By Dave Crisp
Friend and colleague David Creelman formed Creelman Lambert with Andrew Lambert and collaborated on an extensive report that won this year’s Walker Award from HR People & Strategy (www.hrps.org).
Simply entitled The Board and HR, it reviews findings from interviews with CHROs and board directors, including a CEO and chairman from 28 top notch organizations in the United States and United Kingdom across wide-ranging sectors. These organizations “take oversight of human capital increasingly seriously, devoting 25 per cent to 35 per cent or more of their time to people-related issues.”
As usual, my question — one Creelman and I have bounced around quite a lot — is: Why don’t more senior executives and boards take note and get doing the things this report shows are required if you want your company to excel? When you read the report, it is pretty obvious that these processes are keys these companies use to lay the foundation for solid results. These aren’t secrets, but companies that institute them are still in the tiny minority (that’s changing, yes, but very slowly).
When you talk with some senior people, you can almost hear the wheels grinding mentally: “Oh sure, nice to have, but who has time?”
This, of course, is the excuse almost always used for ignoring every advance recommended in the HR sphere. We don’t have time for succession planning, no time for coaching, no time for training and development, no time to do workforce planning, no time to build supportive, innovative, diverse cultures or make sure teams work well together.
It’s definitely instructive that the report finds leaders of top companies spending 25 per cent to 35 per cent of their time on these issues. Either they’re too dumb to know that’s too much time or, far more likely, they started with a lot less and found the paybacks for increasing the time spent are worth it.
In fact, this time spent at the top is critical to getting far higher productivity at all the levels below, where the work is actually produced and where the number of people who contribute is far greater than the few at the apex. This is truly leverage.
So it may feel to these executives that they could better use the time actually "doing things" rather than coaching, planning for leadership development and so forth — but they’d be mistaken. In fact when you try it for long enough to make it a habit (just a few weeks usually), the results are so dramatic nearly everyone who tries is convinced. It’s getting them to try that is difficult.
This is so obvious from all the research that’s piled up in the last 20 years, plus concrete examples of successful companies following this path, that we could hope evidence would outweigh opinion. But when it’s the opinion of the top few people, that’s rare.
I recall vividly talking with consultants quite a few years ago who specialized in studies of where companies should move their head offices for greatest results. One day, one of the sales people mentioned that the results were usually pretty obvious.
It turned out, in study after study, they would look at four or five logical sites, narrow it down to one or two and the winner almost inevitably would be the one that reduced commuting for the CEO to a minimum — the one closest to his home (would it be her home, too for female CEOs — that wasn’t an issue in those days?).
How CEOs decides to manage is going to set the tone for those around them and, in turn, for those below them. This also has been demonstrated in study after study. Style of management and work environment is largely set by the senior models in the organization, and often just the CEO alone is enough to establish the pattern.
That means if the CEO isn’t willing to coach and spend time on people issues, it’s likely that won’t be the style anywhere, although individual executives can and sometimes do apply different styles that permeate through their divisions if they remain in place long enough.
There doesn’t seem to be any easy way to get CEOs to take note of this, though possibly one route is for senior executives to use this style themselves and hope it registers why they are more successful than others. In general, it can only help the person applying good people processes in their own area so at least they benefit — even if their example never changes the larger organization around them.
Anyone who thinks this isn’t a core issue missed the point of the Creelman Lambert Report. In a section entitled “Being the ‘People Person,” they comment: “In our informal discussions with CHROs, they were more inclined to talk about personalities and politics than the more technical side of “good human capital oversight.”
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.
This is not just idle chatter. One CHRO commented: “The importance of relationships at the top can often be underestimated. Where that applies, you see the lack of investment of time and energy — and then there’s a price to pay.””