What CEOs should ask people leaders today in job interviews

2 minute read

Business is transforming and what CEOs need from a people director is transforming too. Here are four key trends and six questions CEOs should be asking HR directors in a job interview

David Frost

What CEOs should ask HR directors at interviews

Over the last couple of weeks I was very fortunate in being able to attend three excellent leadership presentations which covered topics such as the future of UK retailing, the impact of Brexit on the UK economy, the development of strategic supply chains and digital strategy. It was striking that the same themes emerged from all the presentations and the subsequent Q&A sessions:

1. Digital technology is transformational: There are some startling examples of new retail start-ups creating huge returns for investors while many of the more traditional retailers are destroying value. The ability for a new business to reach vast numbers of consumers via Amazon, Google or Facebook enables them to achieve astonishing levels of growth with relatively little investment, but it is also their ability to understand and analyse their customers and the financial drivers of the business that can also create pivotal points of difference. Blockchain will transform the banking and financial services sector around the world. Key global financial centres such as London or New York will only be sustainable if digital infrastructure is genuinely world class. Many economists regard the future impact of technology in the financial services sector to be revolutionary.

2. Understand the true value of your product or service: In order to compete in a highly competitive and fast moving global economy it is a baseline need for businesses to accurately understand the base of the cost of their product or service (eg materials, labour and distribution) versus the additional costs associated with the unique service provided to the customer (eg stock holding for instant availability, enhanced customer service/customer experience or technical expertise). This drives the business to truly understand its customers’ needs and expectations and to make clear and conscious decisions around the total supply chain. Retailers such as Aldi and Lidl have mastered this approach but how many businesses truly understand and consciously engineer their product/service offer? In sectors where profit margins can only be measured with a microscope this is a core capability.

3. Decentralise – move fast: There is a growing interest in understanding how highly devolved businesses thrive. As international organisations continue to make acquisitions to drive growth there is an inevitable tendency to drive synergies, combine systems, harmonise brands and reduce combined overheads. But what about those businesses that take a different approach, even in low margin sectors? In a fast-moving environment local and fast daily commercial decision-making can make the difference between annual profit or loss. Retaining close relationships with suppliers and customers, maintaining long-standing working relationships, nurturing the development of close-knit teams and honouring the history of a local business which is part of a large group can be essential in protecting long term sustainability.

4. Culture is key: Only the most enlightened, diverse, adaptable and collaborative organisations will survive. The awareness of leaders about the world around them and their understanding of the impact of technology are essential. The CEO’s challenge to understand and make sense of the complex connections between human behaviour and emotion, technological possibilities and impacts, global politics and economics and the organisation’s financial sustainability has never been greater.

Interview questions

What does this mean for the people and organisational leader? The responsibility and the opportunity to add value have never been greater. So I suggest the enlightened CEO should ask the following questions when interviewing for a new HR/people director:

  1. What global trends are likely to impact this business? How do you continuously keep up to date with your understanding?
  2. What most fascinates you about the possibilities in relation to Industry 4.0? What are your views on how Blockchain will develop?
  3. If I gave you £1m to invest tomorrow, where would you invest it to get the maximum return three years from now?
  4. How would you measure the value that you and your team bring to our organisation’s customers?
  5. What aspects of our culture need to be protected and what aspects need to change? How would you deliver that change?
  6. As the CEO of the business, how will you help me to continue to learn about the organisation and how to make it more sustainable for the future?
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