Tag Archives: Strategic HR

hr professional lessons

50 Conversations in 50 Days: 10 Things I Know about Today’s HR Professionals

Wow.

Really.

I have spent the last 50 or so days speaking with dozens of HR pros (more than 50 now, but the number worked for the title so I ran with it!) and the takeaways I’ve had are pretty incredible.

The gist of it: one of the research projects me and my team have been working on this summer was researching employers with 1,000 or fewer employees. Another was around compensation technology, which involved conversations with companies in the 1,000 to 10,000 range.

These all came with conversations to understand challenges, opportunities, and more, but what I really loved was getting to hear the unique stories of each professional, company, and culture. Here are the ten things I know as a result of talking to dozens of people like YOU:

  1. HR tech is part of your job performance. We’re all using some kind of tools for payroll, benefits administration, recruiting, etc. This stuff isn’t just something we grab off the shelf–it’s an enabler of our performance on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. It helps us get the job done, which is really cool when you think about it. hr professional lessons
  2. We love and hate it :-) That said, sometimes the tech doesn’t work or function the way we want it to. It’s life. When it’s not saving our skin it’s giving us a headache.
  3. We love creating the right environment for our people. SO many of the HR pros I spoke with have unique and interesting ideas for how to support their teams, connect them with the mission of the firm, and build an inclusive, exciting culture. I’ll be interviewing one of these people in the next few weeks on the podcast to talk about how to engage remote teams and keep them connected, so stay tuned for more.
  4. We can’t create value if we are treading water with administrative busywork all the time. Our insights on the HR-employee ratio have shown us that that drives strategic activity. HR wants to be strategic but has 1,000 employees to every HR pro? Strategy won’t happen because you’re just treading water. HR wants to be strategic and you have a ratio of 75 employees to each HR pro? Now you’re in the driver’s seat for success.
  5. High-performing companies have a higher ratio of HR staff to employees (and more HR technology). Essentially they just put more budget towards the people side of the business. Kind of like this best place to work winner.  FYI, “high-performing” companies aren’t the cool ones like Google or Facebook, they’re everyday firms like yours that have positive metrics in employee engagement, retention, and revenue.
  6. Most of you are very creative and looking for ways to improve the employee experience. In the last couple years the “” has become a recurring theme. These conversations showed me that you are trying to create that on a regular basis for your own teams. It’s not just about getting payroll done or running a performance process but about how to do those things in a way that differentiates us from the competition.
  7. I am personally thankful for each one and what they bring to the professional community. Wow. You are all doing amazing work but it’s often unsung internally. Some of the people I spoke with were getting the accolades internally but others were not. If you are, keep up the amazing work. If you’re not getting recognized, make sure you are doing the work that aligns to the business and getting the results/metrics out in front of the right stakeholders.
  8. We love our certifications but we also hate the struggles we have between which one is the best for recertification credits
  9. We may have gotten into the job on purpose or entirely by accident but that doesn’t change our vision for what HR can be and do for the business and its people. No matter the path that led the person to the role they are currently in (or what led you to the role you are in), that should not and typically does not change your vision for a high-impact, highly relevant HR function that creates value for the people and the business.
  10. This is the best profession there is! All the time and effort I’ve put into helping people get into HR, whether they have education in this space or they are coming from another profession, has shown me that we attract some of the very best people from across the world of business. Yes, we occasionally get the person that’s crusty, cantankerous, and disinterested in creating the right environment for workforce success, but they are few and far between.

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strategic hr

HR Strategy: How to Work ON Your Department, Not Just IN Your Department

One of the challenges with HR strategy and strategic HR is that it’s often talked about in vague terms, which means it isn’t always easy to understand for some individuals. There’s a great metaphor for this concept in the world of entrepreneurship put forth decades ago in The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. Here’s the core of it:

When someone starts a small business (even if it’s a sideline HR consulting business), they do so because they want to do a certain task: writing, painting, consulting, and so on. The problem comes when that person realizes they are actually doing two jobs: the product/service they are selling AND running a business. Many small businesses fail because they are great at working IN the business but not working ON the business.

