Attending #SHRM19 – Respect Your Organization’s Investment

I attended my first #SHRM conference this year and enjoyed pretty much all of it.  I thought it was extremely well organized, the general sessions were interesting and varied, and I gained a lot of value from the event.

Being that the SHRM 19 conference was held in June, I was planning on writing a blog post about it which would have been your basic this is what I liked and this is what I didn’t like – blah blah blah.

Fortunately, a few days after the conference ended, a SHRM19 discussion thread complaining about the conference app caught my eye and got me thinking about how this thread illustrates part of what is wrong in the HR profession and what may be holding the profession back from being taken seriously by our company leadership. It gave me the opportunity to write something different than the typical conference review.

In the discussion thread, an attendee posted a complaint about how disappointed they were because of the lack of a physical paper concurrent session guide and how using the app will unnecessarily deplete their phone battery throughout the day.

There was a lot of agreement in the thread that SHRM messed up by not having the printed guide, and complaining about battery usage, the app being clunky, and the lack of information available (which was all in the app had they looked).

The SHRM Annual Conference is a serious event where, I assume, our most serious and dedicated HR Professionals attend.  It’s not cheap.  I also assume that the majority of these HR Pros want to be taken seriously by their leadership and contribute to the strategic direction of their organization and even earn that elusive seat at the table. I’m comfortable with this assumption because I hear and read about it almost every day.

So when I hear or see conference attendees complaining about not having a printed guide provided for them and not wanting to adopt and use something like the SHRM19 App, I get frustrated that they don’t see the incongruity of their complaints to what they say they want professionally.

Yes, I know I’m painting with a wide brush and making a lot of assumptions but this is my blog and how I am lining things up to make my point!

Here is my contribution to the discussion thread I mentioned above:

The schedule and all the session descriptions were, and still are, on the home page of the SHRM19 website organized by track and with the ability to print everything. One just needed to take a half hour or so before the conference to read, prepare, and plan.  As an effective professional with the responsibility of the +$3,000 investment my company made for me to attend, I prepared ahead of time.

I also spent a few minutes to download and learn how to use the app which became invaluable to me throughout the conference. And I brought a battery charger with me to recharge my phone late in the day (several vendors were giving them away).

SHRM had it all there for you if you would have taken the time to strategically prepare ahead of time.

As HR Pros who want our profession to be taken seriously we need to be strategic, embrace change, adopt new technology, creatively solve problems, and respect our organization’s investment in our development by preparing.

The hard truth is that if we’re not doing these for the little things when we attend the SHRM19 conference, then we’re probably not doing them for the big things in our organization.

This wasn’t a popular thing to say and I got some pushback but I fully stand by my comments and am even doubling down by posting this on HHHR because I feel so strongly about it.

Maybe because this was my first SHRM conference, I made the effort ahead of time to prepare and couldn’t rely on “the way things have always been done.”  But having a strong business background, I think I would have prepared the same way because I also always consider the cost/investment of every event or activity and, as I said in my comment above, I make a point of respecting my organization’s investment in my development by putting forth the effort to properly prepare so I get the most out of it.

I was actually very impressed by the app.  By preparing and getting to know the app in the days before the conference I learned the following things:

  • I can build my daily schedule but “starring” the sessions I want to attend and the will show up on My Schedule in the app.
  • Most of the sessions had the presentation slide deck attached so I downloaded them to my iPad before each session and followed along during the presentations.
  • I could easily find where to go by using the Navigate button that took me to maps of the Convention Center, the Exposition, and the Westgate
  • I was able to search for Exhibitors and quickly find their booth number so I could visit them.
  • I liked being able to read about the Speakers and discover their speaking time to schedule.
  • I was also able to get alerts on my phone and iPad that helped remind me of events an activities.

The app made my first SHRM conference experience a great one!

When your organization is willing to make a financial investment in your development, you owe it to them, and yourself, to make the appropriate amount of time to fully prepare. By doing so you  maximize the benefits of that investment for both the organization and yourself.

Make Exceptional HR Customer Service Your Culture and Mission

At my company’s annual General Manager meeting a few weeks ago, our keynote speaker was Seattle and retailing icon, Pete Nordstrom, the CEO of Nordstrom Department Store.  Our company president invited him to spend some time talking to us about the importance of customer service and to share some stories about their successful history.

Being a former department store retailer myself and having attended many similar company meetings while I was with The Bon Marche’/Macy’s, I was in very familiar territory as he told story after story about Nordstrom and the retail business.

