Sunday, January 6, 2008

Best Resolutions for a Great HR Career in 2008!

The year 2008 carries with it that old Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum of crisis and opportunity. We’re seeing layoffs, economic shifts of weight around the world, new demands and roles rise to the surface with new challenges, while old ones drift and sink away. So this seems like a pretty good time for resolutions. Resolutions for cultivating and sustaining a relevance – an essentialness, for that matter – that will see you through 2008 and beyond.

To prepare this article, I sought out successful HR leaders inside global companies and consultancies for their advice. Here are just a few their suggestions for the Best Resolutions of 2008:

I will keep it short and I will keep it focused. Less is actually more (with the possible exception of this blog entry, which is reeeeeaaallly long; you might want to print it out). In HR’s drive and pressure to consistently position itself as a relevant essential, HR leaders actually risk making a mistake at the other extreme: Embracing so many initiatives and projects that they lose their focus. MacGregor Burns, Chief Learning Officer of Citigroup, says, “Start with the issues that are keeping you up at night and what you would like to see differently a year from now.”

And when you talk about your efforts for each quarter, keep it relevant and quantifiable. Says Burns, “The most important box is around organizational initiatives. What did you do to change your business and help it achieve its goals? Keep your report limited to one page.”

I will remember that work is personal. With the increasing emphasis on metrics, balanced scorecards, return on investment, talent management, etc., it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that each job represents someone’s dream for security, for bills that get paid, for children who get educated, for potential that gets fulfilled. Yes, we could be talking about everyone in your company, but we’re also talking about you.

Says Eva Sage-Gavin, executive vice president of Human Resources and Communications, Gap Inc.: “The employee value proposition is really an individual value proposition. This is critical to understand. Especially when you have a cross-generational workforce. You must sustain a level of fluency about how passionate your people are about their own jobs. And keeping this in mind will make your own job in HR so much more fulfilling.”

I will continuously take my boss and partners by surprise. If you operate strictly from an HR frame of reference, the people you work with already know what you’re going to say before you open your mouth. If that’s the case, they probably only half-listen to you; which reduces your effectiveness significantly. Surprise them. Look at your job through the lens of a general manager of a company division and approach everything you do, every suggestion you make, every decision you must come to from a general business perspective. That will make your partners pay attention!

“HR people are either pigeon-holed into stereotypical roles, or they’re not,” says Jim Wiggett, director of The Jackson Hole Group, and formerly Executive Vice President of Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) Retail Group. “You’re not pigeon-holed when you’re perceived as a business person; when you understand the metrics of the business; when you’re looking at your business on a daily basis, and when the CEO sees you as one of the people who are helping him or her run the business.

But “if what you’re doing is running back to turnover numbers, or cost-per-hire, or training dollars, if that’s your frame of reference on the business, you’re in trouble,” he says. “HR professionals successfully reposition themselves and multiply their impact on the company when they’re suddenly seen as a business person who just happens to be in HR.”

That’s where the surprise element kicks in.

I will know my industry inside and out. While you’re studying up on the business model of your company and the essential variables that drive the unique decisions within your own walls, also commit 2008 to gaining a fluency about the industry you’re in.

Says Peg Wynn, former senior vice president of Adobe: “The more engaged you are in your company’s business, the more engaged your company’s leaders will be in your business. Subscribe to the trade magazines of your business. Track how the competition is doing. Attend as many industry conferences and meetings as you can – at least as many industry meetings as HR meetings in 2008. Volunteer to staff your company’s trade show booth.

“Once you help the people in your company see that your interest in the industry itself puts you on common ground with them, you can work together to move the world. And that’s what you want to have happen.”

I will use my imagination. HR is universally criticized for being mired in the tactical aspects of the people side of business. How ho-hum can you get? Says Kathie Lingle, director of the Alliance for Work Life Progress, “Focus more on the future, which actually is here right now. Pay much more attention to where you’re going than to where you’ve been. None of those things that have worked for us in the past will be worth a hill of beans before too long. So that past is going to be less and less useful.

“Business strategy these days has to have agility, responsiveness, speed, and the ability to attract and retain the absolute best talent. For that you have to have someone who is tasked with the job of looking forward, not gazing in the rearview mirror. So I would argue for the assignment of a Chief Engagement Officer in most companies.”

I will spend 80% of my time looking around the corner into the future. Dan Walker, former Chief Talent Officer of Apple, Inc., and founder of Walker Talent Group and New Venture Studios, is famous for his passion around urging HR leaders to consider themselves leaders of the company’s human capital supply chain operation. And that, he says, means you must be constantly looking into the future needs of the company, certainly with far more intensity than considering what you already have.

“The human capital supply chain involves everything having to do with HR: Acquisition, development, deployment, training, all those things,” he says, “And part of running an efficient supply chain is that you have to have the right product, the right parts, at the right place at the right time.”

And that means you have to be a prognosticator.

