Trancending Boundaries: A Leadership Imperative

Shared Leadership Carol Andersonby Carol Anderson, Featured Contributor

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Years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Carly Fiorina speak on leadership. Her statement “everyone is and must be a leader,” is etched in my mind. I have long been a proponent of leadership not being a job but a calling with the responsibilities of leading being share among us all. Where the complexity of today’s world builds silos, I believe we need to start working collaboratively up, down and across our organizations, and learn to share the responsibilities of leadership. This is meta-leadership. Meta-leadership transcends boundaries, calling on everyones’ gifts to make the collective work. This demands an open mind, respect and vulnerability. I hope to provoke new thinking about leadership here and invite you to join in.[/message]

What does the C-Suite expect from the human resources team? Apparently not much. Look it up —there are myriad studies that ask CEOs about the effectiveness of HR, only to find that while top talent is a critical business need, HR departments are not stepping up.

In a 2012 study, only 16% of CEOs rated HR “excellent” at identifying and recruiting key talent, and a mere 12% rated HR “excellent” at developing key talent. Why are these statistics so dismal? That HR isn’t performing is not a new issue: it’s been a sore subject since talent became the big business challenge.

Here’s a more fundamental question. Since they identify human resource functions as critical and strategic, why do executives accept less than excellent performance from HR? This is not to say that the C-Suite alone is accountable, but if better results are desired, c-suite - c- suitethen the C-Suite needs to demand better performance. And on HR’s side, the challenge is trying to put new tools into practice without the active sponsorship of the C-Suite.

My hypothesis? HR designs programs, and tells the organization what it must do, in a vacuum. That doesn’t work; in fact, it breeds resistance. For example, if performance evaluations’ relevance to the work underway has not been made clear, telling a busy executive that she has to discuss them with each of her direct reports will not generate support.

Let’s be clear. HR and leadership work are hard. Leaders have to set clear expectations and hold their teams accountable. They have to have the courage and skill to elicit commitment to excellent performance. The C-Suite can create an HR team that truly adds value by asking for good information that HR isn’t used to providing. Instead of complaining about what HR isn’t doing, let them know what the business needs.

What steps can the C-Suite take to partner with HR, and accept the responsibility for the effectiveness of the program? Let’s start with performance management, essentially the cornerstone of improving organizational performance. The C-Suite can help by asking HR these questions:

What is the ultimate objective of having this program?

Typically there are two objectives: improving performance and keeping the organization out of trouble by forcing leaders to talk with their employees, provide good feedback, and create documentation that could be used in legal proceedings.

Which of these two objectives is taking precedence in our current program?

If the compliance objective prevails, perhaps it is time to refocus. You can tell if compliance is the endgame by asking HR about how they teach performance management to new leaders. Is the focus on good documentation or on developing leaders’ skills around having robust development dialogues with their employees?

How do we know the quality of the performance conversations?

Having robust development dialogues is outside many leaders’ comfort zones. Rationally, we know we need to deliver feedback, but we often wimp out and stay on the positive. Helpful performance feedback is in the eyes of the receiver, so are we asking employees about the quality of the performance feedback they receive? Do higher-up leaders sit in on performance discussions to observe and provide feedback on this important skill?

How much time will the program take?

Often, the C-Suite does not realize the amount of time required for good performance management. The initial presentation of an HR program probably focused on the “how,” not the “why” or “how much.” Does the program take the right amount of time to do well? If the C-Suite believes it does, they need to communicate the expectations to leaders and hold them accountable.

Is the program relevant?

Leaders will be more willing to invest the time in developing their employees if they see business results. If they are wrestling with competencies and goals that are not “real,” they will probably not see the value.

HR can be a valuable part of the business, and the C-Suite wants it to be. For that to happen, start by asking some frank, practical questions about HR’s goals and methods. Better communication and accountability can lead to a great partnership between HR and the C-Suite.



KPMG 2012 Study “Rethinking Human Resources in a Changing World, Pgs 14-15


Aligning Human Resources with Business Strategy: Creating Value & Competitive Advantage, A SilkRoad TalentTalk Research Report, 2014


It’s Time to Split HR by Ram Charan, Harvard Business Review July-August 2014


PwC 17th Annual Global CEO Survey 2014, page 20


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Hello Carol,

    “In a 2012 study, only 16% of CEOs rated HR “excellent” at identifying and recruiting key talent, and a mere 12% rated HR “excellent” at developing key talent. Why are these statistics so dismal?”

    Because CEOs don’t know how to identify future successful employees and neither does their HR departments. If they did know, then the statistics would not be so dismal.

    Fixing the problem is not hard to do but what is hard to do is getting CEOs to ask, “How do we fix our selection process so that we hire many more top performers and few, if any, non-performers?

    Internal motivation, unlike external motivation, is not under the control of the employer. Managers who know this don’t make the mistake of presuming that training changes employees’ internal motivation.

    Employee engagement starts before the job offer is made. The reason employee engagement starts before the job offer is made is because we need to hire employees for their internal motivation.

    When there are disengaged employees we need not look beyond executives and their managers.
    – Too many employees are in the wrong jobs, i.e., management errors.
    – Poorly behaving employees are tolerated, i.e., management errors.
    – Too many managers are in the wrong jobs, i.e., executive errors.
    – Poorly behaving managers are tolerated, i.e., executive errors.
    – Too many executives and managers Reward A hoping for B.
    – In other words, we get who we hire and who we promote.
    – If we want to break the cycle, then we need to hire the right people.

    Employee engagement suffers when the following are present.
    1. The wrong people are executives.
    2. The wrong people are managers.
    3. The wrong people are hired for other positions.
    4. Engagement surveys are anonymous.
    5. Engagement surveys are not anonymous.
    6. Giving equal credence to the survey results from all employees.
    7. New hires are blamed for their failures rather than the hiring managers.

    Interviewees should not have to persuade the employer to hire them but rather the employer needs to persuade the right applicant to accept the job offer. Only the employer can know which applicants will be successful if hired. Since an applicant cannot know if she’ll be successful if hired, she must ask questions to learn if the employer knows, but most do not. Applicants need to ask the hiring manager, “How do you know that I will be successful if I am hired?” If the answer is just a review of your resumes, education, experience, and interview performance, then you can be sure they don’t know if you’ll be successful, in which case be very careful since your job tenure depends on their answer.