You’re a small business owner and the CEO. You have a team of direct reports. We’ll call them your Executive Team (although I’m not a fan of this term because I think its sounds somewhat elitist. I prefer Leadership Team). They are all the functional heads for the company.
So who’s the most important person on your team?
This is intended to be a provocative question because on a high functioning team every member is equally important. Granted, at any given moment or period of time, there are leading priorities for the business, ergo a particular functional area is “most important”. Otherwise, its a big tie for first place with nobody in second.
For sake of debate and fun, let’s turn this question on its ear with an unlikely scenario: You’re a CEO with a completely vacant Leadership Team. Every role needs to be filled but you can only fill one role at a time. Now, who’s the most important person to get on your team first?
- Sales? You need revenue and the sales leader is the revenue person. Yikes, what could be more important than revenue?
- Marketing? Hey, everybody KNOWS that Sales can’t drive revenue all on their own. They need marketing to generate awareness and leads.
- Finance? OMG, what’s the point of Sales and Marketing going off half cocked bringing in revenue that has no profit or paying outrageous compensation to sales reps. Business is about making profit, you need controls and a caretaker!
- Technology? How can you do anything without technology. Communications, billing systems, manufacturing systems, not to mention who’s going to tell us to unplug our PC when it freezes up. The company would grind to a halt!
- Human Resources? Come on. That’s just ridiculous!
What’s the right answer is a matter of individual opinion and so here is mine:
My first hire would be the leader of Human Resources!
I truly believe that a company’s best assets are its people and the responsibility to attract and retain a great work force falls primarily (but not totally) to HR. So in this (frankly stupid) scenario of who to hire first, of course, the CEO needs to have his/her people leader in place first.
A very good HR leader:
- … is the front line for bringing on new talent and is the face of the company for recruits. Importantly, this includes the other to-be-hired members of the leadership team.
- … is skilled and experienced at identifying people talent versus mediocrity
- … typically knows the pulse of the company and how people are feeling about working there.
- … should have the latitude and permission to challenge the CEO on people matters and hold him/her “in check” regarding people (because a lot of smallbiz CEOs suck at this).
I could go on but you get the picture by now.
Relative to its peer functions, HR is somewhat disadvantaged. Sales, Marketing, Finance and Technology all have numbers and other empirical data to show their “worth” to the company. HR has a few data points like employee satisfaction or turnover but mostly not. So its not as easy to assess value in classical business terms (read: metrics).
However, on balance, I will always weight things in favor people over numbers and the HR leader is my leading candidate for most important member of my leadership team (if I had to pick).
Who would you pick? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.
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