CEOs Concerned About Talent, but HR Still Shut Out

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

May 18 — When CEOs are asked by the Conference Board what “keeps you awake at night,” the challenge of “human capital has ranked number one for the last several years in a row,” Amy Lui Abel, managing director, human capital at the Conference Board, said. But top-level influence still eludes HR.

In the 2016 version of the Conference Board's “CEO Challenge,” three of the top five human capital challenges executives surveyed in various countries cited had to do with leadership, Abel said during a May 18 webinar sponsored by her organization. These were how to “raise employee engagement, build organizational capability/individual skills and develop effective leaders,” she said.

Similarly, “failure to attract/retain top talent” and the need for “developing next-gen leaders” were the two top global hot-button issues, according to a slide Abel presented. There was some regional variation in this, with the 102 U.S. respondents naming “developing next-gen leaders” as the top hot-button issue, while the 89 from China, the 91 from Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries and the 268 other Asian respondents all rated “failure to attract/retain top talent” number one.

When looking for new top talent, “they're not going to find it looking in the same place they always have,” Evan Sinar, chief scientist and vice president at the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research, Development Dimensions International, said during the webinar.

Some tips Sinar offered from his organization's research were:

  •  align skills with business context and the demands placed on leaders;
  •  use recruitment of skilled employees for competitive advantage;
  •  explore untapped talent pools while using inclusive talent planning; and
  •  target skill-building programs.


‘Seat at the Table' Still Elusive

From its own surveys, DDI has found a disconnect between how HR sees itself and how “senior business leaders” see it, Sinar said.

“Many overestimate how they are seen in the eyes of their business leaders,” he said of HR. Six in 10 HR professionals view their department as “partners” in the business, which only 37 percent of executives do; in parallel, 22 percent of HR professionals admit to being “reactors,” but nearly twice as big a proportion of executives (43 percent) see them that way. (There was a closer match in the proportions that see HR as “anticipators”—18 percent of HR people versus 20 percent of executives.)

DDI has found HR is well represented at the mid-level of organizations (16 percent) as opposed to in the C-suite (1 percent), Sinar said.

To get the seat at the executive table, Sinar suggested that HR recognize which of its own assumptions are accurate and which are overblown; aim to grow skills in analytics, global acumen and customer focus; and build partnerships with finance (analysis) and marketing (messaging).

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at

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