“HR people have to be the smartest strategists and long-term predictors of what the company will be and what it will need. To get that track laid the right way, they have to have a sense of the future. They also have to build maximum flexibility into the supply chain because if the company doesn’t make the shift it’s anticipating, or if anything happens that it didn’t plan for, it has to be able to adjust on the fly.

“I look at the efficiency of a lot of the companies in the United States and Europe. And so much of the failure and struggle they experience comes from the fact that they just didn’t put the rigor and science into the human side of their business as they did the other parts of their operation. When that happens, [this lack of forethought] bends around like a snake and bites them.”

Walker didn’t specify where, exactly.

I will keep my operation lean and efficient. Says Manny Sousa, Senior Vice President and Chief People Office of T-Mobile, “There is a linkage between the talent you bring into the business and the success of the business. The first thing you need to be attractive as a company is business success, typically as measured by metrics, good solid margins, high level of efficiency, a track record of achieving your objectives. HR needs to be really good at keeping a business as lean as possible and focused on keeping the business efficient in order to thrive during the bad times as well as the good.

“We’re entering into a world of highly competitive markets in every single industry. You must focus on leveraging your human resources for maximized productivity, at the same time keeping the place human, caring about people and their lives.”

I will dance with the one who brought me. With all the emphasis on being an HR business strategist, it’s easy to forget or devalue the emotional attractions of the profession – especially for those who originally felt compelled to HR as a calling. And that worries Sid Ferrales, Senior Vice President, HR, of RealNetworks. “I’m a big advocate of the position of acting like business people,” he says, but in the effort to establish credibility, he says, “we shy away from the emotional intelligence (EQ) aspect of our work. A lot of us entered the profession because of this strength around being able to communicate with people, being able to understand where people are coming from and our abilities to serve as coach and counselor to the management. They value that from us. Somewhere along the line, we made a shift toward learning the language of business and away from the emotional side of our work. We over-corrected.”

Ferrales says that the emotional strength the HR brings to business should continue to be valued as an essential competency of the entire organization. And HR is just the place to shepherd the emotional well-being of the company.

“Don’t be too quick to undervalue the EQ piece,” he says. “Many of the CEOs I’ve worked for value the EQ piece of what we bring to the table. Certainly they want you to contribute at the business level and understand the nature of business. But my boss often talks about EQ being very important in terms of how business gets done.”

I will strengthen my organization with flexibility. “I don’t think there’s a widget in the world that can’t be duplicated by another organization,” says Sharon Klun, director of Work-Life Initiatives for Accenture, which was named as one of Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies in 2007 for the fifth year in a row. “But it’s the people who are critical because of the intellectual capital that they bring with them. All those elements that enable them to be successful in their work lives are essential to their personal lives as well.”

Klun says that organizations that embrace the flexibility necessary to allow employees lead balanced and successful personal lives will see measurable outcomes in their ability to gain a competitive advantage with healthy and fulfilled people. “Flexibility has the most ability to change and serve the outcome of the organization at an incredibly good price. It’s the cheapest thing to do for the highest ROI that you’ll ever have at your fingertips.”

I will stay positive and strong so I’ll continue to keep up with business as it unfolds around me. Says Tom Mathews, Senior Vice President for Corporate HR for Time Warner Cable, “As I look to 08, there are going to be no fewer challenges than we’ve seen so far. We’re going to continue to see the escalation of costs. And competition is going to get more global and more challenging. It’s important to look beyond such countries as China and India toward places like Panama, Philippines, Costa Rica. Wherever there is a market that will offer the same services more cheaply, there is going to be competition for our businesses. So we have to stay with what’s going on in the world, above and beyond HR.

“I like to sign my emails with, ‘Onward!’ While it’s important to understand what has happened in the past, it’s essential to keep looking forward.”

I will remember the passion that brought me to HR in the first place. The true gift of HR is its ability to inspire people to believe in themselves; to passionately seek the gold in every single person; and help each person find, develop and celebrate that gold, says Mike D’Ambrose, senior vice president, Human Resources, for Archer Daniels Midland.

“Every single person has something unique and wonderful to contribute,” he says. “It’s my job to ask our people, ‘What are the things that you do great? How do we help you become this wonderful, unique contributor – not only to the company but also to yourself?’”

As companies increasingly focus on employee engagement in 2008, it’s essential that you remember that engagement must begin with you in HR. That is the gold of your profession. And that is the gift you bring to all the people you work with every day.

Happy New Year! And have a fantastic HR career in 2008!


Anonymous said...

I love this entry. Forget the fact that it's almost a year old, of course...but it has helped me this morning. Thanks!!

HR Manager @ GE

Martha said...

Hi John:
I hope this comment gets to you. Thanks for your words! Starting in December I will be creating the Best Resolutions list for 2009. Unfortunately because I have this book deadline on top of me, I may be a little late in reporting in for 2009, but I want this to be an annual event!

Glad this posting was helpful, but I have a feeling that I would be sorry to know why it was helpful. Hoping all is okay on your end!