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HR Wrote the CEO's Speech - How Sincere Should It Be?

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ianwelshEvery year the CEO visited the various locations and met with the employees.  It was always very pleasant with a lot of shaking hands and smiles plus snacks and drinks.  The CEO was a jolly person in public, seemed genuinely interested in employees, and remembered quite a few of their names. 

I wrote the speech. 

 We discussed some of the key points he wanted to cover, but apart from that I just wrote it – another HR special assignment. 

It felt good - thinking how my boss spoke and writing things in his style to impress the audience and convey certain messages.  Once completed, I know he practiced a lot and subsequently delivered the speech with sincerity. 

It worked out well, for me and the CEO, but how sincere can it be when a leader is expressing himself/herself in the words of someone else?  If HR is the writer, is HR equally responsible for any misrepresentation?  I think so.

 Some of the inconsistencies in these types of speeches are quite common.   The CEO may think most employees are not working particularly hard and want to reduce by as many as possible, but in the speech applaud all employees for their effort and their great contribution.  Then take away a little, expressing how everyone has to work harder - very competitive market - did not achieve everything we wanted to this year – tough challenges ahead and tough decisions necessary etc. etc., but confident that everyone will do their bit.

From my insider position, I know that there is often little interest in most employees, except getting the work done.  I know the company (not necessarily HR) would be happy to rollback compensation and benefits if possible.  I know the excuses would likely include failed objectives and not meeting plan.  I also know, from the planning and budgeting process, that targets are frequently unrealistic – the assumptions in particular.  They were likely imposed from “above” and we had to juggle figures to make them fit certain results criteria.  If the plan objectives were not met, the blame should not be on the employees, but the way the plan was developed and implemented.

As we join the employees assembled in a large open space, we may already know that this location may be closed or merged or otherwise impacted in a very major way.  In the CEO’s speech and responses to questions, there may be no deliberate misrepresentation, but many things kept very vague.  Expressions like, “many challenges to face”, “need to do better”, “never say never” (e.g. responding to “will there be layoffs?).

 What is the role of the speechwriter?  The key responsibility, of course, is to make the person giving the speech look good and to send clear messages.  When HR is writing the speech, and has inside knowledge, how far can we go to make the CEO look good?  Misrepresentation is not acceptable, but facts (and omissions) can be very misleading.  We want to make the CEO look good, but if the CEO is not the way he/she appears (or would like to appear), must we take responsibility for creating an illusion? If the CEO has serious problems (e.g. ethical) are we adding to the problem by creating a nice sanitized public image? 

I have always believed that HR has a strong communications role, but communicating realistically, although in labor relations there is, of course, significant role playing.  If HR is part of an executive team that communicates quite openly throughout the year, the CEO should not have too much new information to reveal, but people want to hear him/her telling them directly and particularly when it makes them feel good or more secure. 

If someone else has written the speech, does it really mean much?  What do you think?  How involved do you think HR should be in making imperfect situations look nice?  One concern is that if we make everything look too nice, and sugar coat problems, are we actually impeding progress, particularly in Human Resources?  Should we be writing the CEO’s speech or is there less conflict-of-interest if it is handled by a less involved writer?   

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.




Bio:Ian Welsh CHRP

Ian’s style of HR is being resourceful in a human way.His HR experience spans more than 25 years at an executive level within major organizations where his emphasis was on HR solutions – respecting theory but knowing how to apply it in real life situations and recognizing holistic needs.As an Independent HR Practitioner, based in Toronto, Ian continues to focus on “reality HR” with strong communications overtones.He shares his experiences and thoughts on his Toolbox for HR blog “The Search for Mutual Success” and interactively through online discussion.


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Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

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