Is HR Passionate About Profit?

Why do advancement opportunities for top jobs in the C-suite continue to elude leaders from human resources? It could be that the high-level people don’t believe HR professionals share their passion and proficiency at producing profits.

"On the skill side, when we’ve compared HR leaders to peers from other functions on in-depth simulations of complex leader roles, we’ve found that HR’s skills fall short in business savvy, customer focus and global acumen," Evan Sinar, chief scientist of Development Dimensions International and vice president of its Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research, told Bloomberg BNA.

"Beyond the skill gap, HR leaders also tend to have a distinct personality profile from their peers from other functions—HR leaders are more interpersonally sensitive, but less ambitious and inquisitive," he said. "For many, this can translate into an apparent lack of passion for growth and expanded influence."

A similar point of view came from Rebecca L. Ray, an executive vice president at the Conference Board. "Many in HR have not come from the business units and, despite their best efforts to understand the business and spend time with workers and line leaders, they are ultimately responsible for the [HR] function and, given the unrelenting pressure to ‘keep the lights on,’ are often given no choice (and no time) but do the things for which they are held accountable," she told Bloomberg BNA in a Dec. 16 e-mail.

Those everyday pressures include everything from making sure that "all people-related benefits are administered properly" to "transforming HR," she said. It’s remarkable, she said, that so many HR professionals actually "do manage to crack the code on understanding the business well enough to be able to do all of these things at a higher level, given the constraints."

However, DDI has found that only a minority of HR professionals manage to break through to the highest C-suite levels, Sinar said. "Though HR leaders make up 16 percent of candidate pools for mid-level leader roles, this percentage plummets to only 1 percent for C-suite positions. And, only 20 percent of senior leaders view their HR counterparts as ‘anticipaters’ producing future-facing insights for aligning talent with business goals."

What’s the best way for HR professionals who haven’t grabbed their seat at the table yet to do so? "We recommend that HR pursue stronger internal partnerships with finance—to learn from and build their financial acumen—and also with marketing, who tend to excel in compelling communication and customer focus," Sinar said. "Operations can also be a valuable partner to HR professionals working in multinational organizations and seeking to bolster their global acumen."

Bloomberg BNA’s HR Decision Support Network is your comprehensive solution with reliable, up-to-date guidance and analysis covering a full range of employment policies and HR administration. Start your free trial today!