talent innovation

5 things your CEO wants but won’t tell you

If you are a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and report directly to the CEO, you must have a pretty good pulse on what the CEO wants when it comes to human capital. Right? Would you be surprised if I told you most CEOs maintain a laundry list of things they want to tell you - but won’t? As a former Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and directly reporting to CEOs for over a decade, I’m here to tell you – there are things your CEO wants you to know, but are not telling you.

Don’t just take my word for it though. CEOs are regularly surveyed and quoted. A simple Google search of “CEO satisfaction surveys” Yields dozens of firms citing CEO statistics about everything they love… and, everything they hate about human resources.

Without further ado, here are the top five things your CEO won’t say:

  • They want you to know what is going on in the job market and where to get talent from. Labor trends shift faster than ever. In the blink of an eye, we jump from needing to promote Diversity, Equity & Inclusion… to innovation on where to find talent and re-tool existing employees… to addressing the great resignation… to finding the perfect work/life balance for employees… to leveraging technology to improve productivity and reduce labor cost. Your CEO wants you to not only have a crystal ball but know what is going on out there and keep your firm at the tip of the spear. It’s not easy, but there are lots of ways you can keep up with the labor market… but choose wisely. There is ample fodder out there on the internet in the form of blogs and articles, but I recommend turning to credible sources. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and the HR Specialist are two I subscribe to and find to be useful and credible sources to cut through the noise and keep me focused on what is really happening in the workforce.

  • They want to understand why they are spending so much money to find talent. According to Zippa[1] a career service expert, the average executive cost per hire is $14,936, and the cost impact of a bad hire is 30% of the individual’s average salary. Moreover, CEOs are pumping in 2% - 5% of the company’s revenue into their recruitment machine. So the CEOs question is understandable. But considering 73% of potential candidates are passive job seekers, and 60% of candidates quit in the middle of the application process, it’s safe to say the days of candidates lining up for a job are cooling. It is important to keep your CEO aware of recent trends. For example, the most recent Economic New Release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics places the February 2023 unemployment rate at 3.4% with 517,000 more jobs on payroll, and a job opening count of over 11 million. This creates the unprecedented situation of almost 2 job openings for every unemployed person in the US. Simply understanding what your recruiters are up against is half the battle.

  • They want to know if their existing Human Resources folks are up for the challenge. According to the PWC 20th CEO survey, 60% of CEOs are rethinking the HR function[2] CEOs still say they can’t find the talent they need, and HR has struggled to rise to the challenge. I know this is not the news you may want to hear, but we must face the music. I’m not advocating for spending more money, piling on more requisitions to recruiters, or attending even more job fairs. The challenge isn’t necessarily about finding new and innovative ways of accessing the talent market; it’s about tapping into already proven HR practices to anticipate needs, identify and address skills gaps, spot potential and take action. How many of you are investing in Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS) with whiz–bang tools for performance management, employee engagement, learning management, and career development… but never quite got it all turned on or working efficiently. Of course, the CEO wants a fully-formed employee with the precise skills the organization needs, but in reality, that ‘perfect employee’ is made more often than found. Ensure your systems are optimized and help your CEO know that talent development takes place in-house as well.

  • They want you to be multiple people at once. In today’s Human Resources departments, you will find specializations for everything. If you ask about your benefits, you are routed to your HR-Benefits section; if you ask about your career path, you are routed to the HR-Training section; if you want to file a grievance, you are routed to your HR Business Partner. CEOs expect you to know each of these functions intimately. But that is not all… in today’s world of executive HR leadership, you are also expected to be an employment law lawyer, a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) expert, a physical security guard, a bid & proposals pricing expert, an executive coach, and a whole lot more. In short, you are expected to keep the company insulated from lawsuits, keep the troops happy, make the company money, and be there to tee off at the executive retreat at the golf course. This is a tall order, yes, which is why the curious HR professionals, who remain current, who watch and listen to the trends, and who continuously learn, are the ones CEOs want.
  • They want to know that you have a plan. CEOs don’t get to their level without a proven track record – usually across many successful companies. They have seen the best, and the worst, HR delivery of everything from recruitment to succession planning, to compensation and benefits. And no doubt they have dealt with many complicated employee relations issues over the years. The reality is, they already have a playbook in their head about how HR should work… and they are just waiting for you to catch up. When you do, you better hope that your plan is at least in the same ballpark as your CEOs. Therefore, it is important to listen closely to what your CEO is saying – in every meeting. Read between the lines – there are messages your CEO is trying to send to you. If your antennas are up and you are receptive, you will pick up on the cues that will help you develop an HR plan that enhances your CEOs goal and vision for the organization.

Michael Stambaugh is the Chief Growth Officer (CGO) at Precision Talent Solutions (PTS) and the former Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF), and prior Vice President of Human Resources at Women for Women International (WfWI).

[1] Zippia. “25+ Crucial Average Cost Per Hire Facts [2023]: All Cost Of Hiring Statistics” Zippia.com. Sep. 5, 2022

[2]CEO Survey Global Talen: Deep Dives” PWC.com