A decade back, we only wished that CEOs take more interest in HR and now in 2015, I believe that HR has become the main plank of CEOs work. The reasons are not far to seek. Today’s competition demands new ideas, innovations, out of the box thinking and it all boils down to having the right kind of people who are fired with curiosity, spirit of experimentation, risk taking and continuous learning.HR therefore is anundelegatable responsibility for the CEO. There are now numerous examples as to how successful CEOs take direct charge of HR and drive it to deliver.

Coming from the HR function and becoming CEO of two large public sector organisations, my HR background helped me immensely in piloting transformation in these organisations. I am convinced that CEOs role is beyond merely advocacy and support of HR work. CEO has to immerse himself into not only setting vision but also piloting many new innovations and ensuring its implementation.

As a CEO of one large geographically dispersed organisation having 40000 employees with branches all over India(about3000 branches), I posted in my secretariat a bright HR manager and initiated under my direct supervision multiple HR initiatives including a help line for employees with a guaranteed response within 24 hours with amazing results in terms employee motivation. We could achieve extraordinary business results mainly with many pioneering initiatives in HR. (See my book Dare to Lead, Sage 2011). I am convinced that HR function is as effective as it gets the attention of CEO.

There are now numerous examples as to how successful CEOs take direct charge of HR and drive it to deliver. I recently met Patu Keswani, CEO of Lemon tree, a 4 star hotel chain and was amazed to learn about his decision to create socially inclusive environment by recruiting people with physical disabilities and people belonging to marginalised sections of society. About 10% of hotel staff belong to this category A direct push for pioneering and innovative initiatives from the CEO has amazing impact in building an appropriate culture, which has won him accolades.

Based on my own experience in transforming two large organizations as a CEO, I mention below initiatives that CEO’s need to take in following areas.

Creating a competent and a skilled HR function
It is absolutely necessary that the HR functionaries are creative set of individuals, professionally competent fired with imagination and commitment to build people. Bringing a HR team having competence and passion for people development is crucial for building leadership. To develop credibility of HR function and also demonstrate the impact of HR competence in delivering business outcomes;HR functionaries at some point in their career, be given opportunities to work in business/operational roles. Until, I worked in two operational roles, I remained a half-baked HR specialist!! I could reach my full potential only after successfully working in business roles eventually reaching to lead the organisation

Creating an edifice of learning and Personal Growth
Continuous Learning and Development is now a business driver. It is not something that “could be” but necessary and “must be”. CEOs need to develop Learning Infrastructure both inside the organization and outside the organization must be developed to provide opportunities for individual growth.

Building a Coalition of Smart Team at the Top
It is extremely crucial to have an inspired, professionally competent, innovation supporting and people centric team at the top. This is fundamental to any successful foray into future. This is an unpostponable priority today.

Creating a Supportive Culture
This is the most difficult piece of any CEOs work and yet this is precursor to any transformation. Internal bureaucracy, multiple hierarchies, structural deficiencies and other bottlenecks are the main culprits for marching ahead in a competitive environment. CEOs have to demonstrate courage in demolishing such culture and initiate a new culture that is supportive to meet people’s aspirations and giving them space to grow and contribute.

Dealing with collectives
In unionized organizations, CEOs have to plan strategies in dealing with collectives, keeping in mind, the issues of favour v/s fairness and also short term orientation v/s long term orientation in arriving at any settlements or understanding on key issues. Continuous education about industry,its competitive positioning, and its financials with collectives should be focus of strategy. Short term strategies focussed on pampering leaders can be dangerous in the long term. Even in an environment of good industrial relations, focus on individual employees should not be undermined.

Creating HR-Business connect
HR always has a context of business and its environment. HR cannot be for HR sake as businesses are constantly facing new challenges.HR has to ensure readiness of organisation in terms of creating portfolio of capabilities to deal with the issues of expansion, diversification, mergers and closures.

Developing Leadership Pipeline and Succession
This is the biggest problem of businesses today. Good intentions are never substituted for good actions. CEOs need to take long term view for owning responsibility to develop future leaders. Pivotal jobs are to be identified, potential leaders need to be developed and succession issues need to be dealt with. A whole lot of effort is required to take up such issues at the Board level, discuss, strategise and initiate planned action.

HR Governance
CEOs have to ensure effective HR governance by building transparency in the performance management systems, rewards, career growth, placements. Fairness in human systems and a suitable organization justice mechanism to deal with grievances of employees in sine-quo-non for effective people management

Creating power of merit
Promoting merit across the organisation and putting in place processes and system to facilitate merit is a key to retain talent and create sustainable organisations. CEOs need to continuously hone systems and processes to introduce rigour in assessing people for career movements. How CEOs ensure such a system is key to the credibility of HR function.

Crusader for diversity and inclusiveness
Diversity and inclusiveness are the two pillars on which rest the credibility of the organisation. CEOs have a huge role to take pro-active steps to ensure respect for people irrespective of gender, religion, caste and colour and taking special measures to protect the interests of those who feel discriminated.

Yes, I emphatically see a big role for CEOs in HR which is beyond good intentions. CEOs are designer of HR strategies as much as strategising for business.