SmartRecruiters Blog

From HR to CEO: First Mary Barra, Then You.

Recently, General Motors named Mary Barra the new CEO. And guess where she started? As an intern… but then, Human Resources!

Social Recruiting is on the rise, and with that HR has been having a coming out party of sorts. Forget the tales of the evil HR department lurking in the halls of your office. HR’s taking a seat at the table – and not just ANY table – the C-level table. Not only has HR started to tell their stories for themselves, but they are also in the companies’ top ranks, and it makes sense. Who knows what keeps the company running better than HR?

Now while this shocked many… it’s not all that surprising to me. So how can HR rise to the head of the table? And why should they? Well, let me tell you:

1. They hire a team that makes your product unforgettable. When Barra worked as the Vice President of Global Human Resources she took on the task of completely revitalizing the culture of GM, and restructuring a company that was finding it’s way out of bankruptcy. Now, I doubt many people will find themselves restructuring a company of thousands of people but what you will do in HR regardless of company size is hire people and build teams. The qualities of good leadership include identifying what makes people work well together, and understanding how to create a team that will improve each other’s strengths. You do that, and all of a sudden the machine starts to move smoothly – CEO worthy.

2. They spend time in the trenches (all of them). In order to be CEO you have to understand all moving parts of the company. Or at least know them well enough to know who can get the job done in each department. As a Human Resources professional you have the unique opportunity to get more than a bird’s eye view of your company. Dive into different departments and talk to your people to understand what it takes to run each one. Obviously this can’t happen overnight, but neither will becoming CEO.

3. They see an organizational issue and can fix it. In a 2011 Interview with Forbes Magazine, Barra said, “I know how hard people work. We just have to make sure we’re working on the right things.” You hear that? That is the sound of a problem solver and a leader who’s happy to give recognition. Two lessons here. First, if you want to work your way up to CEO you have to be the kind of person people respect, and the kind of person that people respect is one who respects others. Second, you don’t get to be CEO by just going merrily along your way. You have to create positive change in the company. If you see a certain department is lacking or is not working to its full potential, identify the problem and develop a strategy to solve it.

In my opinion, there is no leader better than a leader who understands the needs of their team. The people entrusted with that responsibility in most companies work in the HR department, so why haven’t more risen to the top of totem pole? The truth is, I don’t know… But I think that’s starting to change. Mary Barra is changing it. More and more, we’re hearing that talent acquisition is a company’s top priority. This movement brings HR closer to the board room. Why shouldn’t the CEO be someone who has consistently built amazing teams from the beginning?

Photo Credit Bloomberg & Video Credit eCornell.

Lexie Forman-Ortiz

Lexie Forman-Ortiz is the Community Manager at SmartRecruiters.