CHROs! The CEO Needs A Friend – What Are You Waiting For?

Erin Garritty

At the risk of provoking the bitterest Internet comments of all time, let’s talk about why the CEO, the most scrutinized human in today’s relentless business environment, needs a friend.

More to the point, let’s talk about who can be that friend: the chief HR officer.

The modern CEO position might be much more disproportionately well-paid than it has been in the past, but it’s also much more stressful. And it seems that nobody is looking out for them. The rest of the boardroom is busy looking out for themselves, dealing with the increasing difficulty of their own jobs while trying to figure out how to be a front-runner on the list of CEO’s successors.

Meanwhile, HR directors, like managers across all departments, are focused on looking down – on employee engagement rather than executive engagement. We hear a lot about employee wellness, but not much about CEO wellness. A blend of both is what’s really needed, otherwise how does a business build a people strategy that resonates from the very top to the bottom?

Most often, the employee engagement strategy leaves the CEO isolated. They commonly question what employees want and fear they can’t effectively communicate to their employees what they want in return. CEOs are at risk of being misunderstood and know they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They have the most stressful job and no one to lean on. It’s a recipe for mental disaster.

So what can the CHRO do about that?

  • Step 1: Crucially, you can’t want the CEO’s job, because that’s exactly why they’re not best friends with the other C-level executives.
  • Step 2: With that mutually understood, you then have to get to know your CEO personally. This take effort. It means working the same hours, building a real friendship with someone who’s too stressed to worry about having real friends, and treating them like you would treat any other employee with their doubts and difficulties.
  • Step 3: Now it’s time to earn trust. To do that, you have to tell the truth even when it’s not a happy truth. More so than anyone else in the workplace, all CEOs fear they don’t get the truth, so they’ll appreciate an adviser who gives it to them straight.

If a CHRO can get to this stage, the business will not only become more aligned and enabled to work on strategic initiatives, but the CHRO will have earned the right to be heard. He or she will move from just having a seat at the executive table to having a voice at the table.

Ultimately the CHRO’s and CEO’s conversation will shift to how they can build a better connection to the workforce and understand some of its more important but difficult-to-see intricacies. CEOs who have great partnership with their CHRO will ultimately have a lot more control in pulling their employees in the direction they want the business to go.

All of a sudden, with the CEO being included and having recognized the value in aligning people strategy with business strategy, CHROs could find themselves sitting in the office next door to their new best friend. CEOs, in turn, could feel a lot closer to their employees, much less isolated and misunderstood, and ultimately as engaged as their front-line workers.

Classrooms and whiteboards still have their place, but a new training model is emerging that is digital, social, mobile, and continuous. Here’s what HR needs to know about A New Model for Corporate Learning.


Erin Garritty

About Erin Garritty

Erin Garritty is the Regional Sales Manager for Western Canada at SAP, supporting strategic accounts using human capital management solutions. In her position, she is focused on increasing her customers' competitive edge by optimizing their workforce and changing the way they interact with employees through next-generation business software, Erin believes businesses can engage, develop, identify, and deploy top talent to become better run and more profitable.