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Keeping Your CEO’s Sleep Deprived

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One of the favored questions going around the vendor circles the last few years is “What keeps you awake at night?”  Obviously they only ask this when they are in front of VP’s of HR or C-suite executives, but the answers really do exemplify what’s going on in a person’s head.  The old question of “what’s most important to you” never really struck a cord because it was all to easy to state the obvious politically correct answer “my people are the most important to me.”  The new question addresses the key factors that will drive the company to failure if not addressed.

A study by Accenture shows that the war for talent can no longer be dismissed as just another management cliche.

Identifying, retaining and replacing those people who breathe life into an organisation is now a “burning obsession among chief executives”, says Peter Cheese, global managing partner at the company’s human performance practice, and affects business leaders in India just as much as those in the UK.

“More than 60% of the respondents to our annual survey of chief executives said that the inability to attract and retain the best talent is now a key threat to their business, outstripping the issue of low employee morale,” says Cheese.

“While the relationship between HR and senior management is improving – particularly in IT, telecoms and financial services – we believe that chief executives and financial officers need to empower and champion HR more effectively, so that people issues rise to the top of the business agenda.”  ((Personnel Today.  May 22, 2007.  “What keeps CEO’s awake at night?”  Retrieved from on June 10, 2007.))

We in HR know that talent is critical.  The “old answer” of people being the most important was a true statement, even if it was not a heartfelt response.  What mystifies me is that having the right talent is now more important than having engaged talent.  The whole idea of attracting and retaining talent has the essential ingredients of employer branding and employee engagement wrapped up in them.  Without good talent, branding and engagement, none of the three exist – it’s all or nothing.  (I could draw one of those circle diagrams, but I’m too lazy).

The other thing that I find encouraging but also annoying at the same time is that CEO’s and CFO’s are now feeling the need to empower and champion HR leaders.  The attention from the top down is great, but why are HR leaders not being more proactive?  I honestly firmly believe that we have a long way to go before HR is a real contributor to the organization’s overall strategy.  What it comes down to is that we in HR are keeping our CEO’s up at night be not stepping up to the plate creating cross functional teams that address branding and engagement.  We’re not creating long term strategies to build the workforce that the CEO’s are satisfied with.

At the end of the day, what’s keeping the CEO up at night?  HR is.

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7 responses to “Keeping Your CEO’s Sleep Deprived”

  1. systematicHR – Human Resources Strategy and Technology » Keeping Your CEO’s Sleep Deprived

  2. and retaining talent has the essential ingredients of employer branding and employee engagement wrapped up in them. Without good talent, branding and engagement, none of the three exist – it’s all or nothing. ” –Personnel Today. May 22, 2007. “What keeps CEO’s awake at night?” Retrieved from on June 10, 2007. Talent is the core of the three, but not enough. We gotta recognize talent first and at the same time company should build a promp environment to foster and retain the taltent. That is branding.

  3. Gregg Harcus Avatar

    Much the same can be said about IT which is considered just another overhead function. 🙁

  4. Gary Damiano, SVP Marketing, Workstream Inc. Avatar

    This post raises a good point: Why has HR traditionally not been empowered to help dictate the business agenda that drives a company? Part of the answer has to do with the perception of HR as a cost center or overhead function, since HR specialists spend a great deal of time providing non-revenue generating services. Of course the value that HR delivers far exceeds employee administration, but overcoming this misconception has been elusive for many HR professionals – until recently. By using advanced talent management systems, HR can have its finger on the pulse of the organization, including unique insight into the talent strengths and weaknesses of the business. This knowledge, gleaned from leveraging unified recruiting, compensation, performance and development systems, enables HR executives to provide the type of strategic counsel that impacts a company’s most high level initiatives, including which products and business units to invest in, when and how to ramp-up sales and marketing, etc. Equally important is the flexibility that HR executives derive from leading-edge talent management solutions. Enhanced visibility into the employee talent pool enables HR staff to respond quickly to changing business goals, create ‘what-if’ scenarios to see how changes will affect the company’s top and bottom line, and make recommendations to the board regarding corporate strategy and direction.

  5. Romuald Avatar

    I would like to link 2 statements from this page:
    – The first one comes from Gary’s comment: “Why has HR traditionally not been empowered to help dictate the business agenda that drives a company?”
    – The second comes from you: “We in HR know that talent is critical.”

    Gary raises a good question. There are plenty of valid theories.
    Part of the answer, is IMHO, the exact opposite of your statement.
    Many people in HR do NOT know that talent is critical.
    Are they eager to get a seat at the table? Yes!
    Have they heard that Talent is critical? Apart of the ones who are still buried in their benefits management: Yes!
    Are they talking about how critical talent is in their organization? For the smartest and the most ambitious ones: Yes.
    Do they even know what talent is? Some have not a clue.

    Unfortunately, you are a minority in the HR world. Not an exception, mind you. I’ve also discussed with many HR professionals who understood talent and truly thought it was critical to their organization; but at this point in time, you are still outnumbered. But fortunately, this is changing.

    Too many people, including in HR, are still using talent as a buzzword, and as a path towards the holy seat, but are still stuck in their old mindset and care more about administration, policies, and enforcement.

  6. Romuald Avatar

    I am adding a separate comment to react to Gary’s comment because it (my comment) is completely unrelated to the previous one.
    The part that made me react is the following: “By using advanced talent management systems, HR can…”

    Gary is on the vendor side, as I am, and it is our job to preach the merits of our respective solutions.
    Still, there is again this typical “snake-oil-y” (?) declaration: “Buy our solution and you’ll be saved”. (I am not after Gary here, all vendors do the same. It just happens he is the one bothering participating in the discussion)
    By using advanced talent management solutions, the only thing HR can do is:
    – either implement thoughtful redesigned processes, or
    – implement broken old processes

    No talent management solution by itself has ever fixed a business problem.

    Don’t get me wrong: software is an absolutely necessary part of the solution to the business challenge or opportunity.
    But software is not the strategy. It is its implementation.