However, what I found most interesting during his conversation with us was how they went through the process of discovering why their famous customer service rankings were slipping each year even while their sales associates continued to do the same amazing customer service activities.

He explained that after a lot of trial and error along with a lot of research, they ultimately learned that the definition of customer service/expectation had changed.  Their customers no longer considered the way Nordstrom was providing great customer service was as exceptional as they used to.  This changed expectation was causing their service survey scores to slip lower and lower each year.

What the heck was going on?

Well, it was because of another Seattle retail icon, Amazon.

The employee empowerment, personal attention, and humbleness Nordstrom associates were famous for providing their customers was no longer enough.  In addition, they learned that the  added extra steps in the way their associates approach customers and how they close sales by pushing Nordstrom credit cards, donating to a charity, etc., were not helping with their customers perception and expectation of exceptional customer service.  All these things added to the amount of time and frustration to a customer during what should be a simple sales transaction.

The new expectation set by Amazon has become one of speedy and efficient service.  Customers now expect to be able to quickly find an item, any item, online while sitting in their living room, click a button and expect it to be delivered within one or two days. And even get regular notifications as to where the item is at any given time as it’s being shipped.

As a result of their findings, Nordstrom made a number of fundamental changes to the way their sales associates provide customer service and as a result, their scores are improving.

Welcome to the new expected level of exceptional customer service.

 

How does this apply to HR?

HR needs to keep abreast of current expectations.  What defined good CS just a few years ago has changed.

Similarly to people’s expectation to speedy and efficient service when they are shopping, these same people, as employees, have an equally high level of expectation for quick & efficient, accurate, and cheerful service from HR.

Quick and Efficient – This means we must respond to our emails from the employees we serve within 24 hours, return their phone calls the same day (yes the same day), and respond to their texts within a couple hours. Probably a tall order for most of us but it must be a priority.

Accurate – We must also ensure that our advice and recommendations are appropriate to the situation and the needs of the business.  We must build a high level of confidence with our employees and leadership that we are competent professionals.

Cheerful – Yes seriously (haha).  Being cheerful means being pleasant, friendly, and positive.  I know that can be difficult with all the “stuff” that we deal with all day long but, again, to be taken seriously as an effective professional, our approachability and demeanor are critically important.   We want our employees and leadership to feel comfortable approaching us for strategic advice, employee relations concerns, etc.

As an HR Professional and your HR Department, if you want to be taken seriously within your organization and become a valuable business partner, you’ll need to make the extra effort to provide this new expectation of quick & efficient, accurate, and cheerful service.

If you’re thinking there’s no way I/we can do this, then you won’t and you’ll forever be stuck in the annex along with Toby of The Office whining about not having that elusive “seat at the table”.

If, on the other hand, you are thinking yeah we can and need to do this, and you’re willing to put in the hard work that it will take to make it part of the daily workflow and routine, you’ll earn the respect of your employees and leadership and have a much better chance of earning that seat.

I believe that, because HR serves the organization’s employees and leadership, it is imperative that the members of the HR Team provide exceptional customer service to those employees and leaders.

Regrettably, I don’t think this is common in most HR Departments.

Those of us who are working on developing HR 2.0, however, are making sure that exceptional customer service is the mission and culture of our HR Department.

Step Two of Developing an HR Strategic Plan: Conduct an Internal and External Environmental Scan

AdobeStock_92951733This week, I’m introducing the second step of developing an HR Strategic Plan. This is the step where both internal and external environmental scans must be conducted in order to identify and interpret the data that pertains to opportunities and threats in the organization’s business environment.

Being able to identify and understand these threats is essential in developing an effective strategic plan. The two types of scans are defined below:

The first is the internal scan which identifies internal organizational trends as well as the physical, financial, and human assets and determines whether these trends and assets are strengths or weaknesses. In this factor, you can even include building or improving the aspect of customer service and accusation teams within the company. Making sure that they understand about the changing trends is quite essential according to Salesforce as this one factor can be deciding factor which answers the question of, Will the customer be back for more business?

Examples of what to examine in an internal scan include employee interaction with each other, employee interaction with management, manager interaction with each other, management interaction with shareholders/owners, access to resources, brand awareness, organizational structure, individual and core competencies, innovation capabilities, operational potential, etc.

The second is the external scan which identifies and analyzes the external environment in order to anticipate and identify trends, opportunities and threats to the organization.

I recommend three environments that should be scanned and analyzed.

