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In today’s business world, human capital is critical to success. As The Bedford Consulting Group continues to collaborate with functional HR leaders and CEO’s, it is clear that the relationship between the two roles acts as a cornerstone for sustainable business results. In the world of executive search, we are often tasked with helping to find and pair these individuals together in order to create a winning formula.

When CEO’s value their talent and view their HR leaders as strong strategic partners, it creates a culture shift that is evident both internally and externally. In a world where Human Resource leaders may be misconceived to not possess analytical business minds and CEO’s can be accused of falling short in emotional intelligence, strong relationships and synergy between these roles can be based on forming a truly “Odd Couple”.

The concept of the “Odd Couple” and the needs of this distinctive relationship was born from conversations at The Bedford Consulting Group’s CEO and Human Capital Roundtable events. Attended by top leaders in Canadian business, these invitational events offer opportunities for CEO’s and HR leaders to gather with peers and share their experiences and wisdom. One of the most critical success factors identified by both groups in their separate meetings is their relationship with each other. In the second instalment of our Business Leadership in Action series, we learn more about the power of this coupling of opposites.

CEO’s often have solid relationships with many of their business’s divisional or operational leaders. The strong bond is born from the common focus on growth, profit, market share and other business measures. Their relationship with HR leaders is, in contrast, based less on commonality and more on dissonance and differing views. Paul Sparrow of Lancaster University was quoted in “The Economist Intelligence Unit’s CEO Perspectives” survey report saying the relationship between CEO’s and HR is critical because “CEO’s tend to be creative and full of ideas, but they sometimes need a reality check.

The CEO’s attending Bedford’s Roundtable forums have shared key points for building the CEO/HR business partner relationship, the most recurrent of which include…

Make Talent First and Last

One of the concerns that keep CEO’s awake at night is talent. If it isn’t keeping them awake, it’s likely because they aren’t thinking enough about it. HR leaders need to realise that they organically improve their relationship with the CEO when they not only share the same concern, but also are zealously active in improving talent acquisition, development and retention strategies.

Say Something Others Are Not

CEO’s can have lonely jobs. They can often find themselves surrounded by people too intimidated to offer alternative points of view, even in the best interests of the organization. In addition to this, there can be the underlying impression that they cannot share their own crisis of confidence with subordinates easily. Because of this, CEO’s have a vital need for a partner who can tell the “Emperor” when they are “wearing no clothes”. The HR leader is the most effective person to be the relative safe point of discussion for the CEO.

Strive for Tangible, Measurable Results

Having as many meaningful KPI’s or measures of success as possible, the HR leader needs to approach accountability for results with the same fervour as a Sales Leader reviewing monthly sales. If the relationship with the CEO is too intangible, their work takes on the feeling of a psychologist appointment as opposed to a partnership for results that the CEO is measured upon.

The leaders of HR attending Bedford’s Roundtable forums have shared key points for building the relationship with their CEO’s, the most recurrent of which include…

Speak the Language of the Business

HR has unprecedented access to the business and should have, if approached deliberately, the broadest embrace of the language of the business inclusive of financial terms, as well as sales and technical product jargon. An HR leader seeking the most symbiotic CEO relationship needs to be multi-lingual and fluent in the language of the business and know truly, the profit drivers of the company.

Build Trust and Confidence

The relationship between an HR leader and a CEO requires confidence on the CEO’s part that their quasi-coaching relationship is hyper confidential and that the coach has in-tune, and refined perceptions for the nuances of leadership. HR leaders who have no new vision or interpretation of events will struggle to get airtime with the CEO.

The Economist’s survey went on to note that CEO’s see the HR relationship as one of closeness and trust above strategy and results. HR’s perceived excellence in emotional intelligence, perceptiveness and communications provides a CEO with informal executive coaching and usefulness that, while often perceived to be unrelated to corporate strategy is, in fact, critical to the company’s success.

In summary, learning from the CEO and HR Roundtables as it relates to the “Odd Couple” relationship is to embrace the differences and perceptions between the roles. Without the nurturing of the synergetic bond between these leaders, the organization will be severely impaired in its ability to compete in the ever-changing hyper-competitive business environment.