HR: Do You Get It?
The HR rant began before the second glass of wine was served. I was dining with two marketing executives recently when the pair started venting their frustrations about how HR was missing the point. One person paused midway through the venting, and said, “Now Kevin, understand that we like you and you ‘get it’; our issues are with those HR types that don’t get it.”
I think that was a complement, but I didn’t feel great about the tone of the discussion. Like it or not, I’ve observed business executives divide the HR community into two classifications: those that “get it” and those who miss the point. Those who “get it” find themselves in the highly sought after business partnership. Those labeled otherwise find themselves on the outside looking in.
So what are they saying?
Having reflected on that dinner encounter and considering some of the most influential HR leaders I’ve known over the years – as well as some of my HR friends who spent most of their time on the outside looking in – I’ve come to a few conclusions. First, “getting it” is a primary concern to be a strong HR contributor. Second, by ‘getting it’, a leader is describing someone who has a firm grasp on the business, appreciates the line leader’s agenda as primary and views the work of HR as secondary.
There may be many different views on the fundamental skills of HR getting it – here are my big three:
- BUSINESS FIRST. I try to stay grounded in my role to contribute to the business first and serve my HR-learning role second. “Win, have fun and make a buck” was the slogan of one of my GE mentors years ago. His quote still resonates with me as a reminder that my job is to help the team win customers, not produce shiny new HR initiatives for its own sake. I’ve always been curious about the business as much as the profession of development. I am a constant student of investor reports, internal financial reports and business plans. Moreover, I try to start every conversation with line leaders by discussing their business: what’s new, how’s the new product working, how are they seeing the numbers going this quarter. Business first, then we can move on to the HR agenda.
- WORKING THE MAP. I recall my early days at General Mills not having a feel for the business or how to navigate the organization. These were ‘new guy’ challenges to overcome if I was going to matter to the organization. In addition to reading every business material I could get my hands on and buying coffee to learn from every available finance and marketing manager I could befriend, I also began a journey studying those who were most successful creating change in the organization. What impressed me most was knowing where they had to build coalitions and influence key stakeholders. They seemed to possess the unofficial and invisible organization chart that guided their actions.
Of course, the common theme of this work is relationship building as a key skill and constant focus for my calendar time. And it’s never-ending work.In addition to learning the map, these ‘high influencers’ introduced me to the concept of Executive Presence. When the path to change in the organization placed them in front of senior executives, they had a crisp, confident and relaxed style. As I grew in the job, I found it easier to at least fake being confident and relaxed. The ‘crisp’ part took some time as I had to temper my enthusiasm to explain EVERYTHING I knew about a topic when given the chance. Even today, I have to be reminded to ‘give the headline first’ and cut my comments short then the exec’s body language signals they’ve heard what they need to hear.
- GOOD JUDGMENT. The HR role is one of being a trusted advisor: having something valuable to contribute to a group conversation or a heart – to – heart coaching encounter. One of my favorite learning stories is about the new apprentice asking the old mentor about how to acquire good judgment. “From experience!” replied the mentor. When the apprentice asked how to acquire the necessary experience, the mentor concluded wisely with “from poor judgment!” While using poor judgment to create learning experiences is more of a recipe for career derailment rather than success, the scar tissues of hard fought battles is part of the professional journey. I would also recommend learning from the battle experiences of others to build better judgment. It is important to seek out top performers and wise counselors to share what they’ve learned over the years. That way you can accelerate your judgment capabilities and solidify an impressive support network.Finally, whether it’s from your own experience or others, I find it important to step back and reflect on what’s going on and what can be learned. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to fall into the busyness-to-serve trap and not take time to reflect. A friend of mine calls it ‘getting up to the balcony and away from the dance floor’ to oversee the situation, rising above the noise and distractions of the moment. It’s about gaining perspective that ultimately builds great judgment.
Like it or not, many of the leaders we work with will divide their world of HR into the two camps of “gets it” or “doesn’t get it”. The former is a much more rewarding and fun place to be. It needs to be earned over and over again. Thinking about making investments in your business acumen, organization influence and judgment.
© Kevin D. Wilde