  1. The organization’s industry environment. Examine the competitive structure of the organization’s industry. Take a good look at the competitive position of the organization as it relates to its top competitors. The industry’s history, life cycle stage, and dynamics must be carefully assessed including how globalization is affecting the competitive environment.
  2. The national environment. Examine the whether the organization’s national/local framework is capable of being competitive in the national and global environment.
  3. The broader socio-economic environment. Explore the macro-economic, social, government, legal, technological and global factors that may influence the organization’s competitive environment.

Understanding what we are scanning and gathering data on, next we’ll take a look on how go about collecting that data.

Internal Sources:

  • Annual Reports
  • Business Unit strategic plans
  • Marketing materials
  • Employee surveys
  • Staffing Plans
  • HR and training staff
  • Employee exit interviews
  • Conversations with leadership team
  • Org charts

External Sources:

As I alluded to earlier, the main purpose of the scans is to identify and evaluate the organization’s strengths and weaknesses.

The first element to assessing the organization’s strengths and weaknesses are the competencies that are necessary for the organization to be successful in executing its strategy. The people of the organization are the critical link between the business strategy and the results.

There are specific competencies and behaviors that are needed to successfully implement a strategy within its environment. For example, significantly different competencies are needed for a cost strategy vs a service strategy.

The next element to consider when evaluating the strengths and weaknesses is to analyze the organization’s various management practices. Determine whether the management practices are logically related to each other and capable of producing the critical competencies needed to effectively implement the strategy.

A thorough HR Department assessment must also be conducted. Take a cold hard look at the organizational structure of the HR department and the skill levels of the staff. In addition, analyze and evaluate whether the right processes and systems are in place.

The HR Department needs to know how it will make a contribution to the organization’s business, have the right org structure, have the right systems and processes in place, understand the department’s strengths and weaknesses, how the department is perceived by leadership and employees, and have a plan in place to capitalize on staff strengths and address staff weaknesses.

Strategic HR is all about the relationship between HR leadership and the organization’s business unit leadership. It’s about delivering real business value to all functions of the organization. HR has to be thoroughly involved with all aspects of the business in order to fully understand and appreciate the opportunities and problems the organization and business units deal with every day.

To be taken seriously by the organization’s leadership, strategic HR professionals need to be great business professionals. They should have actual business leadership experience outside of HR, in my opinion. In addition, they should put themselves in positions where they regularly work with key influencers, identify opportunities and provide solutions to business problems, facilitate key meetings, be members of leadership teams, etc.

Introducing the Steps on How to Develop an HR Strategic Plan

AdobeStock_103199139The HR function in any organization has a great opportunity to connect to and add measurable value to the bottom line of the business. Developing an HR Strategic Plan is a difficult and complex undertaking but one that will be well worth the effort in establishing HR as an important and valuable function of the organization.

Since the ability of an organization to establish and maintain a competitive edge depends almost entirely on the quality of their workforce and the people management processes, being able to develop an effective HR Strategic Plan is crucial to the financial success of the organization.

There are six steps involved in developing an HR Strategic Plan that I’m listing below and will review much more in-depth in the following several weeks/months.

The six steps are:

  1. Determine and communicate a Vision, Mission Statement, and Value Statement for the HR function. These three things will assist the HR function in identifying and distinguishing itself to the organization’s leadership and employees.
  2. Conduct an external and internal environmental scan of the organization in order to identify opportunities and threats that might affect the organization in the future. Understanding how these opportunities and threats might affect the organization in the future is critical to creating an effective strategic plan.
  3. Establish and align HR strategies and goals in order to provide the direction that will guide the organization towards achieving its long term objectives.
  4. Develop action plans and assign accountabilities designed towards moving the planning process from the long term to the shorter term goals necessary to achieve the strategic goals.
  5. Execute the plan and monitor its progress in order to ensure that the plan stays on track. HR is responsible for developing, communicating and supporting the HR strategy implementation with the responsibility of actually implementing it residing with the line managers. Changes may be necessary with shifts in the business environment.
  6. Evaluate the plan’s results by measuring the success of the HR initiatives and identify things that worked or didn’t work. The evaluation establishes the foundation for additional HR strategic and business plans.

An organization’s HR strategy should never be separate from its overall business strategy. It should always be an integral part of all the organization’s strategies that require people to implement them, obviously. It requires HR’s thorough understanding of the organization’s business. With that understanding, HR programs and practices can be identified that will help the organization successfully execute its strategy.

