaper and trade publication. This time crunch is likely a major source of frustration, as CEOs are always hungry for new ideas and information about their competitors. If you read about another company becoming embroiled in a potentially costly lawsuit with its workers, don’t assume that your CEO has read it as well; pass it along to him. Also, don’t sell yourself short by assuming your CEO only wants your input on HR issues. Offer advice that draws from the entirety of your knowledge and experience. “Help your CEO see over the horizon,” Meisinger said.

2. CEOs dread HR conversations. 

Benefits and compensation take up a huge percentage of most companies’ budgets, in which you represent a money pit in the eyes of your CEO. This is especially true in the environment of health care reform. It’s also, unfortunately, your responsibility to bring up tough personnel issues, which often have legal implications. The CEO might not ever relish seeing you walk into his office, but you can lessen his or her discomfort by suggesting ways to reduce costs or improve organizational efficiency.

3. CEOs don’t want to make decisions for you.

The attitude that it’s easier to apologize than ask permission is applicable to many situations involving the CEO. You’re not going behind your boss’ back when you make a difficult decision; you’re demonstrating confidence in your abilities. CEOs want to work with people that have the courage to exercise their judgment. If you do need to approach the CEO with a difficult problem, frame the issue in terms of the risks involved.

4. CEOs wish they knew more about the daily ebb-and-flow of their organization.

CEOs spend much of their time dealing with potential clients, and as a consequence of that can be out of touch with the general mood of their organization. “Every once in awhile, HR has to be willing to say ‘Earth to CEO,'” Meisinger said. This means occasionally sharing information about the personal lives of staff members and informing the CEO of competing agendas that may be forming within the organization. When offering counsel, you should aim to be politically astute without having an agenda of your own.

5. CEOs won’t tell you who their favorites are. 

When discussing other executives with your CEO, keep in mind that you might not know the lay of the land as well as you think you do. To protect yourself, be as honest and unemotional as possible when providing information about executives, particularly if you’re assessing their performance.