12 Habits of Highly Successful HR Leaders: Part 6

John Schierer Human Resources, Issue 13 - Sept/Oct 2014 Leave a Comment

What’s the difference between an HR practitioner and an HR leader? According to our human resources guru, it’s these 12 traits.

Editor’s Note. Yesterday, human resources supported the business. It collected resumes, for instance, heard complaints, administered benefits and distributed praise. Simply put: It pushed paper and gave gold stars. Tomorrow, however, human resources won’t just support the business. It will drive it. In fact, a 2012 survey by human resources consultancy KPMG found that 59 percent of senior executives believe HR will grow in strategic importance. Unfortunately, just 17 percent say HR does a good job demonstrating its value. That doesn’t surprise John Schierer. Former vice president of HR at Cubic Corp., a $1.4 billion manufacturer of defense training systems, he has more than 25 years of experience as a senior human resources executive for companies including Cobham Defense Systems, Kyocera America and Thomas & Betts Corp. During that time, he’s learned a few things about human capital. Those who manage it best, he says, have a dozen behaviors in common. In order to take their organization from yesterday to tomorrow, HR professionals must master all 12. Here, he tells Forefront how. This is the sixth and final part of this series.

Give People a Place to Fall.

People who are wrong or behave badly or are not performing need a place to preserve their dignity. In some cases, it is not enough to win an argument or a situation—the other person must submit and admit defeat. This merely sets the stage for rounds of revenge and sets off a downward spiral of activity in the organization. Resolution to a better state of affairs must be sufficient. The best HR people understand this and accomplish their objective while allowing others dignity.

In a very stark example, I once was involved in a union negotiation in which the union badly miscalculated and went out on strike. They stood outside the gates for 13 days in a pouring rain while the plant hummed along without them. On the thirteenth day, we created a minor technical language concession and the contract was settled later that day. Could we have let the situation linger for weeks more and forced a humiliating capitulation? Likely. But at what cost to the long-term good?

The variations on this are infinite, but if you allow people to exit a job, an argument or a situation with dignity it ends up in a much better resolution and you have won an ally for life.

Do Not be the Abominable No-Man (or Woman)

The least successful HR people are policy cops trying to catch people in a violation and blindly enforcing administrivia. Keep your head up. Why does the policy exist, and what purpose does it serve? What is the intent, and did those who framed it anticipate the circumstances you face?

I once got a call from a respected HR colleague. He described a situation of an employee who turned in tuition reimbursement form two days after a procedural 30-day deadline. The employee was going to school at night and had a new baby in the house. My colleague argued that rules were rules and that to allow an exception invited chaos. I just wondered aloud, “Who made up the rule? Why was it 30 days? Why was there a tuition reimbursement policy to begin with? What was the goal? Did the rule serve the purpose? Would changing or reinterpreting the rule break any law? Would a different interpretation more likely invite chaos or admiration for supporting the intention of tuition reimbursement?”

Unless the rule was written by Moses or breaks a law, think hard. HR can be a cop on the beat or a keeper of integrity of the spirit and intent of policy. All rules were written by our predecessors given the facts and circumstances in play at that time. At minimum, we need to examine the situation today and ensure that our current circumstances require an identical response. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that these are corporate policies, not the Torah for example, we are dealing with.

In conclusion, I do not claim that these 12 attributes are all inclusive or all correct—or even that the list numbers 12. Nor do I claim that I embody these attributes myself; but I do aspire to them. I also know that I have never seen one HR professional who has them all. I will say, however, that every one of the HR leaders I admire has had most of them to one degree or another.

As I warned that no organizational rules that I know of came from Moses on stone tablets, I would not advise taking this list as sacred. Time, opinion, circumstance and the evolution of the role will alter this list in important ways over time. But for now, if I were hiring the next great HR leader I would look for someone who had as many of these qualities and values as possible.

John Schierer is the Vice President of HR at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. You can read the full list here. 

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John Schierer

John Schierer

John Schierer is a senior Human Resources Consultant with over 25 years’ experience with such companies as Thomas and Betts, Kyocera America, Cobham Sensor Systems, and Cubic. His HR teams create strong cultures of employee engagement resulting in record-setting financial performance.His teams were awarded the Workplace Excellence Award by the San Diego Society of Human Resources (SDSHRM) in 2008 and 2010 and the National Business Research Award in 2009 for wholesale gains in employee engagement results.
John Schierer

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