The HR strategy must be externally aligned with the business plan in addition to being internally aligned for the HR programs and practices to support and complement one another. And in order for any HR strategy to be successful, HR must build relationships with, and gain the support of, the line managers who will ultimately be responsible for carrying out the HR practices and ensuring the success of the HR strategy.

That’s this week’s brief introduction of the steps on how to develop an HR strategic plan. In the coming weeks, I am excited to explore each of these steps much more in depth.

Speaking the Language of Business for Strategic HR Professionals

AdobeStock_101865782This week I’m returning to discussing strategic HR and am going to define some important business terminology Strategic HR Professionals must know in order to be taken seriously by their organization’s leadership.

This is not a comprehensive list but simply some basic business terms that relate to developing an effective HR strategic plan.

The first term is Business Strategy.  Business strategy as defined by Michael Watkins of the Harvard Business Review is the following:

A business strategy is a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making. A strategy is therefore about how people throughout the organization should make decisions and allocate resources in order accomplish key objectives. A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules, that defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things they should prioritize (and not prioritize) to achieve desired goals.

The definition implies that a business strategy can be looked at from the perspective of creating shareholder value, competitive market position, and creating a strategic advantage within the constantly changing business environment.  

This constantly changing business environment is influenced by things such as national and local politics, regulatory agencies, the economy, customers, suppliers, competitors, technology, economic trends and current and potential markets.

The second term is Strategic Intent. The business strategy, described above, is built upon the strategic intent and is defined by the website Simply Strategic Planning as the following:

Strategic intent is a statement of the course that the management of an organization plans to take the enterprise in the future. As many people as possible should understand these intentions. Then everyone can work consistently to achieve the corporate purpose.

Statements of intent aim to be more explicit than the usual directional statements. Most mission and vision statements point the way forward only in general terms. Sharp statements of intent can provide more clarity about what to do in the near future to achieve the vision and/or mission. Such statements convey the flavor of the strategic decisions taken through the planning process

In order to determine an organization’s strategic intent, the following questions must be answered: who we are and what we are trying to accomplish, what business are we in, what is our mission, what is our vision, what are our core values, how do we compete, and how do we add value to the marketplace.

The third term is Strategic Focus. A good description of strategic focus comes from Ann Latham at Forbes where she writes the following:

A good strategic framework provides focus by limiting the number of directions the organization runs. You’d be foolish to try to extend all your products while simultaneously expanding all your markets while also ramping up capacity or shifting your business model to include new types of production, sourcing, sales, delivery, and partnerships. This isn’t just an issue of capacity. It is also an issue of risk, learning, complexity, and credibility.

A great way to identify an organization’s strategic focus is to take a close look to the classic Generic Strategies by Michael Porter where he identified three strategies that address the question of how value is added by an organization.

These three approaches are cost leadership, differentiation, and focus as described in this article by the Institute for Manufacturing:

Cost Leadership

In cost leadership, a firm sets out to become the low cost producer in its industry. The sources of cost advantage are varied and depend on the structure of the industry. They may include the pursuit of economies of scale, proprietary technology, preferential access to raw materials and other factors. A low cost producer must find and exploit all sources of cost advantage. if a firm can achieve and sustain overall cost leadership, then it will be an above average performer in its industry, provided it can command prices at or near the industry average.

Differentiation
In a differentiation strategy a firm seeks to be unique in its industry along some dimensions that are widely valued by buyers. It selects one or more attributes that many buyers in an industry perceive as important, and uniquely positions itself to meet those needs. It is rewarded for its uniqueness with a premium price.

Focus
The generic strategy of focus rests on the choice of a narrow competitive scope within an industry. The focuser selects a segment or group of segments in the industry and tailors its strategy to serving them to the exclusion of others.

The focus strategy has two variants.

(a) In cost focus a firm seeks a cost advantage in its target segment, while in (b) differentiation focus a firm seeks differentiation in its target segment. Both variants of the focus strategy rest on differences between a focuser’s target segment and other segments in the industry. The target segments must either have buyers with unusual needs or else the production and delivery system that best serves the target segment must differ from that of other industry segments. Cost focus exploits differences in cost behaviour in some segments, while differentiation focus exploits the special needs of buyers in certain segments

In order for an organization to be successful and grow, it must have a business strategy that excels in all three of these strategies, not just one or two.  All of the organization’s operating and management systems, which include HR, must support all three of these approaches.

