Why HR and the CEO Should Be Joined at the Hip

joined at the hip

The day the Jacobs Suchard (now part of Kraft Foods) Board of Directors promoted me to the corner office, they strongly suggested I align myself with the CFO. The advice proved excellent, and for the rest of my days in the corner office I was joined at the hip by an outstanding finance executive who is now the CFO of Lindt & Sprüngli, the world’s leading chocolatier.

My regret is that I did not free up my other hip for Human Resources, a small team of eager young managers at the rear of the functional pecking order.

Now I must admit that my Jacobs Suchard alumni would be the first to point out that marketing occupied that prime piece of pelvic real estate. After all, I had come up the corporate ladder through the marketing ranks. Yes, we were a marketing-driven company and yes, my mind was consumed with marketing and strategy; but, it wasn’t marketing wizardry alone that made the organization sing.

The exquisite and enthusiastic melodic rhapsody was performed by the entire orchestra. In the background, my Glee Club (HR) made culture their top strategic priority. You see, the “talk” of cultural strategy (at the time, we called it the credo) that hung on the walls of the offices and the factories was “walked” by the leadership team.

Ultimately, it is the CEO who determines the corporate culture, whether it is good or bad. During my tenure, I was extremely competitive, action-oriented and results-driven. So is it any wonder that my employees held the same values?

I’ll explain the cohesion this way: Firstly, our cultural characteristics were monitored and measured. Secondly, we recruited for the right fit, the right cultural mindset, followed by skills. Thirdly, we understood and appreciated the fact that our superior financial results were the result of this modus operandi.

Could I have done more if HR had been attached to that other hip? There’s no doubt.

Ultimately, it is the CEO who determines the corporate culture, whether it is good or bad.

Today, with declining loyalty and greater job hopping, it is critical that CEOs partner with HR. Here are four good reasons why:

HR’s Most Important Role Is to Influence the CEO on the Corporate Culture

This is especially important in ‘revolving door’ environments where global companies make a habit of inserting up-and-comers into general management roles in foreign lands and/or smaller business units.

An Adept HR Executive Is the CEO’s Window

HR can be an excellent radar screen for ‘reading the tea leaves’ amongst the work force with regard to organizational health. The individual should be on top of changes to business plans and how they are being accepted. Key to success is the HR executive’s ability to instill trust at all levels.

Today, with declining loyalty and greater job hopping, it is critical that CEOs partner with HR.

The ‘window’ begins to close when the Human Resources department becomes cops. CEOs must watch for that.

HR Ensures an Effective System to Pinpoint High-potential Talent and Probable Successors

This brings me back to culture and this is why Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart are very good succession planners. By the time an executive rises to the top, he or she will have spent several years within the organization. The CEO designate will be a ‘believer’ in the culture that makes their company great.

A strategic HR Team Can Be Instrumental in Helping a CEO Realize a Leader’s Greatest Sense of Gratification

A CEO should be encouraging, nurturing and allowing human beings to reach their full potential, both personally and professionally.

Take a look at the perennial success companies. Often, they have a ‘way’ . . . a distinctive culture that works for them. The custodian of the ‘way’ is the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Human Resources Officer. It is time to use the HR group strategically and bring their leader into the board room.

The only person who can do that is the CEO.



Art by: phoeniX252

John Bell

John Bell is the author of Do Less Better. The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World. A retired consumer packaged goods CEO and global strategy consultant to some of the world's most respected blue-chip organizations, his periodic musings on strategy, leadership, and branding appear in various journals including Fortune and Forbes. John has served as a director of several private, public, and not-for-profit organizations. He can be reached at his blog http://www.ceoafterlife.com/

  • Tuesday Strong


    Thank you for sharing your insight. I’ve long been of the opinion that tremendous
    opportunities exist for marketing and human resources to partner with the
    CEO. Given that branding must occur successfully internally prior to it occurring successfully externally and that talent is attracted to the best brands, it’s critical that HR, marketing, and the CEO partner. Organizations are increasingly recognizing that training employees to be brand ambassadors can engage employees, improve customer service, and increase revenue. All employees, whether or not they interact directly with customers as part of their daily duties, are brand ambassadors. One
    such example, involves networking or simply meeting someone. Usually the first questions asked involve some version of “where do you work?” or “what do you do?” It is in these situations that value is gained or lost for both employees and organizations. All employees, not just front line employees, can help build or detract from the brand. Too often organizations only prepare front line, customer service or
    business development employees to tell the organization’s stories and all employees tell the organizations stories to a certain extent and communicate the brand’s promise of value whether or not they are prepared to do so. Do you see opportunities for marketing and human resources to work with the CEO to prepare talent to represent the brand in this context, ultimately affecting culture and performance?



