One of These Three HR Candidates Will Be The Next CHRO — Here’s Who Was Picked & Why.

A fictional story with a powerful lesson for all HR leaders.

By Alan Collins

Josh Tindall, a successful CHRO, finally decided that he’d retire in six months.

He discussed his decision with his boss, the CEO, who congratulated him for his outstanding years of leadership in HR — and made one request:

“Josh, we’ve both been through rough times in this organization. However, despite this pandemic, our organization remains strong, profitable and growing.

“You’ve never let me down. So, I’d like you to recommend your replacement. I trust you. And, I know you’ll make a great selection for me, our leadership team and this company.”

Josh eagerly agreed, clearly excited about continuing HR’s well-respected legacy within the organization,

He knew, however, that the CEO was demanding and picking one person to be his top HR leader would be difficult.

Josh, however, had three excellent direct reports, all HR VPs, who were well-experienced.

And, based on their strong performance, he decided to recommend one of them to the CEO for his job.

Calling the three of them into his office, he conveyed the news:

“Guys, in six months, I’m history. I’ve finally decided to retire. Before I leave, the CEO has asked me to recommend my successor. He’s worked with the three of you before and has found each of you be impressive and outstanding. So, he’s asked me for my choice. I intend to pick one of you.”

The young HR VPs stood there, mouths open, stunned at this surprise announcement.

“However, here’s how I’m going to make my decision. Today, I’m going to give each one of you a SEED – one very special SEED. I want you to put it in a pot, plant it, water it and come back here six months from today with what you have grown from the seed I’ve given you.

“I’ll then judge the results from what you’ve grown in the pots you bring back, and the person I choose I’ll recommend as the next CHRO.”

Carole, still in shock from this unexpected announcement, was handed her seed – just like her two HR VP peers.

*  *  *

When she got home, she excitedly told her spouse the whole story.

Together, they both went shopping and bought a colorful pot along with soil and fertilizer.

When they returned home, she planted the seed immediately.

In the days that followed, every morning before leaving for work, she would water the soil and made sure it had plenty of light.

After a month, the two other HR VPs began quietly talking about their seeds and the plants that were just beginning to sprout a bit.

Puzzled, Carole kept checking her pot, but she saw no signs of growth.

Two months, three months, four months passed by…and still no growth in her pot.

By now, her two peers were raving about their plants that were now in full bloom.

But the soil in her pot continued to show nothing and she began to worry.

With one month to go – Carole’s pot still showed no signs of any kind of sprouting.

She just knew she had screwed up somehow and perhaps even inadvertently killed her seed.

Meanwhile, her two HR colleagues were now openly bragging about their beautiful, flowery plants.

Carole, on the other hand, was bewildered and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t producing the same results. Nothing at all was happening in her pot.

Nevertheless, every morning, she just kept watering and fertilizing the soil, hoping for best…while saying nothing to her colleagues.

*  *  *

Finally, the six month deadline arrived.

Josh scheduled a meeting with Carole and her two peers to inspect their pots and make the final decision.

The night before the meeting, Carole felt sick at her stomach and couldn’t sleep.

Her mind tossed and turned: Why would Josh have us engage in such a stupid game?  He’s been a great HR leader, but this has nothing to do with HR or who would make the best leader.  I’ve worked hard and built great relationships with my clients. I’ve delivered great value to this organization. I know the other two candidates have too, so I don’t envy Josh having to decide among us.  But I just don’t get what the hell he’s doing?

Now fearful for the first time, she told her spouse that she wasn’t going to embarrass herself and bring in an empty pot. But he advised her against it, suggesting that she just be honest about what happened.

It was going to be the most humiliating moment of her career, but she knew her spouse was right.

So, the next day, she took her empty pot to the conference room where everyone was to gather.

When she arrived, she saw the other two pots for the first time.

They had already been placed in the front of the conference room on a separate table.

Each pot contained plants that were fully grown, stunningly colorful and beautiful!

Now distressed and well beyond nervous, Carole tried to hide her empty pot behind her back. But her two colleagues spotted it and laughed.

When Josh arrived, his eyes widened. He couldn’t hide his amazement as he gazed upon the two pots.

“Wow! What amazing plants you have. You’ve even decorated your pots too!  They’re stunning,” he said.

Looking up, Josh spotted Carole at the back of the room still hiding her empty pot behind her back.

“Carole, would you mind bringing your pot to the front of the room next to the others?”

Now with no choice, Carole was terrified.

She thought: This is soooo embarrassing. I wonder if I’ll even have a job after this.

When Carole got to the front, Josh complimented her on such a colorful pot and asked her what had happened to her seed.

*  *  *

Carole then told him the entire story.

As he listened to her, he dropped his head, frowned and began stroking his chin. He was clearly in deep thought and appeared to be figuring out what to do.

When she finished her story, Josh asked everyone to sit down — except Carole.


He paused and looked directly at Carole, and then announced to the group:

“I’ve made my decision. The next CHRO that I’ll be recommending to the CEO is…


Carole was stunned.

So were her two colleagues.

“Carole??” they yelled angrily, in unison.

Then her two peers each took turns spouting off.

“Damnit, Josh! Why her?”

“She couldn’t even grow her seed. How can she be the new CHRO?”

“How can she be responsible for growing the talent in this organization, when she couldn’t handle a simple assignment like growing a plant.”

“Josh, this is crazy!”

Knowing his team and not surprised at this kind of push back, Josh allowed them to vent.