Bottom line, for an HR pro to be seen as an effective business partner, they must fully understand such important basic business elements such as the operations of the organization, its sales/revenue LY and YTD, its profit margin, how those margins compare with competitors and industry, its cash flow, its growth rate, the metrics leadership tracks, and the top initiatives of each of the members of the leadership team.

Jeeps, Tires, and an HR Foundation

I’m taking a break from my series on strategic HR and pushing out a post about a recent purchase I made that ended up inspiring me to write a post that equates to HR.

This morning I had to buy new tires for my Jeep Wrangler – my dream car and one I was finally able to buy (with my wife’s consent, of course!) after pining for one since High School. I’m not an off-roader but have always loved the look of the CJ-5 and CJ-7 and then the Wrangler through all its iterations.

I also had to buy new tires for my wife’s car a couple weeks ago so it’s been an expensive couple of weeks but one I’m OK with it now that winter is here. I’m OK with spending money on important safety and foundational things.

As I was driving from Les Schwab Tires to Starbucks this morning, I noticed how much better the ride was compared to my old tires. I hadn’t noticed my old tires were worn down to the point where I needed new ones until it had snowed a little the other evening and I was slipping around more than usual. This being the rig I’d always wanted, I take very good care of it, religiously washing, getting my oil changed, and rotating my tires every 5,000 miles.  I was hoping I could squeeze out another winter on my old tires

And by just looking at them, they looked fine, the treads were all evenly worn and there were no bald spots (something I used to use as a guide when I was much younger and poorer!) But having slipped around more than usual the night before, I did the “penny test” and discovered that it was time to get new tires.

As I said earlier, I immediately noticed how much better the ride was compared to my old tires. My wife also commented how much nicer her ride was after getting her new tires. Of course, we always notice this whenever we get new tires because it’s a drastic change going from worn out to new tires. We never notice our new tires being slowly worn down because it happens over a long period of time. 

Now that I can afford it, I always buy the highest quality tires I can. I do this because the tires on my vehicles are the foundation of the car. They are the only piece of equipment that has contact with the ground.  Whether the surface is smooth dry pavement, a rough dirt road, a wet surface, or a snowy icy road.

The tires we have on our vehicle are what allows us to safely, or unsafely, navigate the different road conditions to get where we need to go.  If we have poor quality or worn out tires, we can usually survive for a while on the dry smooth roads but they may eventually blow out and leave us stranded. Ultimately, we will have trouble on the other types of road conditions. Its very important to have a solid and safe foundation.

So yes, I’m equating the quality of the tires on my Jeep to building and maintaining a solid HR foundation. Is that a stretch? Maybe, but let me tell you why and explore further as I equate the parts of my Jeep to the functions of an organization. All are equally important.   

So let’s break it down like this:

  1. The financing of the loan for my Jeep is the Finance organization. (Boom. Easy)
  2. The engine and drive train are the Operations organization. This function is what actually propels the Jeep and organization forward and makes everything in the Jeep and organization run. Like the tires, this function has to be regularly  well maintained.
  3. The body of the Jeep is the Marketing organization. This is what things look like to the outside observers and potential employees.  Just as my Jeep looks so darn cool, Marketing is responsible for making the organization look appealing to their customers.    
  4. The driver is the Leadership of the organization. Of course, like the driver of the Jeep, leadership is responsible for steering the organization to where, and at what speed, it needs to go and essentially sets the tone of everything that happens in the organization.
  5. The passengers are the Employees of the organization. The employees are not always just passive passengers but can assist Leadership with the direction they are going and can help drive and offer advice on where to go and how to get there.
  6. The tires are HR.  As are the tires, HR is not the most exciting part of an organization but the function that should always be in constant contact with the culture of the of the organization just as the tires are always in constant contact with the road. Good tires and good HR help the Jeeper and Organization safely navigate through difficult terrain/culture and weather/business environment conditions.  

The next two items are things that a Jeeper and organization have much less control over.  

  1. The climate and weather is the business environment the organization is in.  Jeepers have no control over the weather and Leadership has no control over the business environment. On any given day the weather/business environment can be clear and sunny, overcast, windy, gloomy, stormy – you get the picture.
  2. The road is the organization’s culture. Similar to an organization’s culture, the roads we drive can be smooth and dry, rough and rocky, slick and icy, and even flooded and impassable. Sometimes we even go off-road to experience something new and unusual.

