HR Governance

Why the CFO said HR was easy to learn


Photo credit: Wei Xuan Seow – flickr

I recently co-facilitated a discussion forum between a group of CFO’s and CHRO’s on the importance of their relationship in building business value. During a question on what skills each other should build to understand the other role, an attending CFO said “It would be easy for a CFO to learn HR, but not the reverse”.

There was stunned silence from the room as the heat rose from the attending CHRO’s – they weren’t sure if they had just been told they were less capable, less intelligent or simply would never be considered an “equal” to the power and status of a CFO.

Was the CFO correct?

From the perspective of: CFO right or wrong?
Education and qualifications: Both roles are considered specialist functions which have underlying professional adherence. The CFO learns to comply, manage and manipulate a set of globally defined rules to legally reflect the financial value of their organization. The CHRO complies with medical ethical standards related to psychology and social science practices. Both qualifications are professionally recognized and offer advanced degrees to support this. WRONG
Complexity of the role. At the basic level, CFO’s take their guidance from GAAP and legislation in terms of how they execute the outcomes of their role. They are generally instrumental in guiding the organization in terms of maximising financial value, reducing and effectively managing cost, effective use of capital, maintaining investment community confidence through accurate reporting, analysing financial risk and proposing corrective actions. The CHRO has different complexities to deal with as “people” and society are well, people. Rules for people are less defined or prescriptive. CHRO’s who don’t operate as administrators can juggle 40+ different interrelated elements across people, process, organization, legislation, technology and governance to create business value through people. WRONG
Perception: The CFO is typically regarded as highly important, particularly for listed companies – mainly because their outputs reflect the success of the CEO and other executives, and the consequences of anything untoward in financial outputs could result in serious organizational and personal ramifications. In many organizations, HR is often perceived as an Administrative function with little clout at the C-Level. This is often true when HR has low levels of Maturity and spend most of their time executing operational transactions. In most cases this would be easy to learn. RIGHT


So the CFO was both right and wrong, but we should be cautious to blame the CFO for his views. We can assume that in this case, the HR leaders the CFO has interacted with have probably been of a lower maturity level, more administratively focused and had executive leadership who have yet to realize the importance and value of Human Capital  from a shareholder perspective.

For a CHRO or CFO to really learn each others jobs would not be easy. Yes, you could easily learn the stuff like administration and basic accounting, but the underlying knowledge is far more complex than meets the eye.

How does your CFO view HR?