Making the CEO Happy with HR

Oct 15, 2007

Human resources management has long been criticized and undervalued by top management in A/E/P and environmental firms. Evidence of this fact is pay. According to ZweigWhite’s 2007-2008 Management Compensation Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms, HR directors total annual compensation is $78,000, compared with marketing director at $96,000, IT managers at $99,000, and financial directors at $102,400. There are many possible reasons for this— I won’t get into them here. But what I will do is share some advice I gave to the audience at our ZweigWhite 2007 Best Firm to Work For Summit held in Boston earlier this month. Here’s a list of things the CEO really wants from human resources management: Understand that your job is to maximize the value of the firm’s human resources! Your primary role is NOT benefits administration, nor is it acting like the employee ombudsman. You work for the FIRM. The CEO needs to know that. Help create a firm-wide culture of excellence and efficiency, rather than being preoccupied with hygiene factors. To do that, HR must be a part of the executive management team. The CEO needs to make HR part of “the executive committee” for the firm. Fill the supply line of talent for the managers in need. Do this at a low cost and without wasting your time or the managers’ time. Understand OUR business and the kind of people we need. Help upgrade the talent level in all positions. Be ever on the lookout for improvement. Know where the problems and weaknesses are. Deliver “alternatives” to help deal with these problems. Understand that the hiring managers will not do what they should even though they have critical hiring needs. Bug those managers enough in an appropriate way to get them to follow up with good job candidates. Alert top management when this fails. 6Be creative when it comes to providing ideas on what to do with people who are good people but in the wrong roles. This is always an issue in firms in our business. The CEO wants to be a “nice” guy or gal— and maintain an image that the firm is a good place to work. Help the managers fire when all other options have been considered. Sometimes this is necessary. Help the managers do this with dignity and in such a way that the firm maintains the best image possible. Deal with training requests. This is always a problem for firms. Employees ask to go to national conferences when they don’t go to local meetings. Or employees need specific skill upgrades and their managers don’t realize it. Develop a method and process for dealing with training. Be a management trainer yourself. The CEO likes people who earn their keep. The HR people need to be trainers themselves in a number of different areas to help do that. Be the one who takes on the jobs no one else wants to do (plotting an office move, or coordinating an OFCCP audit, for examples!) The CFO/business manager used to have to do these jobs but, today, they often fall under HR’s domain. Do them without complaint! Defuse uprisings in the ranks. For example, if the associates go off on a tangent about not having reserved parking, help them understand the negative ramifications of doing that on the rest of the staff’s morale. Develop real strategies for having a long-term affordable labor force. This may mean starting and managing a co-op program, figuring out how to do certain things offshore, looking at alternative skill sets for particular roles, and much more. Labor COST is the biggest cost in our industry! Anticipate future problems with specific people. The CEO cannot be everywhere at every time. And people aren’t always honest with the CEO. HR needs to bring awareness about specific people who could create grief so actions can be taken to head off the problems before they occur. Be a CEO sounding board and confidant. It’s lonely at the top. The CEO has few people he or she can talk to about his or her real fears and concerns related to the business. Be this confidant, provide a good ear and good advice, and you will be invaluable. Provide real direction in terms of career development. HR typically offers stock solutions on issues such as employee reviews and performance appraisals, without acknowledging the fundamental problem that the employee’s supervisor may be in their way. Develop other methods to help guide individual careers. Be a seller. The CEO needs to know that HR won’t blow the deal but will instead CLOSE the deal with key people the firm is trying to hire. This takes a real understanding of the business and the people who make it great. Track the data that shows whether or not HR is actually accomplishing anything. Critical metrics include turnover, hiring costs, training costs, labor costs, employee survey data, and much more. Have the information that PROVES HR is actually accomplishing something and the CEO can defend the HR function! I predict that any HR director who does what the CEO really wants will be a hero in the firm and well-rewarded. Originally published 10/15/2007

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.