Ram Charan provokes the HR world.

C-suiteIn their July/Aug issue, Harvard Business Review gives the floor to Ram Charan to have a go at all HR leaders. That was an excellent idea from HBR; Ram is the perfect coach to stimulate ‘rethinking’. A few years ago, I had to honour to work with Ram on a development faculty. It was clear from the onset that he wanted the audience to challenge the status-quo.

Ram Charan -bestselling author, leadership guru and advisor to Chief Executives-, has been many years the trusted coach to Jack Welsh (General Electric); the respected –but oh so figures hungry- Chairman and CEO. You will also recall that it was at GE where the rule ‘to get rid of the bottom 10%’ was introduced; to boost general performance figures. Figures –so not people- driven leadership and HR.

So no surprise that in the latest HBR issue, Ram Charan is suggesting to

  1. get rid of HR Directors / Chief Human Resources Officers (CHRO),
  2. put the HR admin and Comp&Ben under the Finance structure,
  3. create a role for Leadership & Organization to focus on the people’s capabilities, and
  4. for this role to be taken by line-managers (i.e. nor HR generalists) .

In his mind this would be the most practical solution to solve the disappointment many CEOs seem to have on their CHRO. They would like to be able to use their chief human resource officers (CHROs) the way they use their CFOs—as sounding boards and trusted partners—and rely on their skills in linking people and numbers to diagnose weaknesses and strengths in the organization, find the right fit between employees and jobs, and advise on the talent implications of the company’s strategy. But it’s a rare CHRO who can serve in such an active role. Most of them are process-oriented generalists who have expertise in personnel benefits, compensation, and labor relations. They are focused on internal matters such as engagement, empowerment, and managing cultural issues. What they can’t do very well is relate HR to real-world business needs.” (HBR, July/August 2014)

Personally I am not so convinced that moving part of the HR role to the CFO is such an innovative thought. That’s just back to more than 30 years ago where ‘Personnel Management’ was part of a Finance structure. It was then recognised by business leaders that ‘our most important asset’ needed dedicated and specialised leadership.

By the way, that CEOs love their CFOs is also not such a surprise. A recent study from Executive Grapevine says that “There are too many CEOs with finance background …and they are there to deliver short term margin improvement very quickly”. And that’s exactly the point; HR frequently adds value through longer term impact – but sustainable.

But Ram’s prime intention has been achieved; in full. The article created a massive debate in the HR community whereby most HR people are going into self-defence mode.

One of the comments I like –and support- comes from Eugene Chang (HayGroup Singapore): Leaders today heading any key function from Finance (CFO) to IT (CIO) to Operations (COO) to HR (CHRO) all need to be able to orientate themselves to look beyond their function to add value to the executive team.”

Indeed, Ram could have written just the same story about executives in Marketing, Finance, Operations, etc. It’s so basic; it’s the capability to look beyond your function, to have that broader view and understanding of the total business picture.  Only then you can be that ‘trusted partner’ in the C-suite. And yes, some HR Directors are lacking that capability. As others do.

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3 unique holiday vacancies !!!

Applications open now – hurry!

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3 most amazing vacancies (week31)

Applications open now!












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Closing down a tree ?*!*-(

cuttingtreedownLast week, I prepared to cut down a tree in our summer garden in South France. It was a large one; an old oak of close to 30 meters tall and with hundreds of wide branches. It wasn’t fun and quite frankly, I didn’t enjoy doing it but it had to be done. The wide branches were just hindering too much of the priceless sunbeams in the hilly garden.

Last week, I prepared to close down a factory in a town in South France. It was an old plant and most of the buildings were antiquated. It employed hundreds of staff. It wasn’t fun and quite frankly, I didn’t enjoy doing it but it had to be done. The bad state of the plant was hindering our productivity targets; it was just consuming too much of our priceless financial resources.

At only twenty meters from the old tree is a brand new and expensive garden shed where I have a small office and lab to study the local fauna. That of course had to be safeguarded and should remain untouched. So I got a specialist in to advise me on cutting the tree. His key task was to ensure we had all approvals from the local authorities but mainly also to keep me happy and secured that the garden shed would not be demolished.

At only twenty meters from the old plant, we have a brand new research centre –employing another 70 people. This part is managed by Headquarters. It of course was not impacted and should remain untouched. So I got a consultant in to advise me on the plant closure. Her key task was to ensure all stakeholder management and to make sure any social actions would not impact the research centre.

