The Magic Of A Good Partnership: How To Develop A Strong CEO/CHRO Relationship

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Recently, while I was listening to ESPN Chicago 1000 AM, Billy Donovan, the new head coach of the Chicago Bulls, said something that immediately resonated with me. When asked why he took the job, Donovan detailed his conversations with Arturas Karnisovas, the Executive Vice President for the Bulls. According to Donovan, Karnisovas said he was looking for a partnership, for somebody he could work alongside with. Donovan also mentioned that Karnisovas was open, honest and transparent about what he was looking for in a new coach and how he wanted to share the strategic vision and mission of rebuilding an iconic basketball team and brand. At that point, Donovan was in and despite knowing that this was going to be a daunting challenge, Donovan knew he couldn’t say no to working with someone who shared his mission and values. 

While listening to this narrative, the parallel between Donovan’s hiring experience and the magic that can happen between a great CEO and CHRO became abundantly clear. The question then is, how do CEOs go about delivering this message to stellar CHRO candidates and, in turn, how do CHROs know how to recognize those opportunities when they come along?

The first thing a CEO should do when looking for a talented CHRO is to be clear about how they view this hire and the mission ahead. Show the candidate how they will be treated as a true partner. Lay out the strategy and how this role will be integral in executing it. Take the time to answer any and all questions the candidate has in a thoughtful way. In the case above, Donovan and Karnisovas had a couple of follow-up conversations to nail down all the details. Also, make sure the interview team is aligned and open about where the need areas are and what the candidate brings to the table as a strategic partner to help drive those people and business issues. Be transparent and listen and respond with care.

As a CHRO who is looking for their next great opportunity, finding a CEO who views you as a partner to the core mission and strategy of the company is vital to your search. So how do you determine the ones that truly mean it versus those who may not? First, make sure that they are setting the tone of being a team — this should be one of the first things you bring up. Second, what kinds of questions are they asking you? Are they more tactical, are they focused only on the realm of Human Resources or are they bigger, more strategic, holistic questions about how you can take risks and amplify the business? These are all good clues for figuring out how they view the CHRO position — and you.

Building a great team is arguably the most important thing a CEO can do to help execute their mission. Investing in a superstar CHRO will help drive the mission and strategy by attracting great candidates and making sure those candidates have a great experience. The CHRO can help elevate the brand, amplify the culture and develop a winning talent strategy. To make this a reality, a CEO must build trust early on and create a bond and partnership at the interview stage. This is something that Arturas Karnisovas understood when he flew to meet Billy Donovan on his timetable. Expressing trust and partnership was enough to convince one of the most respected basketball coaches to join a struggling basketball team. Good leaders know that a good team trusts one another and follows through on a shared mission — on the court or off of it. 

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