Human Resources: Help Or Hindrance? By Frank Jay

The Human Resource department is found in most companies including airlines.  As a “mainstay” function, its importance is without question.  Without it, compensation would not be structured in a reasonable way, benefits would not be implemented or upgraded, and recruiting at many levels would not occur.  It goes beyond those basics to include corporate communications, training, labor relations, management development, organizational development, manpower planning, etc. 

But should it be involved in the recruitment of the corporate executive and, if so, to what extent?

If you ask most retained search consultants, their answer is “never”.  They believe that the Human Resource department constitutes a potential communications barrier between the “client” (the hiring executive) and the search consultant.  If you ask the potential candidate, their answer is much the same.  They will say in most cases that HR is a “necessary evil” and is to be circumnavigated if at all possible in order to achieve success.  If you ask the hiring executive confidentially, in most cases they will say the same. 

So, is there benefit in including the HR department in the executive search?  Honestly, it depends on the department and the executive that “heads” it.  Human Resources can be extremely beneficial to the search consultant in so many ways. 

HR can facilitate a better relationship between the hiring executive and the consultant, can provide information critical to the process such as organizational charts, job descriptions, corporate information, information on hiring practices and information relative to city and state.  In addition, they can act as corporate interviewers at a high level…providing effective opinions and analysis on candidates of interest. Finally, HR can coordinate the whole process to insure a seamless effort on all parts. 

The best HR executives (in my opinion) are not interested in controlling the search process.  Instead they desire to support and coordinate the process to insure that the hiring executive obtains the best and most qualified candidate for the position available.  They rightly expect to be included, communicated with, and involved in the process...to be “in the loop”.  But, they don’t stand between the hiring executive and either the search consultant or the qualified candidate. 

Recently, in a search that we accomplished for a key executive for a major airline, the Human Resources Vice President provided much needed support in all of the ways listed above.  In addition, that person provided a liaison between our organization and the Chief Executive Officer that assured quick and effective communication in the absence of the CEO.  Essentially, the VP/HR became an extension of the CEO and of his responsibilities and helped to assure the success of the search. 

Granted, not all HR executives are as supportive and beneficial in the search process.  Often times, egos and the desire to control become more important than the achievement of results…no matter which departments are involved.  But, in the recruiting process at the upper levels, the Human Resource department offers a great deal of opportunity to achieve a successful hire by “honing” the process, facilitating effective communications, and providing an essential point of corporate contact for the search firm.

Surely, the HR exec sees his or her role as the management of the search and the search firm involved…and that is where problems between the HR exec and the search firm most often occur. Search engagements are most often authorized by the hiring executive.  Search firms therefore look to that “decision maker” for management and approval…leaving out the HR exec except for coordination and communication.  Resentment then may occur on the part of the HR exec or…when they play an active role in coordination and management of the search…on the part of the search firm.   

We believe in and support the effective Human Resource department as a key element of the retained executive search.  We believe that they should  be an extension of the decision maker’s authority and should be included in the search process.  If the decision maker, the Human Resources department and the retained search firm all work together with support for each other, the result will be a better search with successful results.