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For HR directors, earning respect can be a tough job [By Michael Kinsman] You might have heard this from your employer once or you might have heard it a thousand times: Employees are our most valuable asset.

If that’s truly the case, why isn’t there more

placing them in the right positions, and then

struggled to gain recognition in executive

respect for the people charged with managing

providing them with a work environment that

suites because it has been a developing

those assets?

inspires achievement and success is integral

profession over the past few decades.

It’s a problem that nags human resources

to the overall business strategy. “It used to be personnel and then it was often

directors every day. They know how they do

Jordan suggests that HR executives have to

seen as some sort of administrative function,”

their job is vital to the success of the company,

find a way to prove their roles are valuable, if

she says. “But now you see - particularly in

but why don’t more top executives see that?

they are to be accepted at the highest levels of

larger companies - the recognition that you

the company.

have to include HR as an essential component

“Maybe it’s because everyone around the table thinks they can handle the role of

Susan Guenther, vice president of Challenger,

the human resources director,” says Clark

says most companies don’t have a direct

Jordan, assistant dean of the Rady School of

link from the HR director to the top of the

Management at the University of California San

organization.

Diego. “Of course, they can’t handle that job, but that doesn’t stop them from thinking they can.”

“I think people acknowledge that HR is important and should have a voice in the

So the Rodney Dangerfields of the corporate

highest part of the company, but no one

world - human resources directors - continue

seems to know how to get HR people there,”

to strive for respect.

she says. “It’s always been a problem.”

The Rady School and the Chicago outplacement

Jordan and Guenther believe that HR has

firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas are hoping to change that. In January, they will launch a series of monthly forums that will pull together chief executives, board members and human resources executives. “I think HR people bring every bit as much to the table as the heads of engineering, finance or operations, but not everyone sees it that way,” Jordan says. “We want to open up a dialogue between these parties in hope

a role in setting the strategic course of the companies and that chief executives are becoming more aware of that. “Just look at the venture capitalists,” Guenther says. “Most VCs won’t put up money unless the right team of people is in place. That shows that they recognize the value of HR’s role in putting together the right mix of people to run a company.”

for strategic planning.” She says she expects more companies to acknowledge the importance of HR as part of the general business plan within the next five years. “We have a tight job market now, but that will be changing in the years ahead,” says Stevenson, who runs an executive coaching firm for women called Lifted Fog. “The tipping point will come when the war for talent returns. CEOs will be scrambling to find good employees then, and that’s when a lot of companies will really realize the importance of HR, not just for hiring and retention, but for being able to create a culture that is conducive to success.” Jordan thinks some HR executives have contributed to their failure to gain acceptability at the senior executive table. “Frankly, a lot of them just don’t see

that HR will become a more integral part of

Companies are little more than a variety of

themselves as someone who can become

corporate strategy.”

people working together toward a common

the chief executive of the company,” he

goal. The most cutting-edge technology in the

says. “If you look around at other divisions

world doesn’t ensure success unless there is

- operations, marketing or legal - you see

a cohesive team working together to leverage

people who aspire to be CEOs.

Part of the problem is that CEOs often look at HR as reactionary, rather than as a strategic business tool that can help the company at multiple levels. The Rady School hopes to show CEOs and board members that hiring the right people, PAGE 

that technology.

“But I think they bring every bit as much to the

Sue Stevenson, who has held senior HR

table as engineering, finance or operations.

positions with companies such as Elan,

That’s what we hope CEOs and directors will

Novartis and Xerox, believes that HR has

come to understand,” he said.


For HR directors, earning respect can be a tough job