The tree cutting specialist had got approval from the local mayor and would tomorrow do the job in half an hour; an easy job. But I insisted taking up my own responsibilities and I would bring down the old friend myself. So he started making calculations, checked and double checked directions. He also drafted a report on what to do once the giant was down, how to best cut the large branches, etc.

The employee relations consultant had spoken to Head Office and also confidentially to the local mayor. She suggested that she would announce the closure tomorrow to all staff; for her a piece of cake. But I insisted taking up my own responsibilities and decided that I would talk to the affected people. So she drafted a report on do’s and don’t do’s, a quick critical path and the text for the announcements.

Today, I killed the giant oak. The colossus is down and won’t produce any future single acorn. The garden shed remained untouched. What has to be done has to be done.

Today, I announced the closure. All factory staff went on strike; they won’t produce any future single unit. Also all researchers stopped working. But –even in France-, what has to be done has to be done.

Picture credits: http://www.forestry.answers.com
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HR and leadership go H2H

We have got B2B, B2C and some progressive marketers carefully tried to introduce P2P –as people to people. The latter is a very brave step into the right direction though I am inviting all in business who dare to go even one step further. Yes indeed; the time is there for H2H. Not the hydrogen powered SUV but ‘Heart to Heart’. And if you find that a bit too soft you can make it Head to Head or Human to Human. Whatever you want as long as you realise that doing business with any of your stakeholders (customers, suppliers, staff, government, …) is interacting with living beings. With people who have lots of emotions and feelings, needs and intuition, aims and drives. People who have neurons in there head, heart and stomach. We are not interacting with machines, not with Excel sheets and not with SAP.

jellyfishHuman Resources professionals have always been at the foreground of this understanding; as such the HR department has a bright future. Despite the pressure on HR to go more analytical, to play the Big Data game or to let Oracle or SAP run their function, experienced HR professionals know that their core business is heads, hearts and stomachs. Not an absenteeism figure of 9%, not an engagement score of 108 and not a talent acquisition success ratio of whatever.

Deloitte recently publicized their 2014 Global Human Capital trends; a survey really worthwhile reading. On top of the ten most urgent things to tackle, HR professionals and CEOs list leadership development. That is not a surprise; but the quoted root cause perhaps is. Apart from the underlying themes of globalisation and technological change, the changing expectations of the workforce is listed as the key driver for speeded-up leadership development. Today, and probably for some more years to go, the leadership challenge is to do business through engaged hearts and minds. Yes of course, we’ll also need skilled and talented people. But what do you do with skills without drive? With talent without engagement? And that’s what we get when leaders don’t find a way to respond efficiently to the expectations of the workforce. Let us also not forget, the Millennials don’t know the word ‘loyalty’; it’s not in their vocabulary. Time Magazine named them the ‘Me Me Me generation’.

In the same Deloitte study, the second most urgent thing to tackle is retention and engagement. As I wrote in an earlier blog on engagement, critical is to understand the needs and expectations of your teams. Deloitte adds: “companies should redefine their engagement strategy to move from keeping people to attracting them and creating a passionate and compassionate place to work”. Did you read the word “passion’ in here? And is it possible that this passion originates from the hard work of our 85,000,000,000 neurons in our hearts and minds? Answering to and providing support to enhance team’s passion and desires, that’s the most urgent role for HR and leaders all over the world. Through interacting from heart to heart.

Unless you only employ jellyfishes (with estimated 800 neurons per specimen).


Picture credit: http://lifeuwater.blogspot.be

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Is selling data the same as selling solutions?

What would you do without data? How would you plan your personal life if you don’t know your monthly spending, if you don’t know when the weekly garbage truck is coming, if your dashboard doesn’t tell you to fill up your car? How would you catch your holiday flight if you don’t have the departure time?

intuitionSame for businesses; how would you set your selling price if you don’t have a detailed product costing? What would you tell your tax inspector if you don’t have an overview of your invoices? How would you get your target market share growth without knowing competitor pricing?

The cruciality of figures and data has always been there for product specs, financial analysis, market and competitor data. Since a few decennia HR and business leaders also try to quantify the value of intangible ‘people’ assets. For good reasons as, “analysts and investors view human capital measures as important predictors of a company’s future health – not least because of the significant impact we intuitively know individuals have on customer satisfaction, productivity and revenues”. (1) Luckily there is now the booming HRIS industry; no surprise HR Big Data was the buzz for 2013.