Hopefully you can see the application of this in the world of HR as well. Many of us are really great at doing the core components of HR:

  • Recruiting great candidates
  • Delivering high quality training
  • Supporting leaders with coaching and development

But we often struggle when it comes to this strategic stuff. It’s not because it’s hard. Most of us are smart enough to lay out a game plan for the year with objectives and then work towards it. No, the problem is that we’re so darn busy doing the day to day work of HR that we can’t find ways to get to the strategy. We never really arrive.

If you’re not sure if this applies to you, here’s a simple test:

If you’re spending your days, weeks, and months churning through tasks and never really working on improving your function, team, or department, then you’re probably missing out. 

This actually played out last week in a conversation during the Alabama SHRM state conference. The audience was talking at their tables about obstacles for HR, and the group at my table talked about HR’s bad reputation for being the “no” police, for caring only about compliance, and for never leaving the office to do anything more meaningful.

I know, I know. A lot of this connects to the HR to Employee ratio at your company, as I’ve written about before. If you have a thousand people for every HR professional, it’s going to be very transactional. There’s no way around it other than picking up technology to help automate what you can and personalize to the highest degree possible.

I actually spoke with an HR executive recently that offers some incredible insights into this problem. If you don’t listen to the podcast regularly, you are missing out. In the upcoming episode I speak with Michael Stambaugh, Chief Human Resources Officer for HJF, about how to seize the opportunity for strategic leadership in HR. He tells a compelling story and it’s one I highly encourage you to listen to.

What are your thoughts? Does this problem of overwhelming tasks IN your HR role prevent you from working ON your HR function? How have you tried to overcome it?

Does #HR care more about employees or protecting the company? [Reader Question]

I love answering questions from readers, because they encourage me to explore topics I might otherwise not touch on, such as today’s discussion. Have a question of your own? Share it and I’ll try to work it into the schedule!

Does HR care more about the employees or protecting the company?

HR’s Primary Role

When someone is hired into the HR profession, their primary role is to support the “people” functions of the company, such as hiring, training, and retaining employees. It’s funny if you think about that being the primary responsibility set, because we know that managers select candidates, often recommend workers for development, and are the reason that 80-90% of workers leave the organization, Regardless, that’s our job: tie the business objectives with the people process objectives to the degree we can.  Continue reading

How to Be a Professional Troublemaker in HR [Podcast]

We're Only Human PodcastThis coming year, my wish for you is that you become more of a troublemaker in your business.

Yes, you heard me correctly. HR has a longstanding tradition of being the administrative department. The party planners. The “that’s how we’ve always done it and let’s avoid the risk” police.

But what if there was another way? What if we could be disruptors and troublemakers as a force for good? In this episode of We’re Only Human, I interview Jill Kopanis, a VP of HR that seeks to shake up the workplace every single day. There are some great notes and lessons for each of us and I highly encourage you to check it out.

(Subscribers click through to check out the episode below)

Show Notes

We’re Only Human 18 – How to Become a Chief Operating Trouble Maker in HR

Host: Ben Eubanks

Guest: Jill Kopanis, VP HR, Dynamic Dies

We’ve heard the “seat at the table” conversation repeated over the years, but what if that’s all just a bunch of nonsense? In this episode of We’re Only Human, Ben talks with Jill Kopanis, VP of Human Resources at Dynamic Dies, about what it takes to break away from that conversation and become what she calls a Chief Operating Trouble Maker within the business.

During the show they discuss a handful of topics that will help any HR leader become a force for positive disruption within the business, including:

  • How to get beyond the buzzwords
  • How to focus on engagement that matters
  • How to avoid the “Millennial” or “Boomer” stereotypes and biases

Disruption can be a good thing, especially if it’s driven by someone that knows the business and how to shape it for the better. Are you ready to be a trouble maker in your own organization?

If you’re interested in joining Ben and Jill on the HR Conference Cruise, learn more here:

www.aspect-marketing.com/HRCruises/2018/Cruise1

Be sure to use code “FRIENDOFBEN” for $50 off the ticket price.

