Friday, March 12, 2010

Meaningful Dialogue Isn't Dead Yet

A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend a unique and powerful gathering of senior HR executives and CEOs at a conference put together by CTPartners.

The conference sought to create(and I thought very successfully) an open and candid discussion between business heads and the HR function to better understand why HR is not viewed as a true strategic player in most boardrooms and what can and should be done to change that picture.

It isn't like this subject has not been discussed many times before because obviously it has, but there were a number of things at this meeting that made it very different from others I have attended.

First, it was organized by one of the top retained search firms in the country along with a number of much respected sponsors. That credibility undoubtedly was an important factor in attracting major thought leaders from both the corporate world as well as HR.

But being able to attract "A" list participants is all well and good and maybe sells tickets, but if the content isn't there, it amounts to little more than an excuse to get out of the office, drink good coffee and destroy the diet you've been working on since January.

Believe me, the content was there with a capital "C", and among other things the participants didn't waste time pointing fingers but rather worked hard to make everyone understand that the ability of our business community to focus on the development of their human capital was not just "important" to their success - it was critical. Frankly, and given the pressures on the leadership position of our country around the globe, I am not sure that "critical" really captures the how important all this is to our future, but that's a subject for another day.

I realize that it seems a bit silly for me to be showering all this praise on the event when I am not really able to offer readers the chance to see/hear for themselves. Wish I could.

About the best I can do here is share a few of my notes so at least you can get some idea of what was discussed, so here goes:

The day was built off the following agenda and took the form of one hour panel discussions.

Talent – The True Differentiator

The Elephant in the Room – Why Doesn’t Human Resources Have a Seat at the Table?

Succession Planning – The Role of Management and the Board

Risk Management – A Key Human Capital Issue

Private Boards – Are They The Right Model?

Orchestrating the Right Fights – Getting Alignment and Constructive Tensions at the Top

Anyone interested in human capital issues at the top of organizations can see that any one of these topics could easily be an all day event, however, as I said, about all I can do is provide satellite view with some editorial comment:
Talent management is a full time task but Boards spend very little time on it. [Maybe that's because it takes real commitment, meaning to really make an evaluation of talent you need to spend real time with the candidate.]

Board magazine survey: 53% said they wanted to spend more time on succession planning, up from 41% a year ago. [Some would argue that these are "good" numbers, but given the importance of this they are really pretty bad. One of the panel members summed it up by asking "Where is the other half?"]

Bottom line: It is about commitment to the process....make the Board participate in the development process. [A great idea, and there are companies doing this with great success.]

It is a mistake to separate Talent Management from HR. [For sure.]

Do we have the right person in the right job at the right time? [Nothing new here, but the companies who focus on this realize just how important it is.]

Management’s role has changed from coordination to managing collaboration both inside and outside the organization. [A generational issue as well as a morale issue.]

Boards have not managed CEO succession well at all, yet business schools like Wharton, Columbia and HBS do not have courses on the subject. [They better wake up.]

SEC is pushing companies on more disclosure on human capital issues, including CEO succession plans and pressure by the SEC is going to force more board involvement in HR talent issues. [Sounds pretty good on the surface, but how it can be managed without causing chaos internally will be the neat trick of the week.]

The critical key failing of most HR execs is that they do not understand Finance/Accounting. [Absolutely true and those that complain need to revisit the notion that effective communications is about communicating is the other person's most preferred style, not yours.]

Director selection criteria: Their track record - time they have to devote - they can't be whimps. [Amen]

If you want to know how good the alignment is on the management team, see how much dissent is allowed. There is a difference between dissent and disloyalty. Management of conflict begins with respect for each other.[I'll drink to that!]
I have no idea if CT partners is going to make any of the panel discussions available beyond the audience that filled TIAA-CREF's spacious auditorium or not, but I hope so.

Maybe they will create a whitepaper that can be shared? Might be a good way to extend the discussion.

1 comment:

J. Silver said...

Dave, CTPartners will be putting a report on the confernce and podcasts of the panels. We are planning a West Coast version in the Fall.

I am the Marketing Director and would very much like to touch base with you. You can reach me at

Jennifer Silver