  • JohnRichardBell

    Thanks for your comment and question, Tuesday. There is certainly a time and place for the CEO, HR and Marketing to develop brand ambassadors. As for Marketing being involved in the particular cultural premise of the blog . . . from a purist standpoint, I tend to think not. Once you involve Marketing or Sales, you are bringing the customer into the mix. That can bring an unnecessary bias.

  • David Physick

    Great post. For me, the most important comment is the second bullet about HR being CEO’s window. This is about distinguishing culture from climate. The former concerns “How we do things around here”, i.e. being marketing led, customer focused, etc, the latter concerns “How we feel about working here”. Many an organisation has a very palpable culture but a poor climate, resulting in the revolving doors spinning off their axes. These terms were coined many decades ago but, sadly, we seem to have honed in one, i.e. culture, the task / activity related one, at the expense of the people related one. As a result, too many organisations have toxic climates, causing massive health and well-being issues, which may put a small dent in the micro-economic fortunes of a business but cause mighty fender-crunching damage at the macro-level.

    When I started work in the Uk thirty plus years ago, most major businesses had a Personnel Director at the top table. Now, sadly, the HRD has been shoved down the hierarchy to a functional component reporting to the COO. “Our people are our most important asset, ” we hear the drums of corporate rhetoric pound. I fear John is in an enlightened minority as the broader cultural drive is “to sweat the assets” on the altar of the next quarterly results report.

  • JK Seattle

    So incredibly wrong on so many fronts. This way of thinking will only hurt a corporation and distract it’s HR from it’s ‘before SOX era’ responsibilities of managing employee benefits, instructing employees on what they need to do to get plugged into the company system, and employee relationships to resolve internal employee issues. They have no business in orchestrating company culture. And their only participation in the hiring process is to explain their role and explain the benefits package. Instead, these days….a lot of HR has their panties in a bunch with their new regulated SOX power and most of them haven’t a clue on what hiring managers need from candidates on a day by day base. HR in many companies have become ATS defined job description and resume criteria matchmakers totally committed to following scripts and taking notes that are usually horribly misinterpreted from the interviews they take on. For CEOs to succeed well they must make sure that their vision and drive is driven down through their management pool who then use policies to drive them into the people they manage.

  • SGuay

    Great post, an exciting vision for HR leadership as a thought leader and influencer. Thank you John, for encouraging HR to get away from a compliance mindset and fo us on the possibilities of maxi zing people leadership!

  • Mario L Castellanos

    Superb post, especially since I I too have made similar themed contributions in other on-line publications. Unfortunately, too many top level executives believe towing the line is the way to run a business with little to no input from those actually doing the work. An integrated HR department that understands the business and further understand how those that make the business work on a day-to-day basis, are an integral component to said company’s success.

    The reality: Hiring the people/person is NOT a sales process – it’s an acquisition.

  • Pingback: Porqué HR y CEO deben trabajar juntos | RicardoMorell()

  • Pingback: Recruitment and Staffing: A Business Partnership - Barton Staffing | Barton Staffing Solutions - State of the Art Recruiting, Staffing, Search and Placement()

  • Pingback: 5 Employee Development Articles You Don't Want To Miss - Best of the Web Friday July 19 | Jesus Led Business()

  • Patti Pokorchak

    Having learned in Biz School that ‘people are our greatest assets’, it amazes me that HR doesn’t have the same power at Sales & Marketing at the board table. How can you have a great company without great people!?!

    Love this article and the thoughts and experience behind it.
    Patti Pokorchak, MBA,
    Matching People with Passion + Right Position= Profits! http://www.Derhak.com http://recruiterpatti.com
    Derhak Ireland & Partners Inc.
    Confident Hiring Decisions . . 97.6% 24-Month Retention

  • Maybe the answer is grooming a sales & marketing exec for CHRO. Whatever the case, it makes sense for the CHRO to have experience within the other functions. Thanks for your insight, Patti.

  • Mario, with each passing day, we have more cases that prove the power of culture as a competitive advantage. Zappos is one very successful model.

  • footer-logo

    There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

  • Connect

    email: connect@switch&shift.com
    1133 Ferreto Parkway
    Dayton, NV 89403

    Terms & Conditions  |  Privacy Policy

    Newsletter Subscription

    Do you like our posts? If so, you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receiveThe Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!
  • Contact Us

    Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.