He then calmly asked Carole to take a seat next to her two colleagues, who would soon be her direct reports, while he explained:

“When I was appointed CHRO three years ago, the CEO and I had a very blunt conversation about his expectations. I remember it like it was yesterday because I’ve never had another talk like it. He told me:

‘Josh, I want you to be clear about something. As the top HR leader of this company, you are my right hand. I’m looking to you to be the conscience of this organization.
‘Your ethical standards – as well as mine — need to be higher than anyone else on my leadership team. You and I both have to be candid and truthful with each other.  And, we both need to be the trusted compass of this entire organization.
‘Sometimes, you will feel alone, like you’re the only one standing up for what’s right at times. But if you’re confident in your convictions, I want you to stand firm. That’s what I need from you.
‘I know that what I’m asking may not seem fair. But, if you can’t accept that, let’s talk about finding you another job.’”

*  *  *

Josh paused, obviously seeing he had everyone’s full attention. He then continued…

“For the last three years, the CEO and I have had tremendous relationship built on trust. When I tell him bad news, I often bring him solutions too. But sometimes I’m stuck, I don’t have the answers and I don’t hesitate to admit it. And, in those cases, he and I put our heads together, often bring in the leadership group to arrive at the best possible solution as a team for our organization.

Frankly, I’m going to miss my relationship with him, the team and the challenges that this role has provided me.”

“What does this have to do with you guys?”

“Here’s the deal. Six months ago, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds. They were dead!  It was scientifically impossible for them to grow.”

“Nevertheless, two of you have brought me beautiful, fully-grown plants. I have no doubt that when the two of you found after a month that the seed wouldn’t grow, you both substituted another seed for the one I gave you.”

“Carole, on the other hand, was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me an empty pot with my seed in it, even though it was clearly embarrassing for her.
“Listen, all of you are bright, knowledgeable and have performed well in your role as HR leaders. But Carole is only one of you three I’d feel comfortable recommending to the CEO.

“Honesty and trust is the most irreplaceable quality of the CHRO. Our employees may not always like what we tell them. But, they primarily want candor and honesty from us as leaders, even if it embarrasses us personally. The HR leader has be a role model for that. Carole is.”

“So, Carole, congratulations!”

Later that day, as expected, the CEO readily accepted Josh’s recommendation and Carole was officially named CHRO!

She was overjoyed and couldn’t wait to share the news when she got home.

A week later in Carole’s first HR staff meeting as CHRO, she couldn’t wait. She kicked things as follows: 

“Folks, I’m thrilled to be selected as your leader. But let me begin by sharing my HR philosophy. It should govern everything we do. It is this: As an HR team, we must be careful what we plant — because it will determine what we will reap later. Specifically…  

“If we plant honesty, we will reap trust.
And nothing else is more essential
to our credibility as HR leaders.” 

“That said, let’s now discuss our specific HR priorities…”

The end. 

The above is a fictitious tale and was adapted from and based on the original story, “How One CEO Taught His Employees A Lesson In Integrity.”  Thank you for staying with the story until the end. Hopefully it was worth it!

*  *  *

Comments, thoughts or further insights on this article?  Please share them below by clicking HERE.

Want to read another fictional tale with another important lesson about advancing your career in HR?  Then check out this entertaining read:  SHE STOLE MY HR PROMOTION!  An Unforgettable Story About Not Getting Promoted In Human Resources & THE NUMBER ONE SUCCESS SECRET  For Advancing Your HR Career Faster And Easier Than You Thought Possible!

You can get more details HERE.

*  *  *

Want more tips and strategies for success as a brand new HR leader? Then check out:  THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS: How To Start Strong, Hit The Ground Running & ACHIEVE SUCCESS FASTER As A New Human Resources Manager, Director and VP.  

You can get more details HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books on career advancement including the New HR Leader’s First 100 Days.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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15 Responses to “One of These Three HR Candidates Will Be The Next CHRO — Here’s Who Was Picked & Why.”

  1. Ric Rodriguez Says:

    Thank you for sharing this story Alan and for the reminder that “If we plant honesty, we will reap trust.”

  2. Alan Says:

    Ric, thrilled you found the article worthwhile and very much appreciate your feedback. It’s an important message for all of us. Be well.


    As usual Alan – a great story. And so nice to have something uplifting and positive during these strange times.

    Trust HR as an HR professional is probably the most important attribute you could have. Thank you for sharing with us – your HR Community.

  4. Sharlonda Harvey Says:

    Thank you for sharing!! The part about sometimes standing alone for what you believe is right really resonated with me. For me, to be a successfull & credible HR professional you have to have integrity!

  5. Husys Media Says:

    Thanks for sharing and Very nice information. I really liked your article. Quite impressive. Thanks for sharing with us.

  6. Dennis Gaby Says:

    You have always delivered what an HR professional needs to hear and learn. This ‘story’ is no exception. Thank You,

  7. Linda Says:

    If you haven’t yet read Alan’s ‘She Stole MY HR Promotion’, it’s another wonderful story chock full of insights and wisdom!

  8. Alan Collins Says:

    Dennis, Delighted you found the article of value. Be well.

  9. Alan Says:

    Linda, thanks so much for your feedback. Thrilled the story resonated. Very much appreciate your continuing support. Be well.

  10. Deloris Says:

    Fantastic and insightful as usual Alan! You were and are a thoughtful leader! Keep this content coming!

  11. Darrell James Says:

    Great story Alan! Loved it!

  12. Deniece Garcia Says:

    Great read and so true. Performance and trust.

  13. Michele Willis Says:

    A great reminder of what it takes to be a leader. Thank you Alan!

  14. Politically Correct HR Says:

    These days competent males don’t matter. Diversity hire mandates make sure that only females get opportunity to showcase their honesty.

  15. Alan Says:

    Disagree, Gaurav. I’ve seen hundreds of examples to the contrary and worked with too many business and HR leaders who seek out honest, capable HR leaders regardless of gender, background, race or sexual orientation. However, thank you for weighing in.