CEO Message – May 2015

Advice for the aspiring CHRO

Bill GreenhalghWant to work your way up to Chief Human Resources Officer? Bill Conaty, former SVP HR at General Electric, has some advice for you: Become a problem solver and not a problem identifier.

“I’ll always remember something a GE executive once told me: ‘Whenever I have a meeting with HR, I have my list, she has her list, and by the end I have both lists,’” he told a capacity crowd last week at HRPA’s first HR Executive Authors Series event at Toronto’s Hazelton Hotel.

The lesson? If you want to be a welcome sight in the CEO’s office, don’t add to the pile of issues they need to sort out. Instead, give them a heads up on the issue—as well as a description of how you’re dealing with it and assurances that it’s being resolved.

That’s what Conaty did during a long career working under GE’s Jack Welch. And it was this experience heading up HR at General Electric, as well as his new book The Talent Masters, that he discussed at the event.

In Conaty’s estimation, CHROs are in high demand in North American corporations, but they also have the shortest shelf life among C-suite executives (only 20% last seven years in the role before they’re replaced—usually by an external hire.)

But if you do get the job and you want to succeed, you need to convince the CEO that you’re up to the task, because “HR is only as impactful as the CEO wants us to be,” he said.

During his time at GE, Conaty turned Welch’s thinking about HR 180 degrees—from the opinion that anyone can do HR to understanding that human resources is the most important part of the organization, with a mandate of anticipating business needs, attracting and developing the best talent to fulfill them and building a leadership pipeline that ensures organizational success over the long term.

And besides knowing your business and industry inside/out, some other bits of advice Conaty had for aspiring CHROs included:

  • Find a critical fit between the CEO and CFO. “You have to work well with both functions. The CFO bring the numbers and the CHRO balances that out with the people side and employee advocacy.”
  • Have the courage and confidence to push back when you see things being done that run counter to the organizations’—and your own—values.
  • Develop the trust of the entire senior management team—not just the CEO.
  • And never forget the “human” in human resources: “The best leaders balance a passion for the business with a compassion for people,” he said.

Upcoming HR Executive Authors Series events

HRPA is hosting several other HR Executive Authors Series events over 2015 including:

Culture Connection: How Developing a Winning Culture Will Give Your Organization a Competitive Advantage with Marty Parker, CEO, Waterstone Human Capital

June 18, 2015

The Real Deal on People: Straight Talk on How the CHRO Creates Business Value with Les Dakens, former CHRO Maple Leaf Foods and CN Rail

September 16, 2015

Optimizing Organization Design: A Proven Approach to Enhance Financial Performance, Customer Satisfaction and Employee Engagement with management consultant Ron Capelle

October 14, 2015

The Behaviour Breakthrough with Steve Jacobs, Chair and Senior Partner of The Continuous Learning Group (CLG) consultancy

November 4, 2015

Learn more and register for these events.

CHRO Quarterly Dinner Series

Join HRPA, Les Dakens and senior HR executive peers for straight talk on how the CHRO creates business value.

This exclusive dinner series provides insights into and discussion of all the critical CHRO functions and illustrates the theory with case studies from real companies, real executives and real situations.

Learn more and register for these events.


Bill Greenhalgh

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