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Why CEO Candidates Should Try Working In Human Resources

How do we get organizations to put the same emphasis and importance on their people resources as they do on other resource at their disposal? Would you put a person in the highest role in an organization, in charge of all its employees, if he or she hadn’t managed employees before? No. Would you put someone in charge of your financial area who didn’t have experience working with numbers? No.

Then why would you put someone in an organization’s top job who doesn’t have some firsthand experience with the people side of the business?

I have been thinking about this topic for some time. I can remember back in the 1970s and 1980s when many U.S. companies were establishing operations outside the United States. Whether a company was shipping goods produced in the U.S. to another country, acquiring a company whose headquarters were outside the United States, or forming a joint venture abroad, the issues were always the same: You don’t know what you don’t know.

Disaster after disaster caused U.S. companies to rethink how they were approaching doing business outside their home country. The realization was that U.S. companies that were moving into foreign markets needed to have a cadre of people who had lived and worked overseas. What many organizations found was that their managers were willing to take an assignment to London or Paris, but not in Beijing, Sao Paulo or Delhi. Or that it was never the right time to take an overseas assignment due to a child’s grade in school, an aging parent’s needs or a conflict with a spouse’s career.

The thing that changed the situation was when boards of directors drew a line in the sand and said, “If you want to be considered as a CEO candidate, then you must have done a three-year assignment in another country. Period.” Almost overnight the issue went away.

Now let’s return to my harebrained suggestion of requiring CEO candidates to have completed an assignment (preferably three-year) in human resources. I wish I had a nickel for every annual report that had a letter to shareholders extolling the importance of the organization’s human resources. If human resources are so critical to the success of the enterprise, how could you not see it as essential for the CEO to have spent three years in the HR trenches?

In my opinion, an HR assignment shouldn’t be a candidate’s first or second job out of college or an MBA program. It should be when he or she is midway through a career. These folks, who are seen as having the highest potential in your organization, need to have this experience and then a few more roles where they can put what they’ve learned into practice.

The time our high potentials spend in HR should be focused on organizational development and talent management. What could someone learn in HR that would prove useful back in the operating organization?

  1. What is the process the organization uses to define behavioral competencies in particular? How are these competencies deployed in talent acquisition and succession planning?
  2. Talent Acquisition.This means being involved in the creation and use of pre-employment tests and assessments to determine who you let in your organization. CEO candidates need to understand how a rigorous process will yield the very best talent.
  3. Development Planning.CEOs should be able to determine the competencies needed to perform a role and how to craft a measurable plan that will accelerate development.
  4. Succession Planning.Knowing how to use the assessment information gathered on employees is integral to talent discussions with senior managers. These need to be fact-based, not opinion-based discussions.
  5. The Role of Organization Development in Change Management.CEOs must understand how to involve sponsors and stakeholders in keeping a project on track, and the role of communication in these projects. Someone must be paying attention to the process for a major initiative to be successful.

These are just a few benefits that an organization could reap from having a CEO who has HR experience. After a few years in HR, a CEO will know the right questions to ask his line and staff employees to get succession talent ready when needed and to accelerate the development of other key employees. It is time we change our paradigm about the importance of HR to business.

Dave Hoff is the chief operation officer and executive vice president for leadership development at EASIConsult®. EASIConsult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASIConsult’s specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASIConsult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.

 

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