12 ways to get fired from a Chief HR Officer role

Worried for your job at the top of your organisation's HR tree? Emerging tech commentator John Sumser says there are 12 reasons you might be right.
By: | April 21, 2019


About the Author

John Sumser is the founder, principal author, and editor-in-chief of the US-based HR Examiner Online magazine. Catch him at HR Festival on May 8 – 9 in Singapore, where he is slated to deliver one of the plenary lectures.

These are challenging times for Chief HR Officers. Blizzards of new technology cloud their vision of what’s possible and where to head.

Industrial disruption raises the spectre of a mismatch between the workforce and the work.

Changing social norms create unpredictable moment-to-moment crises. Consumer technology seems to create a demand for a qualitative difference in employee experience.

It’s normal to hear C-suite leaders suggest that strategic vision is impossible under these conditions.

That must have been the mantra in the newspaper, recording, photography and retail industries as they were yielding their business to upstart competitors.

“It’s so foggy that I can’t see” is what followers say before they wreck the car. “It’s my job to lead my followers through the thick fog” is what the successful leaders say.

Right now, nothing could be easier than hiding behind stacks of reports that document incremental problem solving. But nothing could be more damaging to the organisation.

Underneath all the turbulence, HR is undergoing a metamorphosis. Historically, the discipline was artisanal and heuristic.

Today, it is becoming a science focused on the unique data and circumstances of the organisation. We are navigating the same transition that medicine experienced in the middle of the 19th century—from guru-led folk wisdom to disciplined science.

Today’s Chief HR Officer is faced with a crushing set of opportunities to screw up. The path is narrow and mistake-laden.

But waiting for someone else to figure it out so that the process is risk-free is exactly how it doesn’t work anymore. More than ever, the HR function requires clear, value-oriented leadership.

Here are a dozen ways to do the Chief HR Officer job badly enough to get replaced:

  1. Use ROI as the exclusive hurdle for new projects. In HR, this limits projects to things that reduce costs and improve efficiency. The problem is how to do the right thing, not how to do the wrong thing faster.


  1. Continue to ignore data governance. HR’s data are important organisational assets that must be tended properly. It’s hard and politically challenging.


  1. Implement multiple AI pilot programs. This is not an advanced game of “pin the tail on the donkey”. Understand the problem you are solving before implementing technology.


  1. Install a “conversational” chatbot. The organisational, financial, maintenance, and operational consequences of these imperfect tools are not yet well understood.


  1. Pretend people analytics is just a new way to talk about reports. Science is arriving in HR. People analytics works when the HR team is curious and wants to see things more clearly.


  1. Keep saying “data science is too expensive.” Yes, data scientists command heartbreaking salaries. No, you can’t live without one.


  1. Treat your data as if they weren’t evidence. Every interaction is documented in the contemporary organisation. The pool of HR data is a pot of gold for a plaintiff’s attorneys. Be the first to understand data, not the last.


  1. Indiscriminately use benchmarks. At best, the way that someone else does it gets you 50% to 60% of the way there. Benchmarks are like fashion catalogues in that the models always look better than you do.


  1. Stay too busy to have an HR-technology strategy. Like the projects that will actually help with HR’s transformation, you simply can’t calculate the ROI for having a clear picture of where you are going.


  1. Act as if the 50% failure rate in recruiting is acceptable, not a crisis. Managers say 50% of new hires are understood to be mistakes within 18 months. Retention initiatives focus on perpetuating these bad decisions.


  1. Insist that there is no way to imagine HR five years from now. The shifting ground makes it easy to value urgency and efficiency over effectiveness and value. Short-term, reactive thinking always obscures long-term perspective. Not having a guiding vision is a symptom of failure.


  1. Implement solutions that solve the 80% of issues that don’t matter. It’s common to hear tech vendors claim 80% efficiency in their offerings. It’s that other 20% that is worrisome.


Successfully navigating the next three to five years of HR’s evolution requires a proactive stance focused on creating value for the company while eliminating the practices that destroy it. Expect a lot of churn at the top.