Return to Insights

What do CEOs look for in a new HR Director?

Following on from the last few weeks revisiting interviews with CEOs, I found they expect a lot from their HRD:

“The brains of Einstein. The charisma of Kennedy. The negotiating skills of Kissinger. The marketing skills of Iacocca. The hide of a rhinoceros. The soul of Mother Teresa. The stamina of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.”

What CEOs Want from HR. JUDY ENNS

So not much! Seriously they do expect a lot so how do you match up?

1. Intelligence

Intellect, not in an academic sense, but having a strong grounding that can then be applied in a pragmatic way to business issues.

  • ‘I look for the way they think, intellect, someone who understands the business dynamics, how to link business strategy to organisational behaviour.’

2. Commitment

Commitment to the organisation not HR is the key. You have to think organisation first, what you can do to make a difference rather than what you can do to enhance HR’s reputation. This means understanding the specifics of the business, its external context, dynamics, strategy, drivers, the link to behaviours, translating how the company will look in 3/5 years into culture and what this all means for HR but from this organisational context.

  • ‘I would start with do they have a clear understanding of strategy and what drives business performance do they understand the heartbeat of the business they’ve been in?’

3. HR Experience

CEOs expect a functional competence especially relevant experience when operating in some industries or contexts such as financial services or sales. They don’t expect their HRD to be deep experts in all aspects of HR, but they need to be expert enough to say we need to check this and to build a team who can find the answer.

  • ‘With an HRD it’s a bit like an FD. I’m looking for a degree of professional knowledge. I’d expect them to understand their subject and discipline in detail and know where to ask when they don’t.’

4. Delivery

It is critical to be able to operationalise everything we have talked about which means not only having a vision but being able to deliver it. They are looking for people:

  • Who are results oriented.
  • Who take accountability.
  • Who have drive.
  • Who know how to manage a team to deliver.
  • Who will innovate to keep ahead of the race.
    • ‘I assume experience and functional competence are there but if I need to hire they need to have vision and be able to operationalise it not just into HR but into other parts of the business.’

5. People orientation

They also expect HR people to balance their commerciality with a strong belief in and understanding of people, not just the theory around behaviours, change, diversity, culture and motivation but strong emotional intelligence, not just applying the theory to the organisation and what HR does but to their own behaviour as role models.

  • ‘Don’t know if it’s very different to any other director but maybe I expect more leadership and more emotional intelligence than the rest of the management committee.’

6. Credibility

As a corporate director they are looking for the HRD to be credible with their board colleagues which is partly their knowledge but also their style:

  • Collaborative, empathetic, proximity and team orientation.
  • Great communications skills which means listening as well as clarity.
  • Curiosity, a willingness to try to understand and explore things whilst reserving judgement.
  • Resilience, independence of thinking, self-confident, degree of humility, say what they think.
  • Ability to challenge own and other’s assumptions, prevailing thinking, not yes-men.
    • One last comment here that I enjoyed: ‘Actually, someone who’s fun not someone who’s boring, some of them are just so tedious, highly competent, but I want someone who I can warm to.’

7. Complementarity

CEOs want someone who complements them and the business.

  • ‘Someone who compliments my leadership skills. I am open minded, enthusiastic, want someone who steps back, talks less, who is complimentary, to look at the same thing with a different eye.’

8. Integrity

I’ve already said this, and I’ll keep saying it because it was number one in the interviews: honesty, integrity, handles confidentiality, discrete, trustworthy, model for values:

  • ‘I need to have complete trust with my HRD.’
  • ‘Need to be confident when we talk it will stay between the 2 of us. If I can’t trust them it would be a very strong negative.’
  • ‘The ego dimension is I would say a sin. Anyone who puts their ego first is in big trouble. Ego in leadership roles is a real barrier to performance.’
  • ‘Integrity is probably the only no-go principle.’
  • ‘Integrity is an absolute I can have no shadow of a doubt due to the high ethical part of the role.’

For HR executive search SD are here to help. The best consultants will be happy to help with advice and support throughout the process of making a new HR hire.

Get in touch for a confidential discussion with a member of our team.