And when we are talking about these last two items, where we have little to no control, it depends mostly on the skill of the driver/Leadership, the health of the engine/Operations, and quality of the tires/HR foundation that you have on your Jeep/organization that determines how well an organization navigates through challenging conditions as they reach their ultimate destination.

Since this is an HR blog and podcast I’ll close with this.  When the organization invests in a high quality HR organization and takes good care of it, just like me investing in and taking care of the high quality tires on my Jeep, the organization will be able to effectively and safely travel to it’s desired destination, weather all the storms, and navigate the different and often dangerous road conditions along the way.

Why You Need to Create a Strategic Plan for Your HR Function

So why have an HR Strategic Plan?

In today’s highly competitive business environment, success is often determined by how well an organization and Human Resources can manage change.  Organizations have to constantly monitor their place in the external business environment as well as evaluate and improve their organizational capabilities, or intangible assets, in order to effectively compete in the marketplace.

The strategic planning process is the most effective way for organizations to identify and address all of the various external and internal forces that have an impact their business. This process moves the organization from their current place to their desired future.  And more importantly, brings value to all of the stakeholders of the organization.  

But what value is the strategic plan without the people within the organization being ready, willing, and able to execute the plan? None. The organization’s employees must understand and be fully engaged in and willing to follow the strategic plan in order for it to be of any value to the organization.

This is where HR comes in.  

HR’s value lies in being able to build and maintain the organizational foundation and infrastructure to help drive the necessary changes that will accomplish the organization’s strategic goals.  

Regrettably, HR is still thought by many business leaders as pretty much an administrative function that operates separately from the rest of the other functions in the organization.  Sadly, this reinforces the opinion that HR isn’t that important to the success of the organization. HR is also not typically held accountable for business results, as the other functions are, and because of this, HR considerations are typically ignored and viewed as a cost center rather than a profit line contributor.

There are some leaders, however, who recognize that an organization’s human capital is a key strategic resource for increasing organizational capability and achieving a competitive advantage over competitors.  Being able to attract, retain, motivate, and develop the best employees in the organization’s industry are critical to its success in the marketplace.

The ability of an organization to execute it’s strategic plan rests solely on its effective utilization of its human capital.  

Smart business leaders are recognizing this and have turned to HR to help them positively impact their business results.

In order for HR to have a positive impact on an organization’s business results, we must focus on and engage in both the long-term strategic and the short-term administrative and operational planning.

There are three roles that HR has in an organization that need defining before we go any further:

First is the administrative role. This is the traditional role most people think about HR. It’s things like regulatory compliance, policy & procedure interpretation, record keeping, HRIS management, benefits administration, onboarding & offboarding activities, etc.

Second is the operational role. These are the HR activities that relate to the day to day operations of the organization.  These are the tactical activities such as recruiting, filling job reqs, handling employee relations issues, employee communication, compensation program management, etc.

These two HR roles aren’t the high-level exciting things many of us in the upper levels of HR like doing any more but they are absolutely essential to the organization and the reputation of the HR function. HR must be 100% technically competent in the administrative and operational roles and execute their HR services flawlessly.  

HR’s reputation is built on the employee’s perceptions of competence and has to be flawless in these two roles in order for to build a solid foundation of building on the higher level strategic role.

Third is the strategic role. This is the role where HR can really make a difference.  It requires HR participating in the strategic planning process, improving the organization’s performance, ensuring effective leadership, redesigning organizational processes, and ensuring financial accountability for HR results.  

Business literacy is required in order for HR to be effective in the strategic role. HR must know and fully understand who the organization’s stakeholders are as well as the organization’s markets, products, customers, and competitors.  Fully understanding financial terminology, speaking the language of business, and knowing how to read and interpret the organization’s financial statements – income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, etc.- are absolutely necessary.

I believe that the most effective strategic HR professionals are those who have real-life business experience outside of HR. (Self-promotion alert) I’m, of course, biased having successfully led and operated, with full P&L accountability, an award winning full line Macys department store for 13 years.

By having a solid business background and experience, HR can develop effective value-added strategies of staffing, performance management, total rewards, employee relations, and employee development. This puts the organization’s employees in the best possible position to execute it’s strategic plan and contribute to its financial success in the marketplace.

Strategic HR is my favorite topic and the role I enjoy most as an HR professional. I’ve touched on it a bit in my Metrics and Analytics series but I’ve been focusing on writing/podcasting mostly on the operational side of HR.  I had to build a foundation first, you know!

Now I can start exploring more strategic HR topics here at HHHR!  