What I specifically like in the above quote from ‘Mercer Insights’, is the reference to ‘intuition’. It seems that business leaders and investors ‘intuitively know’ that employees are a –if not the- key driver for business success. So if we know it, why spend massive efforts and funds on measuring it? If we know that managers who only command and never listen are hardly successful, why still measure leadership styles? If we know that engaged employees perform much better, why doing global engagement surveys? Is it so important for a CEO to know that the engagement score in Norway is 2.7% higher than in Spain?  No, it isn’t.

Now this trend to ‘mathemize’ these intangible people assets comes from two key drivers. First one is the profitable marriage between consulting firms and IT suppliers; as if selling data is the same as selling solutions. Second and even more important is another driver: this generation’s business leaders and investors have lost trust in their own and others intuition. It all reminds me of Einstein’s great quote: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

There is a thing here I don’t understand; and if you do please let me know –here below is a comments section. Generating trust is globally recognised as the #1 capability requirement for business leaders to be successful; people will only follow when they trust the leader. That trust originates largely from the intuitive mind; much less from the rational one. So leaders tap on intuition and on gut-feeling, but once in the board room or talking to staff and investors, those same leaders bombard the business world with rational data.

Perhaps it is time for back to basics. Intuition is # 1; data and all the rest follows. “It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover“, the French mathematician (!) Henri Poincare said. Similarly I would say: it is through data that we report outcomes, but through intuition that we lead a business.


www.mercer.com/articles ; Human Capital: an appreciating asset. Ephraim Spehrer-Patrick, Principal, Mercer Frankfurt (1)
Picture from: www.careerealism.com
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This weekend we are closed.

Closed-for-the-weekend‘Pete, please send me updated 4Q2013 sales figures by country for EMEA by Sunday evening. I have Exec meet with Board on Monday. Tnx and enjoy the rest of your WE. John.’

It was only a short beep on Pete’s BlackBerry; just when he is cutting the chocolate cake at a Saturday’s home party with family and friends. The request makes him nervous as he isn’t having the latest figures on Spain.  So that results in another short text to Gerhard, who is spending a weekend with his girlfriend in Madrid. A few families see there weekend ruined.

Soon, this will be all history as companies are now seriously thinking about digital detox weekends. Major companies are implementing policies to reduce 7/7 accessibility. Already in 2011 Volkswagen silenced email messages after working hours; many other enterprises are taking similar initiatives.

This is all great; for two reasons. Firstly, in this digitally connected world, the thin line between work and private life is often blurred. And the problem is that we even don’t consider it as a problem. A study by Good Technology indicates that “Our family time also gets crowded by work emails and tasks – more than half of us (57%) will check work email during family outings and more than a third (38%) will check in while at the dinner table. … Half the people surveyed said that they read and responded to emails in bed and more than two thirds (69%) said they won’t go to sleep without checking their email first.” And remarkably but sadly: “Working after hours has become so commonplace that only 25% of those surveyed said it had led to a disagreement with a spouse or significant other. More than half said that there was no argument at all when work seeped into their personal time”. No surprise that we hear so much on burn-out. And secondly, other studies indicate that only 1 in 10 emails are useful or at least informative; all the rest is non-productive noise.

The upcoming digital detox policies are bringing good progress in assisting a decent work/life balance. I only wonder why we need policies on that. Decades ago, the general concept of weekends and weekly rest was introduced as all understood that you can’t stretch people 24/7. It was commonly agreed that the human brain and body needs a pause in order to perform adequately the days to follow.

But that general understanding has been “turned off” by Outlook, iPhone and Blackberry; technology has overtaken common sense. So it’s high time to go back to the basics and respect the physical and psychological needs of the human kind. As such, we shouldn’t produce those urgent weekend requests. We then also don’t need policies; policies that need to be reviewed, renegotiated, administered, communicated….. . Perhaps over a weekend? Keep it simple and set the example. Just inform people that in your company, it’s not expected to pick-up weekend calls or emails. And tell the team you will not produce any requests that need to be handled during off-time. Because you know that your digital addicted employees are just less productive and less engaged after working all weekend or all night.

Just do it; or better, don’t do it. No weekend mails as this –and all other- weekends “we are closed”. Weekends are for chocolate cake.

Good Technology study http://www1.good.com/about/press-releases/161009045.html
Picture credit: http://www.elines-producten.blogspot.be/
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