Who Topgrades The Head of Human Resources?

Recently I was invited to attend a monthly round table meeting of senior level HR leaders who are currently in career transition. The high powered group of former Chief Human Resources Officers (CHRO’s), heads of Total Rewards, Chief Learning Officers and VPs of HR come together monthly to discuss their job searches, share leads, share contacts and to support each other. I was fortunate to be invited to talk about my human capital consulting practice Groove Management and to share my insights into the job market.

I listened as the group discussed open senior HR jobs that they had heard about throughout the United State. Many of the jobs were being sourced by retrained search firms and had large slates of candidates who had already been submitted. One person mentioned that they had an initial interview for a high level role but were told that the organization would not continue with his candidacy because he was considered too big for the role. An executive in the group who had run total rewards for a Fortune 500 company replied “too big for the role is code for too expensive”. I see this play out everyday when working with organizations on talent acquisition and with candidates looking for their next career opportunity. Recruiters who perform the initial resume screening are inundated with applications for open roles. Because the number of candidates that apply for an open role is so big, recruiters must apply filters to cull the resume count. The approach is to disqualify candidates who do not meet all of the criteria for a given job. For instance if the job requires an SPHR, 15 years of HR management experience and healthcare experience any candidate lacking one of these criteria is automatically disqualified.  This approach is flawed but used by most firms because it is efficient way to sift through resumes. The best recruiters take the opposite approach and scan resumes for what the candidate has that makes them unique versus whether the candidate meets the narrowly defined set of criteria.

As a candidate it is important to know how the flawed process works and to make certain that your resume is tailored to the specific job and clearly shows that all criteria is met. The better approach from my experience is to side step the recruiter and make contact directly with the hiring manager. This is much easier said than done, but the hiring manager is more interested in finding someone with capability and cultural fit, two criteria that are hard to express in a resume.

After listening to the interesting conversation between this highly capable group of HR leaders I began to see their discouragement and I understood why. If the human resources department is responsible for handling talent acquisition and talent management for an organization and the senior most HR leader is weak then the entire organization suffers. This led me to ask the following question,

“Who Topgrades the Head of Human Resources?” 

The group response was the CEO. This presents a major challenge. Brad Smart the author of Topgrading has research that shows “on average, CEOs are disappointed with 75% of the people hired in their companies.” The challenge is what they choose to do about the poor hires. If the CEO is not a talent focused leader then a weak HR leader doesn’t appear as a problem. It is my hypothesis that in organizations with CEOs that are not talent focused and weak head of HR very few senior level talent issues are addressed. If in fact HR is responsible for Topgrading and managing talent in an organization, they must proactively be assessing talent and reviewing all opportunities to present upgrades for each senior role in an organization. Further if a CEO is not pleased with the performance of their head of HR it becomes their issue to address. Often poor head of HR performance is allowed to fester because the CEO has other priorities and is not fit for leading a head of HR search. When they finally decide to take action, they make a call to a search firm and outsource the search to them to identify a better head of HR.

This interesting discussion led me to the realization that the best approach for these senior HR leaders job search is to contact CEOs of companies to ask the following question,

“Is your head of HR the strongest business partner that you could have in that role?” 

The question is meant to provoke the CEO to think about the impact that role is having on their organization. Rather than running a job search for a better person, asking that question positions you to be a solution to a problem that the CEO may not have even identified. Great HR people know that job searching is all about networking and the best jobs to land are the jobs that are never posted. There are not that many head of HR jobs posted annually, but I strongly believe that there are hundreds if not thousands of CEOs who are not thrilled with their current heads of HR but don’t have the time nor the capability to address the deficiency. A great head of HR is a problem solver. So to answer the question, “Who Topgrades HR?” My answer is HR Topgrades HR from the outside in.