The Habits of Highly Successful HR Leaders – Part 5

Forefront Editorial Team Human Resources, Issue 12 - July/Aug 2014 Leave a Comment

What’s the difference between an HR practitioner and an HR leader? Our expert has identified 12 traits, and here are two.

Yesterday, human resources (HR) supported the business. Tomorrow, however, HR will drive it. In fact, a 2012 survey by HR 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 comes as no surprise to John Schierer. Vice President of HR at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, he has more than 25 years of experience as a senior HR executive, during which time, he has learned a great deal about human capital. Those who manage it best, he says, have a dozen behaviors in common. Here, he outlines for Forefront how to master two of the 12, empowering HR leaders to take their organization from yesterday to tomorrow.
— Forefront Editors

Thank Your Detractors

In an age of bitter partisanship, this attribute seems lost in a sea of acrimony. By thanking those who disagree, you reduce bitterness and create an environment where dissent makes everyone and everything stronger. It is a great example for others in the organization.

Do you want to create an open, questioning environment? This behavior is the key to showing that dissent is not blood sport but rather the wellspring of the best ideas that have been honed through critical examination. You will be surprised at how disarmed your critics may be when they receive your thanks for their input. Make your thanks public and sincere so that others may see that different points of view are welcome.

Points of disagreement and points of conflict are actually two different things. Make sure that you are an example for the best outcomes of disagreement by eliminating the zero-sum outcomes of an environment that says “I must not only win, but ensure you lose.”

Be Courageous

Anybody can tell where the wind is blowing and turn with it. The majority is not always right and standing your ground can be painful, but at least you sleep well at night. Winston Churchill said it well: “… It is said that leaders should keep their ears to the ground. [People] find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.”

I am not advocating career suicide: Your expulsion from the organization will not further any just cause. I am saying that there are cases in which the momentum of opinion begins to grow within an organization, and it is important to understand the difference between rising popularity and what is best in a situation.

There was a company that was planning a huge layoff—about a quarter of their workforce. It was a typical company in that their manufacturing was at a central point, with sales offices scattered about the country. The overall size of the action would overwhelm the local HR team, so HR suggested that the nationwide sales force be brought in to assist in the actions of the day (e.g., escorting laid-off employees through various outplacement stations and activities). The extra hands would have helped to execute the layoff and provided dignity and respect. A sales meeting could be held to plan steps to recovery, and it would bring the impact of a layoff from the realm of an abstraction to a very real event in the eyes of the salespeople.

The majority revolted against the idea as holding sales up as a scapegoat and an additional and unnecessary expense. HR stood firm in the face of fierce opposition, maintaining that this was not assessing blame but creating a shared sense of a negative organizational event. Sales should not be held apart from it but become a part of the event in a very meaningful sense.

The view of HR won the day. Record sales years followed. Whether or not some or any of the recovery could be attributed to the shared organizational sense of accountability is open to wide debate, but in hindsight the participation of the sales team was seen as a positive. It was just unpopular at the time. Do not confuse unpopular with wrong.

With these tips in your toolbox, you’ hae taken two steps toward HR supremacy. Now, take 10 more—a giant leap—by learning all 12 of Schierer’s HR leadership best practices. The full list is available online here.

John's Key Partners:
 Alliance for Organizational Excellence (Employer of Choice)Pettit Kohn Ingrassia & Lutz PC (Employment Law) | Amerit Consulting, Inc. (Staffing and Workforce Solutions) | Glasberg, Heidel and Grayson Associates (Coaching & Management Consulting) | Management Recruiters of Mercer Island (Executive Search)

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