Connected leadership: The CEO and the HRD

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Ram Charan has caused controversy recently with his suggestion that HR departments should be split. The leading business guru and author claimed that CEOs across the globe are disappointed in their HR people.

There has been a backlash, of course. Fellow guru David Ulrich said that Charan was being “unfair and simplistic”.

Behind the headlines of this debate, however, is an important question: are CEOs and their HRDs having the quality of strategic conversation that they should be?

Certainly there should be a common agenda around leadership and learning within the organisation – and the question Charan poses is whether HR departments approach this too much from an administrative rather than a strategic perspective.

We would argue that this is clearly an important strategic role for HRDs, based on connectivity and trust with their CEOs. 

Indeed, there has been a great deal of debate over the years about the strategic role of HR and its place at the top table. Given current trends, this question is growing in importance. 

Despite economic recovery, most organisations operate in uncertain environments. Businesses in many markets are dealing with new entrants bringing new, disruptive business models, and many feel a growing need to focus on innovation and transformation.

Leaders are being forced to change. It’s widely recognised that the old style of command and control leadership simply doesn’t work anymore.  We all need to work in a more joined up way – to be more connected – and we would say that HR has a key role in supporting the organisation develop this more connected approach.

What is connected leadership? We believe it’s about becoming more values-based, more collaborative, and devolving decision-making. 

There are five key elements:

- Creating a shared direction and purpose across your business

- Being authentic and creating a values-based culture

- Involving colleagues across the business in shared decision-making        

- Building teams that collaborate effectively across the business 

- Being agile in the face of changing circumstances

Instead of organisations creating more controls (and the associated bureaucracy) to become more connected, many want to create a more empowered environment and a new level of simplicity.

This in turn requires a high degree of trust, not only between the CEO and the HRD, but across the organisation – trust that each person and team will play a part in the process, and trust that each person and team will seek what’s best for the whole business based on a shared purpose.

Jonathan Nicholls is head of employee research, Ipsos MORI. Simon Hayward is CEO of Cirrus.