Home / Blog / HR & OD in the C-Suite and the Transformation of Organizations by Jim Ramerman

My work over the last 35 years has been in leadership development. My mission has been to “go deep with motivated executives for break through transformation of their leadership, their organizations- and their lives.” When it comes to the part about “transforming organizations”, the task becomes monumental. To reach a true transformation takes time and commitment.  And it takes a lot of people pulling together – it takes a village to transform a village. Usually, it starts with key players that include the CEO, the CFO and the HR/OD/Talent leadership. All of the C-Level leaders need to get on board.  In my role as leadership/change consultant, I partner most closely with the CEO and the senior HR/OD leader to assess the needs, gain clarity on the ideal culture and determine the levers and initiatives that will move the organization upward and forward. Working from the outside as an external consultant, I can bring objectivity and outside perspective from working with dozens of companies who have made the journey towards creating a high performing and great to work for organization.

The two factors that help move the process forward are: 1) a committed CEO with a clear vision and 2) a strong HR/OD/Talent partner.  The HR/OD/Talent partner is most effective when s/he is a member of the C-Suite. When that is so, culture change, leadership development and talent development are part of every strategic and operational discussion. The systems that HR touches are aligned to support the direction of creating a wonderful workplace – hiring, incentives, promotions, etc. Without that person at the table to bring the thinking to those discussions, consistently, those priorities and processes get lost.  The CEO, even if highly committed, must concentrate on too many things to give the time and energy organizational transformation requires.

Why doesn’t HR/OD/Talent sit on the senior team? I see a couple of patterns, mostly in small to medium-sized organizations – mostly based on history or certain thought patterns. Let me describe four, though one may identify several others:

  • Seeing our “kids” differently: Sometimes we don’t notice our kids change – don’t see that they’ve grown up. The HR manager who has always been with us and done certain tasks and been in certain roles runs the risk of getting pigeon-holed. Maybe they can and should do more and bigger things.
  • Reporting to the CFO: Yes, it made sense in the beginning. We are small and we mostly need someone to manage payroll and benefits, maybe hiring, etc. As it was, so it ever shall be. That was the image of HR and it stuck. The organization’s leaders may never have experienced the power of strategic HR. Therefore, they don’t envision something different.
  • Over-caring by the CEO/CFO. You know this pattern, and it applies to all sorts of talent decisions. Sam/Sammy has been with us from the beginning. We don’t want to hire a high level HR/OD leader and put them over the top of our long-timer. That would risk an upset.
  • Sometimes a limited role for HR could be of the leader’s own making. E.g. a lack of confidence and assertion. Not seeing that another, different HR/OD talent is needed (someone who might be right or better for the C-Suite role) but the current HR leader doesn’t want to be supervised by another person in their field.

These barriers and others could hold back progress – hold back a needed, and potentially breakthrough, organizational transformation. Let’s find the way to get HR/OD/Talent leadership into the C-Suite where it belongs and begin the journey to what the organization can truly become.