Is your HR function truly strategic? – Mark MacLeod

September 28, 2022 - Mark MacLeod

Is your HR function truly strategic?

Back when I was a CFO I took immense pride and purpose from sitting at the right hand of my CEOs helping them succeed. In fact, through all of my roles, that has been the driving force for me and is why I am a coach.

The CFO tends to be the only other exec that has the same 360 degree view of the company that the CEO does. You see strategy, financial position, board dynamics, etc, etc.

When I started in the tech world, HR was not considered strategic. In fact, in my first three CFO roles, HR reported to me. The industry has come to realize, thankfully, that HR is truly strategic. I actually believe that HR can and should be the true right hand of a CEO.

It’s all about people…

Every issue and opportunity in a company ultimately comes back to people as its root. And complexity correlates pretty linearly with headcount. Despite all the technology, AI, automation, etc. that we now have, it is still all about people.

Whether it is hiring, retention, engagement, culture, identifying high potential team members, we are always thinking about people.

I have encountered and worked with many HR leaders over the years. I can literally name two people that I consider to be truly strategic and truly acting as trusted right hands to their CEOs. Two people in 23+ years. That is discouraging!

A truly strategic leader can and should deliver the following benefits to your company:

Hiring: Build a candidate-producing machine, filling your funnel so that you always have a surplus of great candidates and a warm bench for replacements.

Retention & engagement: The right HR leader will be a trusted and relied upon advisor to your entire leadership team helping them develop the right programs to retain your people and drive their fulfillment and engagement.

Development: The challenge for people (at all levels) in a high growth company is to grow as fast (or faster) than the company. Tobias Lutke, CEO of Shopify always talks about having to re-qualify for his job every year.

Rather than just hope that your staff rise up to the challenge or rely on replacing those that do not, what if HR developed programs to go beyond hope and systematically grow your people? Few companies do this well.

There are many more dimensions here but I am sure you get the picture. Product and distribution of that product are the core functions in a company. While other functions are in support of that, nothing happens without people.


I would argue that getting people right is actually a prerequisite to getting product and distribution right. Make your HR function as strategic, important and impactful as product and distribution in your company and watch the magic happen!

Questions to consider

What is my assessment of the HR function in my business? Is it truly strategic or just in support of other aspects of my business?

Am I satisfied with our recruitment engine? Are we getting great candidates on time and filling every role on time?

Am I satisfied with the programs we have in place to retain and engage team members? How do our attrition rates, employee NPS and other measure rank relative to comparable companies?

Do we have great programs to systematically grow and develop our people, especially our high potential team members?

What is our level of regretted turnover (people we really did not want to lose)? What can we learn from that?

Is my HR leader part of my inner circle? If not, what needs to happen? Can this leader step up? Or do I need a new leader?

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

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