HR Director to CEO in 10 Steps: Part 1 of 2 – Make it to the top

The Straits Times
Published: 25 Sept 2013
By Ronald Lee, Managing Director, PrimeStaff Management Services

HR officers can go from back office to the boardroom by putting these tips into practice
First, the brutal truth: human resource (HR) officers hardly ever make it to the top seat of an organisation. But it is not impossible. To get to the C-suite, you will need to create strategic value in massive proportions.

Develop such a roadmap to the top by following these tips:

1. Get to know your CEO

Start by delving into the psyche of your chief executive officer (CEO) to discover what makes him tick. You need to understand his areas of focus to help him accomplish his business goals.

These include growth projections and strategies for product innovation, sales, marketing and customer service. Read his speeches, meeting agendas and reports, and you will also get a sense of the problems he faces.

Be sure to get to know your CEO’s “gatekeeper” – his personal assistant or secretary – so you can be privy to any useful information that is not in the public domain. You can then use this knowledge and strategise how you can add substantial value in your bid to help him achieve his goals.


2. Focus on profit, not process

Engineer your own paradigm shift of HR’s role from operational to strategic. This means caring about the company’s financial health and beefing up your financial vernacular.

Read the annual report and get intimate with terms like “bottom line” (profit), “top line” (revenue), “share price”, “profit margin” and so on. To be CEO, you will need to demonstrate a sound understanding of business and financial fundamentals.


3. Quantify to qualify

Talk like a CEO – pepper all your conversations with dollars, numbers and data. Always quantify accomplishments in terms of measured output and specific return on investment.


4. Expect your CEO’s expectations

It is imperative that you know what your CEO’s expectations of you are. Find out in quantifiable detail exactly what he wants and expects of you, and have him list these out in terms of priority. It helps to ask what he would like to see more or less of, with regard to your performance and results.


5. Position HR as a problem-solver, not pencil pusher

All too often, the HR department is regarded as an unexciting, administrative function. Change how people perceive HR, especially your CEO and his senior management team.

Prove that you are not the sort of person who is paralysed by problems. Start by guarding your speech – use positive words and eliminate negativity from your conversations. For example, instead of dwelling on why something can’t be done, focus instead on how to get it done.

The goal is to show up HR as a centre of excellence; the place that is constantly developing new ideas, best practices and systems, and drawing the best out of the company’s talent in order to maximise productivity.

Demonstrate a spirit of agility and flexibility by creating a team of HR specialists who are experts at problem-solving and can act quickly in response to sudden crises. You may want to go a step further and develop “what if” scenarios and contingency plans in anticipation of future problems.

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