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I serve quite a few chief human resources officers (CHROs). When I am supporting one of them in a career-marketing search, I tend to get a little strident about how important it is to qualify their potential bosses before taking a role. Usually, this is the CEO or the business owner.

I push CHROs to explore the following question when evaluating a CEO:

Has the CEO Taken Charge of the Culture, or Have They Turned It Over to Someone Else?

Perhaps to someone like you?

If you are a CHRO and the CEO isn’t leading your culture, keep your bags packed! You will be evaluated and judged on tasks that are as difficult to complete as pushing an egg up a hill with your nose! Some CEOs, not wanting to be bothered with culture, actually throw human resources executives onto the pyre for failing an initiative that only the CEOs themselves can lead.

Engaged CEOs lead their cultures. The very word “engagement” implies connectedness and transparency. Most engagement programs are already failing when the CEO walks into the human resources department and says, “Fix the problem.” Make no mistake about it: Engagement is an emotional state, and many CEOs are uncomfortable with the feelings generated by the human side of business. Others are so frenzied in dealing with the market and shareholder expectations they believe they can’t add culture to their crowded plates.

Regardless of the reason for the CEO’s hands-off approach, the results will be the same: A subordinate will lead the charge toward engagement. No matter how the initiative is messaged, pack behavior will dictate that everyone look past the shoulder of that subordinate to the head of the tribe. Usually, they will witness a CEO who demonstrates “business as usual.” As they follow the cues of the CEO, it is only natural for the employees to think, “Why bother?”

This scenario becomes even more plausible when we equate “engagement” with “change.” The journey from “disengagement” to “engagement” requires deep personal change. Invariably, a successful outcome requires that we learn new life skills. Fear and discomfort will always be part of the learning process.

Therefore, it is wise for the CEO or business owner to become the first to put their feet to the fire and embrace all of the characteristics of engagement. We consistently find that leading CEOs live and breathe this commitment.

But if the CEO isn’t prepared to go here, perhaps it would be wise to save your money as well as your face. If you are looking for a new place to call home, keep looking!

David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.



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