Get advice on the 1 trait your CEO hates: Delivery Deficiency

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If I’m honest I’m an ENFP (sounds a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous).  Delivery isn’t my favourite pursuit.  I’ve learned it’s no good using my ENFP’ness as an excuse when I don’t deliver. 

Instead, I’ve become passionate about learning the basics of project management and surrounding myself with completer finishers who are naturally good at getting things done.  Words without action, ideas without outcomes, design without delivery is a waste of time.


  • Projects are started but not finished. HR enjoys developing new ideas but does not enjoy putting them into practice. 
  • People are easily bored, especially with follow-through, with the result that nothing is actually delivered. 
  • HR works mostly based on anecdotes; many companies are failing to collect or analyse real data to find out what is going on. 
  • It fails to respond to internal customer requests, seeing them as idiots who get in the way of designing another HR scheme. 
  • HR people want to be prophets, not plumbers - they are only interested in being ‘strategic’. They are bored with the plumbing, the basics of HR that actually underpin its credibility. 
  • HR lacks the disciplines of essential planning and project management. 


  • Of course, the biggest impact is nothing actually gets done, but this has knock-on implications for HR.
  • HR loses credibility, which would enable it to make a real difference to the business because no one expects HR actually to deliver anything. 
  • HR is seen as a cost with the subsequent pressure to reduce the size of the function. All because no one sees any value-added from what it does, or doesn’t do. 


In interviews with 45 CEOs, I asked them if they had ever sacked their HR Director.  There were 3 common themes:

1.     In some cases, they recognised that while their HRD was good at one level, as the company grew or changed, they simply couldn't keep up.  They hadn't done anything wrong they just no longer fitted the need. ‘It was a function of the agenda.  The individual didn't have the capability to step up again.  We had taken our game up a notch.  She was successful in the old agenda.  I would give her a reference, not a failure. It just depends on what you wanted from them.’

2.     Lack of integrity was the most common issue. ‘The incumbent was disengaged, devious, political, someone who didn't have a genuine interest in people, who were out for their own interest, their own ego.  In the end, the senior management team had had enough of her politicking and backstabbing, and she went.’

3.     But delivery deficiency was a show stopper for most of them.  CEOs want people who understand the business and drive great solutions. But if you can't actually make them happen in the real world, then they’ll bring in someone who can. ‘They did the sexy stuff and none of the basics, they delegated without accepting accountability.’

This focus on the sexy strategic stuff without getting the basics, what I call the compulsory figures, done undermines HR’s credibility.  So, what do I mean by the compulsory figures?  Very few people know why skating is called figure skating.  In the Olympics before 1990, the champion skater won the gold medal not just for the spectacular jumps and complex moves and for their artistic interpretation of the music, but also for the compulsory figures. 

We didn’t see it on the television but it took place a couple of days before the free programme. Skaters drew circles in the ice and were measured for their consistency and accuracy. They didn’t win the gold medal for the figures, but they didn’t get to skate for the gold medal unless they did well. 
For me, the compulsory figures are the basics of HR: paying people on time, recruiting, terms and conditions, etc.  It doesn’t win HR the medals, but unless it does them well, the function doesn’t have the credibility to engage in the real value-added work. 


  • HR teams need to balance who they recruit, looking for and valuing ‘completer finishers’ as much as (or perhaps even more than) ‘ideas’ people. 
  • Put in place strong governance to ensure clear goals are set and delivered. 
  • Establish clear accountabilities for what is actually delivered. And follow through with appropriate consequences, both the good and the bad. 
  • Place value in old-fashioned basic project management techniques, not necessarily overcomplicating things, but establishing a disciplined approach to planning and review. 
  • Train HR people in the discipline of getting things done and reward and recognise them for it. Find role models and heroes who are doing the basics well. Or, those who are doing a great job of data entry. A great HR Team needs them as well as those doing strategic HR business partnering or designing new talent processes. 
  • Ensure that everyone, early in their HR career, spends time on the basics; data entry, admin, call centres etc. So they understand how tough it is and value it.

What are the HRTech implications?

We all want to be strategic HR Business Partners, but we must recognise the importance of doing the basics right.  It is these basics that provide one of the most significant opportunities for HRTech.  In my analogy from figure skating, the value-added isn't in the creativity but in the consistency and accuracy.  This is where automation can provide a huge boost.  We shouldn't be scared of technology. It will take away a lot of the mundane elements of HR, the compulsory figures. Allowing us to win the gold medal, building the capability of an organisation to deliver its strategy.

About The Author: 

Nick Holley has a unique background that combines experience as an army officer, ten years as a successful futures and foreign exchange broker with Merrill Lynch and sixteen years in senior organisational, leadership and people development roles in large global organisations. In his last two roles Nick was partner in charge of learning for Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa for Arthur Andersen and director of global people development for Vodafone.

Nick will be speaking at UNLEASH World on the Future of Work


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