Article (March-2018)


HR Head as CEO

R. N. Mishra

Designation : -   Consultant - HRM

Organization : -  Tata Steel, Jamshedpur


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Talent is integral to competitive advantage and today's business is all about people. HR professionals struggle to establish their relevance to lead the business from the front. In a survey conducted across India only 27% HR heads confirmed their willingness to move to a business role. The journey from HR to CEO requires complete change because of several challenges and intense performance pressure. Thus their new avatar needs to be re-skilled completely, since HR is about the people and business is about numbers.
HR Heads are taking up the CEO's position, but their numbers is not that significant. The road map to the CEO's office needs to be worked on from the very first years of an HR person's career. The perception that HR persons are domain - centric than business collaborators need to be changed. The HR personnel need to be exposed to multi - functional experience; deeper understanding of how business makes money, garnered through cross - functional experience while keeping in mind the lines of business that can be leveraged. The HR professionals should know enough to make a meaningful point, not only on HR issues relating to the business, but on business issues. The most important foundation is the credibility. HR professionals who make the cut are those who have high credibility in their company because they do not work in the silo of HR but collaborate with business and think strategically, while performing their core role. They should get out of their comfort zone. They need to work on financial acumen and understand the business context.
CEO's face challenges like business growth, margin pressure, improvement in profitability, intense competition and above all impact of globalisation. Commercial acumen, understanding of the business context, natural orientation towards numbers, appetite for risk and strong execution focus are the pre-requisites to be a successful business leader. However, HR professionals have some unique strength that can be leveraged in the current business scenario. HR gives an overall view of the organisation and their ability to understand the people side of the business, in terms of supply and development, career, motivation and aspiration of the people. The biggest strength of the HR professional is their high emotional intelligence and people connect, which they can align with people inside the company as well as external stake holders. In fact many of the important committees relating to business are now being led by the HR Heads. The important thing is to catch them young and make sure that right from the beginning, they are in close contact with the business, understand what business is, go out in the field, go out to the shop floor to understand the intricacies of business. The full potential of the HR professional is still to be realised.

HR is in a better position to become a CEO because CEO's in these challenging times can-not be just number crunchers and control compliance type. They are to be inclusive, develop chemistry with the work force, work in teams, energise people passionately, and align the people's vision with the organisational goals. These are core competency of the HR professionals. They need to learn the intangibles like leadership, brand, governance, culture and technology.
The HR professional should always think beyond their domain role and do adequate homework and act in varied roles to prepare themselves for the CEO's position. The most important is the change of mind-set of HR professionals that if they can act as the strategic partner to the business, then why not lead the business, as the CEO. They have to nurture their skills and capabilities to be a CEO and nothing should hold them back. Job rotation and role change is a good intervention to promote the capabilities of HR professionals from HR to production, to marketing and sales and so on.
Successful CEO's are made through combination of trial and errors and a continuous willingness to learn. Sustainable success requires CEO's to recognise that there are smarter people who do things better. They are required to create channels for feed-back and keep themselves open. The day a leader closes those feed-back channels, the leader's ability diminishes and he or she starts doing things that may be wrong. An organisation is not static. It's dynamic and living. No leader can claim to know everything about the jobs, today, tomorrow and thereafter. After all, success is blind to the past accomplishments and "will to win" matters.