HR State of the Union: 2017 Edition

Every year I republish my “state of the HR union” article from previous years with new additions and edits as a challenge to each of you. Am I on target, or did I miss anything pertinent? 

Early every year, the President of the United States makes an address to the nation. The purpose of the annual “State of the Union” address is to give an account of the year’s events and discuss the priorities of the coming months. If communicated properly, this is an opportunity to reach a larger audience, share major goals, and get buy-in from the constituency.

So, why don’t we give it a shot?

hr-state-union-address

I think every HR pro needs to have their own State of the Union address within their own company, department, or team (depending on the level of responsibility). This is strategic HR communication at its best, and it could become a valuable tool to allow leaders to peer into the inner workings of the HR strategy while allowing HR leaders to share key results areas as well. In fact, even compliance can be strategic, if communicated properly.

When I think about this, I remember the best boss I ever had. She did an annual HR “touch base” meeting to get us on the right track, get everyone on the same page, and help to lay out key themes and strategies for the year. In reality it was a team of two of us, but she brought in additional stakeholders and interested parties to hear the session, giving them a peek into our priorities. It also allowed them to see how we might be able to help them and enable their success, a primary part of how I define successful HR.

She was always good at pointing out the need to be agile, knowing that business needs could dictate changes in our approach. Knowing that the HR strategy could change rapidly helped to give me some sense of control, despite the complete lack of it! That’s one reason I put together the following video a while back, because I know that the HR strategy sometimes changes, shifts, or even fails. We need to be prepared for some of those eventualities.

Featured Video: What to Do if Your HR Strategy Fails

HR Needs to Step Up

Are you ready for me to step on your toes? Here’s a quote from one study I found:

“Only 20 percent of [the largest publicly traded] companies discuss HR in their reports to shareholders. About one-quarter provides only limited references to the workforce, and some don’t mention their employees at all.”

Can you imagine how our stakeholders would react if we spent 30-50% of our budget on a resource and then never followed up about how it was being utilized? In effect, this is what’s happening with regard to our human capital investments. People are quick to say that payroll is the largest line item in a company’s budget, but then when it comes to proving how we’re doing in terms of diversity, development, direction, etc. we fall down on the job.

I did a little digging and found a few examples of HR annual reports that organizations have created. You’ll see some interesting insights in them, from hard statistics proving the value of the HR function to strategic plans for the coming year ahead.

  • Deutsche Bank-Lays out progress toward long-term “Strategy 2020” goals that belong to the business, not HR. This example also provides the most comprehensive data around specific performance of the various HR practices–for example, 1 in 3 employees were hired from internal candidates and 10,000+ internal staff changed roles during the year, providing ongoing talent and development opportunities for workers.
  • John Carroll University-Gives a one-page executive summary followed by monthly highlights of programs and contributions to the organization.
  • UCF-Demonstrated specific metrics around HR performance, from increased screening measures to specific training points and diversity improvements.

Nobody said you have to create a full-color, 25-page report to show what you’re doing. But a one-page executive summary with key insights into the core HR areas? That’s totally doable. At a minimum, it should cover:

  • Recruiting–what has your performance been like? Common metrics? Best success story as a case in point?
  • Training and development–how much, what kind, and most importantly, what has it enabled the business to achieve?
  • Safety and health–what is the progress/status? What’s the well-being of your staff? Are they performing and productive?
  • Strategy–is your HR team aligned with the business in terms of overarching strategy? Can you demonstrate that alignment with a few examples of how HR projects and accomplishments translated into the business strategy or impacted business outcomes?

How big is your “union?”

As I stated above, depending on where you are in your organization’s hierarchy, you might only be addressing your HR teammates. Or maybe you have the ability to snag an audience with your senior leadership team, and you’re willing to put together a short presentation for that group.

Whatever the case, the size and target audience will be different for everyone, but the tips below will still help you in defining what to discuss.