Next week, I’m going to continue with strategic HR and explain exactly what a strategic plan is.  

My HR Journey

How I ended up in HR

I was at a tech industry HR event in Boulder a few months ago and we were all asked to talk about our “HR Journey” – what was it that led us to choose HR as a career. Or what was it that led HR to choose us?

The exercise required that we had to get up in front of everybody and tell our story. We didn’t have much, if any, time to prepare as we didn’t even know we were going to do this exercise. The first “drafts” of our stories were a little rough but then we were allowed to get up again and tell our stories again, and this time they were more polished.

I enjoyed the exercise because it forced me to really think quickly of a story that led me to choose HR as a career. My mind was blank but it came to me as I was walking up to the front of the room to tell my story. Funny how the mind works.

So here’s my story…

I started my career right out of college working for a Pacific Northwest based retail department store called The Bon Marche’ (which is now part of Macy’s). I worked my way up the ladder until I reached my desired goal of being a Store Manager. I loved being a Store Manager and in my 13 years as one, I earned the Store/Store Manager of the Year award twice along with a record number of performance awards during my tenure.

I learned that I loved building consistent high-performing cultures filled with employees who loved doing what they did in a tough, low-paying work environment. In retail, HR is a very important and vital element. It was what I enjoyed the most and I was very good at it and thought I’d do it for the rest of my career.

But there was a particular incident that occurred that led me to seriously consider leaving and focusing on HR as my next career direction.

It was Sept or Oct and a young pregnant woman came in for an interview for the Holiday season. As a Store Manager I always enjoyed participating in the interviewing and hiring process. She interviewed well, I saw that she had potential, and I decided to hire her. I didn’t care that she was pregnant. I only cared that she was smart, enthusiastic, and cared for customers. She would be a great addition to the store team.

Years later, she reached out to me via Facebook and told me how much she appreciated me hiring her that day. I had changed the direction of her life. Nobody else in town would hire her because she was pregnant. To make matters worse, she was single and pregnant and her life was a mess. I had no idea at the time but my believing in her and hiring her gave her new hope.

My team at the store was just that, a team that cared about each other and helped each other. The team took her in and she became part of the store family. She was surrounded by people who cared and she responded by giving us everything she had and became fantastic sales associate.

I’m very proud of the teams I build and how they always cared for and loved each other. That is what I enjoyed most about my job. Building strong high performing cultures of people that loved (or at least liked) their work.  That is why I went into HR so I can help leadership build strong, high-performing teams.

Today, this woman owns her own retail business, has her life together, and is doing very well.  She is also is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter.

Bottom line, the main reason I moved into HR was to use my talent and skills to help organizations create positive, high-performing cultures where people really enjoy coming to work. We spend huge amounts of our time at work and I believe our workplaces should be happy and supportive places where we enjoy being every day.

The ability to create and provide a high-performing culture where people want to be, directly helps accomplish the importance of business goals in any organization. The overall company performance improves, productivity increases, and financial performance improves – all of which produces greater shareholder value.

I want to be able to be a positive influence on employees and, by extension, their families by creating a positive work culture where the employee is happy and feels like they are accomplishing meaningful work.

Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.  And I’m glad I’m able to do it.

Building an HR Foundation

Establish your credibility, competence, and trustworthiness

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The most important thing an HR professional who’s moving into a new job or department can do is to build and establish a rock-solid foundation of credibility, competence, and trustworthiness. Today, I’m going to discuss how to do this.

There are two things an HR pro typically does when starting a new job at an organization or transferring to a new department.

  1. They come in with “guns a blazing” and immediately start changing the way everything is done and immediately start introducing HR initiatives. They focus on quickly making a big splash introducing HR initiatives and impressing senior leadership.
  2. They come in and take the time to get and know the employee’s, their team, processes, and culture. They focus on providing outstanding customer service to their client base and getting a good lay of the land and culture before making significant changes and introducing big HR initiatives.

Yes of course, sometimes you have to come in with “guns a blazing” and get things fixed quickly. The situation, and leadership, demands it because they need things to be fixed, and fixed yesterday. While it seems to make sense at first, it’s not. It will mostly cause significant chaos and business disruption. It certainly does not establish the credibility, competence, and trustworthiness for the new HR pro!

The best and most effective way for the HR pro to establish their credibility, competence, and trustworthiness in the eyes of their new company/department is to take the time to get to know and understand the team, processes, and culture before making any drastic changes. Build that important and critical foundation.

