What Does the C-Suite Think HR Does?

HR Management
by Stephen Bruce, PhD, PHR

What the C-Suite thinks HR does isn’t so very flattering, says consultant Andrew Botwin. In today’s issue, his tips for reversing that view and “getting a seat at the table.”

Botwin, founder of SPC Consulting, offered the following tips at BLR’s 2013 Strategic HR Summit held recently in Scottsdale, Arizona.

What the C-Suite Thinks HR Does

  • Says “No”
  • Hires and Fires
  • Controls with rules and enforcement
  • Generates costs and overhead
  • Gets in the way

What HR Really Does

  • Looks out for the company
  • Makes sure bad things don’t happen
  • Engages in risk management
  • Makes money
  • Saves money


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To make his point about management attitudes stronger, Botwin quotes a Forbes magazine article “It’s time to fire HR.” The article says HR is a necessary evil, a dark force that revels in red tape and gibberish. Another indicator of HR’s reputation, Botwin adds, is that top students are not thinking about HR as a career.

Unconditional Responsibility

The first step to being viewed as a strategic player is to assume unconditional responsibility, Botwin says.

When things happen, he explains, there are two choices, be the victim or take unconditional responsibility. Say, for example, there is an incident of harassment. We can say “It’s not my fault, we trained the people and we can’t control what they do.” That’s a valid response, says Botwin, but it’s not the response of a leader. A leader has to be unconditionally responsible.

So you’re going to respond, let me look into it, do another assessment, and take steps to remedy the situation.

Responsibility leads to respect, Botwin says.

IFRS … GAAP … Gross Profit

Talk like a business person, not solely like an HR person, Botwin says. Are you familiar with terms like IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) and GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Practices)? That’s the language of business, Botwin says, and that’s what the CEO and the CFO are talking about.

Talk like a  problem solver. Don’t say, “We can’t do that. We’ll be sued.” Yes, it is your risk management role to say that, but it provides no solution. You need to provide solutions when talking to the C-Suite.

However, be careful with buzz words. Overuse may be perceived as lack of depth, says Botwin.

Metrics and Analytics—Always and Never

Always be looking for ways to create analytics, but never rely exclusively on one metric, Botwin warns.

Leverage Up

Every job in the organization has as its main purpose leveraging the person the job reports to. Since most people don’t act that way, if you do, you will stand out, Botwin says. Be as helpful as you can and do as much as you can to make your executives’ lives easier.

Culture Is Critical

Botwin (and presentation attendees) offered the following positive points on culture:

  • Better customer experiences
  • Lower recruiting costs and better hires
  • More efficient operations (increase in discretionary effort)
  • Higher quality production
  • Higher sales, more successful marketing
  • Better retention and engagement

Need some analytics? Botwin says studies show:

  • Top cultures outperform S&P Companies by  a factor of 3.
  • Strong cultures increase employee engagement  by 25 percent, giving a 42 percent increased return in shareholder value and a 46 percent higher return on assets.
  • High engagement companies show a 13 percent improvement in net income.

The bad news is, studies show that 71 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged, says Botwin. And that breaks down into 52 percent who are just doing what they need to do to collect a paycheck and 19 percent who are actively disengaged, that is, actually working against the company.


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Engagement  is Your Job

Be a coach and a cheerleader, says Botwin. Develop programs that foster engagement, but remember that programs don’t engage, people do.

Too Much Engagement Can Backfire

Botwin tells of the time a top 10 CPA firm worked hard to recruit a coveted recent grad, and Botwin arranged a very big deal celebration on the new employee’s first day. Unfortunately, he forgot that the new person was very reserved, and the overdone celebration caused him to reconsider his decision to join the company. (He stayed.)

In tomorrow’s Advisor, more of Botwin’s tips, plus an introduction to Wage & Hour Compliance: Practical Solutions for HR.

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  1. Anonymous        
    June 25, 2013 8:00 am

    Unfortunately, HR usually is not for the sensitive. You need a tough skin to deal with the perceptions of both the C suite and the rank and file.