In many large organizations, the roles of human resource leaders have been to advise and advocate other business leaders and professionals. Relationships of innate trust and open and honest communication are built over years of working together which result in both the HR professionals and business workforce in personnel benefiting. The business leaders benefit from having a secure position in which they have to struggle less with leadership challenges and decisions whereas the HR professionals benefit from being valued confidantes and mentors. For most HR leaders, achieving a highly regarded seat at the business table is the primary objective. From this seat, everyone can be heard and opinions can be dispensed. However, that opinion is biased and based on what other leaders should really be doing, rather than a point of view on what’s right for the company — an opinion other people can own and where they can be accountable for the outcome. In order to achieve this, we must shift our thinking from being worthy of the right to be at the table to having earned the responsibility to lead. To phase into this leadership rank, let’s first examine a very hackneyed limiting belief that is common in our profession and bust a few myths – leaders are the ultimate business people in revenue-generating roles with big titles. Funny as it may sound but remember setting a strategic course for the company, creating value for customers, developing, inspiring and enabling others to achieve results and serving as role models for the company’s vision and values are not the purview of just the product, sales and operations folks. It is everyone’s forte and we need to understand that leadership talent can be found in every corner of our organizations. Also, we must never miss out on innovative solutions by selectively listening only to those in sanctioned leadership roles. One of HR’s core capabilities is training and development. Their analytical skills could be put to good use here. Taking leadership roles outside of the HR career path has been enormously helpful in this process. So HR leaders should start looking for open opportunities to manage and lead a product launch or unlock a new market or tear apart and reconstruct a core business process. Many HR folks have been trained in a certain way to believe that it’s their job to be keepers of the rules, and to make sure that the company stays out of hot water. In an “I told you so” position, it is their responsibility to help define the boundaries for strategies and practices in alignment with the company’s primary purpose and vision. A boundary keeper makes it easier for the organization to explore the edges of its strategic opportunities, helping guide people to make the right choices at the right time and shrinking the need to let the rules make the choices for us. So if the HR frees itself from these myths, what does its role become? What does a leader do? Pull a diverse team together to stimulate best thinking as a valuable input to the strategy-setting soup. Strategy development is an extremely collaborative course that undulates between dealing a wide range of possibilities and making significant decisions. Staying in your functional lane could prevent the best thinking and ideas from emerging. At the same time, as an HR leader you have a rare role to play in developing your organization’s strategic center. Having a clear assessment of your people and practices gives you a platform from which to innovate and advance. All of these selections and processes are building blocks for your business model and decide whether your organization’s people will be a fundamental differentiator or a constraint. While the CEO is often the one giving out inspiring speeches or kicking off big company events and shows, your personal leadership approach speaks volumes about what the beliefs the company holds. There are certain guiding principles and innovative messages that can only come from you. Sometimes, the organization just needs to hear your voice or see your face because your leadership presence (or absence) could send a clear signal about what the company rewards and tolerates. So next time remember to step out from the behind-closed-doors advisor role, and lead. Make your department a magnet pulling talent from other parts of the business and a great team to be a part of. It is your responsibility to make it a fun place to work by being the best boss your folks have ever worked with. That will basically require you to be present and patient. When you concentrate on building the executive team, the board, or other business units, your department really feels it. One simple step is to direct career development programs within your own team first so that they know you are empowering them to grow, and so that they can be advocates for the other processes in different parts of the company. Go first, and set the pace because leaders develop and inspire people.
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