Remember, Human Resource pro, you are dealing with humans and, as such, you need to build a foundation of relationships first before you will be able to accomplish anything with any credibility and trust. Everybody in your organization is watching what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Start building a solid foundation so that you will be seen as a credible HR expert. Make sure there are minimal mistakes made with the basics like payroll, benefits, answers about polices, etc.

Here are the steps I recommend to build a strong and stable foundation that will establish your credibility and ability to effectively manage the HR function in your new organization. I think we all know this but often forget as it is the blocking and takleing.

  1. Most importantly – get to know the team. Get out of your office every single day and CIRCULATE around the office(s), store, plant, etc. and chat with your fellow employees. Learn your employee’s names and what’s important to them both personally and professionally. This helps them see HR as a part of their team, not the Grim Reaper that only makes an appearance when something bad is about to happen.
  2. Study and know the employee handbook (I know, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) and other policies and procedures. You’ll need to be able to answer policy and procedure questions from employees as you circulate and as they come by your office/desk.
  3. Dig into the HRIS and make sure all the data in there is complete and accurate. It often isn’t. Make sure it is so that everything that feeds from the HRIS (payroll, benefit integration, etc) will also be accurate.
  4. Become the expert in the health and retirement benefits your organization offers. Make sure enrollments are completed with 100% accuracy. Build great relationships with your brokers and ask lots of questions.
  5. Respond quickly, accurately, and politely to all manager and employee requests and questions. Remember, you are a service organization supporting the other functional areas of the organization. Don’t ever be condescending because you think they should know the answer. You are the HR expert, not them and they are coming to you for your expertise – the reason you have the job!

By doing these five basic steps, you build the foundation of a successful HR function in your new organization. These are the basics that will establish you as a credible and trustworthy HR professional in your employee’s eyes.

Yes, I know every senior HR professional, and leadership team, wants to do the exciting strategic stuff but without that important foundation, the strategic HR initiatives will fall flat because you will not have the credibility and trust from the very people who need to buy in to those initiatives.

You absolutely must have a solid and effective foundation in order to effectively build the strategic framework that your leadership, managers, and employees will embrace. This will ensure your success in your organization and allow you to more easily have your strategic HR initiatives be successfully adopted.

Retooling Hard Hat HR

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Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, I took a lot of time off from my blog and podcast. I can blame it on a number of things, but bottom line, I just simply ran out of motivation. I’m sure I would have found time to post if I had been passionately motivated to do so. But I just wasn’t. It became a chore and I found it way too easy to find other things to do instead of work on HHHR.

It did bother me that I had abandoned my blog and podcast but not enough to to work on it.  At first, I enjoyed writing posts and putting out podcasts but as time went by, I just felt I didn’t have any real direction for HHHR. I didn’t feel comfortable with the niche I was trying to be a part of. I wasn’t even sure what niche I was in.  When you think about it, the HR profession is very diverse and complicated.  My niche was the entirety of HR which was entirely too big and left me feeling overwhelmed.

Then, after many months of HHHR being dormant and it nagging at the back of my mind, it came to me.

I’m going just focus Hard Hat HR on HR departments of one. Because that’s what I am. I’m in charge of a small HR department for a small mining company. That’s what I do and I do it well. So why not have that as my focus, my niche. I also, like most employees in a small company, wear several other hats. I do the Investor and Public Relations.

I don’t know what I was thinking before. What the heck does “Working Hard and Making it Safe for HR Pros” mean anyway? I guess I was trying to tie it into the Hard Hat theme but I was obviously trying too hard.

I think now that I’m just focusing on  HR departments of one, I can really concentrate on the issues that affect us because I experience those issues every single day and can write about those experiences and challenges. It gives me a great deal of subject matter. I will, of course, have to be careful about some things and won’t be able to share everything but I will take what I know and what I do and share it the best I can.

I also found myself worrying about my writing skills and how others would judge me when reading my blog.  This worry blocked me from sitting down and just banging something out, like I am now.  Even though I’ve stopped writing for a while, I continued to read many HR blogs and observed the folks writing them are clearly not worried about what others think, yet they have huge followings and are considered HR leaders – at least with their readers!

I know I’m not the most elegant writer.  I know I will make grammatical mistakes.  But I’m not going to worry about it any more and concentrate on just putting out good content that will help small and HR departments of one.  And I know the more I write, the better I’ll get.

So with that, I introduce the new and retooled Hard Hat HR, Building HR for Departments of One! I like it. I hope you do too.