What to say

Okay, so I’ve sold you on the idea of delivering your own “state of HR” address, but what do you actually say? Here are a few ideas

  • Talent retention—Discuss retention initiatives and any cost savings associated with reduced turnover
  • Learning and development—Give examples of new human capital capabilities brought about by learning and development investments
  • Performance management—Talk about increased performance or reduced turnover expenses associated with improved employee performance
  • Leadership strategy—Provide insights into the role the leadership strategy has played in supporting business growth
  • Sales strategy and planning—Offer data to demonstrate how HR supported the needs of the sales staff and leadership

These certainly aren’t the only topics you can cover, but this is a good starting point based on what organizational leaders want/need to hear. Remember, your goal is to demonstrate that HR isn’t just a cost center, but that you’re bringing value to the organization and its people on a regular basis.

The bottom line? This is your chance to get in front of a key audience (whether it’s the rest of your team or another influential group) and share your message about how HR’s priorities align with those of the business.

What are you waiting for?

Closing Question to Ponder

  • Which stakeholders would benefit most from hearing this address from you or your HR leaders?
  • What are the key issues your leaders are facing that you can include in your address?
  • What is the best format for your culture, geography, and leadership preferences that makes sense to deliver this? Internal webinar/teleconference? In-person with slides? Handouts and a conference room? Hint: think about how finance or marketing would present something like this and do something similar, assuming those functions are respected within the organization.

Video: What to Do When Your HR Strategy Fails

When I speak about HR strategy, one of the things that inevitably comes up is that it’s hard to plan ahead. Things change. The business changes. The objectives shift. It makes it difficult to pin down the right HR strategy to support the organizational goals.

And that’s okay. Death, taxes, and change are the things we can count on in this life. In the video below I tell a personal story that helps to illustrate the need to not only be prepared for change, but to actually expect it in some regard so that the molehills don’t become mountains.

(Email subscribers click through to view the video)

It’s quick and to the point, but I hope you get the idea. We can let changes break us down or we can use them to get smarter, faster, and better in our approach.

I’d love to hear your story! Tell me about a time (whether in HR or not) where you had a carefully crafted plan and things suddenly went awry. How did you cope? What were the results? I enjoy sharing stories with my audience both here and from the stage, because stories are powerful and connect us at a deeper level than a series of stats and data points.

 

Oops! How Failing an Interview Question Taught Her About HR Strategy

I had been on the job search for a little while, and I was very thrilled when I received a request to come in and interview for a manufacturing operation that produced rubber molds and other rubber pieces.

This was going to be my first big HR role, and I was really nervous. Fast forward to the interview session, and I was feeling a little more confident. Everything was going well, but then the president of the company threw me a curve ball.

He asked, “Why do you think our capital costs have risen so much in the last few years?”

So I thought about it for a minute. Then I responded, “Well, it’s not like rubber grows on trees.”

He gave me a strange look and proceeded to tell me that yes, indeed, rubber does grow on trees.

—–

When I heard that story from a reader a while back, I had to laugh. And in case you’re wondering, yes, she still got the job. The point here is that the core piece of understanding how to create HR strategy is by understanding the business and how it operates. (And it also shows just how much of a role we can play as the CEO’s most trusted advisor.)

The lady who sent me the story realized that she had a gap in the basic understanding of the business, its resources, and how it operated. To remedy that, she proceeded to learn what she could about strategy and business in general, but also about the organization itself. That blend of learning put her in the driver’s seat when it came to creating a forward-looking HR strategy.

I find it very interesting that strategic HR is one of those things that seems to be well known for some and a mystery to others. It’s probably why more than 6 in 10 companies have no HR strategy in place. I did some research last year and found that there were dozens of sessions at the Annual SHRM Conference that mentioned “strategy” in their name or the content description, far and away the most common word that was present in the session listings. So unless they are way off the mark (and SHRM knows its audience), there are a lot of people looking for information on the topic. I hope this funny story helps to illustrate for you just what you need to know in order to support your own organization.

Do you have a story about how your lack of understanding of the business created an opportunity to learn more and build a stronger partnership between the business and its HR resources?