Tag Archives: Strategic HR

HR: The CEO’s Most Trusted Advisor

Among all of the opportunities that HR leaders have, I believe that one of the most valuable is puncturing the CEO bubble by acting in a strategic advisor capacity. As I wrote some time ago, 76% of CEOs value their relationship with HR. This is because we exist outside the normal flow of business to some extent. This role as a trusted advisor is one that can, and should, be highly strategic.

HR’s History

Does this list sound familiar?

  • No
  • We can’t do that
  • That would be risky
  • What if we get sued
  • We’ve never done it that way
  • I don’t think that will work

hr ceo advisor strategicThat is my perception of HR as it has historically been carried out. For a wide variety of reasons, the HR population has become the “no” police, preventing virtually any opportunity for creativity and innovation.

Instead of focusing on excuses or reasons you can’t make something happen, keep searching for ways to do it. Look for opportunities, not limitations. There are already enough people in the world who are ready and willing to tell you how something can’t be accomplished. Let’s work on cultivating more people that look for ways you can be successful.

We often see opportunities as binary, yes/no decisions. As an example: we can either change to a new insurance provider or we can stop providing insurance to our employees and let them all die of horrible diseases before the week is over with.

The point is the person offering these options knows that offering one really great option and one really poor option is going to force the manager to choose. However, the good manager will turn it back on the employee with a response of “none of the above.”

If you want to do it right, here’s the game plan: instead of settling for two less-than-ideal options, ask for more. Push the person to give you three, four, or five options; ask for at least one more viable idea to level the playing field. Ask why they settled on offering just two. Don’t let them get away with trying to push their own agenda if there is a better option still available.

Again, this illustration is centered around asking your staff to do more than the bare minimum. Don’t let them assume something can’t be done. Don’t let them get away with listing reasons/excuses for why something isn’t possible. Ask them to go further and look at “how we can” options, even if they are a bit far-fetched. You never know when one of those ideas could fit perfectly.

If you want to be seen as a trusted advisor, a connector, and a positive force for change, this is how you do it. You don’t accomplish that by saying “No” to everything that is proposed. There are good options that don’t involve the sudden demise of your entire company–you just need to tune your risk meter and get better at predicting the future.

Remember: look for answers to how we can, not why we can’t.

CEO Influence in Action

In one of my previous roles, I reported directly to the CEO of the organization. This was a two-way street in terms of value. I received up-to-date information on business pursuits and opportunities on the horizon, and I was able to offer insights, input, and advice around how to approach those areas.

There were times that my advice was received, processed, and not followed. That is painful for some to cope with, but it’s the nature of the game. That’s why the other person is the CEO–they get to call the shots.

However, there were plenty of times that the advice was heeded, and the business and people benefited from it. At least I knew I had an open ear and could get my side of the story heard.

Another company I worked in was not quite so… positive. The CEO was unplugged from the organization emotionally and mentally. The entire staff knew it, and it didn’t exactly lead to a culture that I would be proud of. I was a layer removed from the CEO but my boss was not of the strategic mindset. We were seen as a group of HR paper-pushers with a rubber stamp ready for any idea or innovation to arise so we could put a big, fat “NO” on it. The company was eventually acquired and the entire staff laid off, and all of the talent problems that the leadership had been ignoring became someone else’s problem.

Taking Advantage of the Situation

One of the hardest things about the close nature of this relationship is the eventual requirement to compete with your own interests. There are times that you will have to put forth ideas and concepts that are counter to your own needs. Being able to distance yourself as an objective party and provide inputs without becoming entangled in the emotional red tape is difficult, but necessary.

This is also where you can forge some of the strongest bonds with your company’s leadership. If everything is going fine, nobody is surprised when you have your stuff together. But when things are hard and times are lean or challenges arise, that is when you have the best opportunity to demonstrate your competency and level-headed approach. When everyone else is flailing about, you have to be the rock that others can cling to. Not physically–that would be weird. But you get the picture.

Litmus Test for Your CEO’s HR Outlook

I have a quick test you can use to determine your CEO’s outlook on the value of HR. Does he/she see you as an administrative burden or a necessary evil, or are you seen as a value-added strategic partner that is indispensable?

This isn’t foolproof, but I have seen it play out many times and it is fairly accurate. Do a quick calculation for me: look at your ratio of employees to HR pros. This tells you how valuable your leaders think HR is. Consider these two examples:

  • A friend recently contacted me and we were discussing her company’s HR structure. They budget for one HR pro per thousand employees. She spends all day doing paperwork and has not planned for future growth needs in more than two years.
  • Another friend caught me up on her company’s strategy in the midst of explosive growth. The company had a ratio of 1:40. The firm is doing better than ever and the HR team is continuously implementing new programs and targeting strategic opportunities for improving talent acquisition, leadership development, and more.

There isn’t a hard number, but hopefully these examples give you a better idea of where you stand. HR can be strategic or tactical, but strategy is where the true business value comes in.

While Very Personal, the Relationship is also Strategic

Some of the ways I have seen this HR advisory relationship/role play out beyond simple business transactions:

  • Informal coach: In terms of feedback, HR takes on the role of informal executive coach to the CEO. They will provide input on things that might not be at the forefront of the CEO’s thoughts and help them to get their message across in a way that is “comfortable” for the parties involved.
  • “Safe” performance improvement feedback: In cases where critical feedback might be necessary, the HR person might have to provide “safe” performance feedback to the executive. In this context, “safe” means direct, private, and confidential. The advice is provided directly to the CEO, it’s in a private location, and the feedback is confidential and will not be repeated.
  • Personal touch: The one that I’ve seen more of is what my friend likes to call “the office spouse.” I liken it to my relationship with my wife in that when we go somewhere, I look at her helplessly and say, “Who is that guy’s wife again?” and “What did you say happened to their son?” She has those minor details all memorized. Same relationship at work: the CEO expects the HR professional to have the staff information on a personal level close at hand, among other things. In addition, HR acts as a representative of the staff. The CEO can also ask (this ties back in with the two points above) how staff will receive/comprehend an announcement about upcoming changes, whether good or bad.

Not Just Problems: Offer Solutions, Too

“I don’t like going to HR meetings. They are always about problems, not solutions.”

I heard that comment at a SHRM conference once, and it’s stuck with me ever since. There is nothing quite like having to sit in front of your CEO and tell them about some problem that is coming at you like a freight train. There are two parts to doing this the right way that will help diminish the perception above.

#1-Offer solutions, too

It may sound simple, but when you come to the meeting with a problem, bring two or more solutions with you as well. Don’t feel helpless or powerless. You are the person with the most in-depth information about the issue so far, and it’s your responsibility to take that information and turn it into a potential resolution.

That saying we explored above? It’s a saying that I always repeat whenever I’m faced with a tough decision:

Tell me how we can, not why we can’t.

#2-Be proactive

So you’re sitting there thinking, “Huh, he must be talking to someone else. I don’t have any big problems that I have to share with our leadership at this point.”

No, I’m talking to you, too! You just have a different action. It’s time to be proactive. Start looking for ways you can cut costs, streamline your functions, save time for managers, etc. Look for some solutions to age-old problems, not just new ones. Not sure where to start? Ask some of your managers what their biggest pain points are with regard to the HR or recruiting processes. Ask your senior leaders what their biggest concerns are at a corporate level. Then take that information and use it.

Want to know the fastest, easiest way to prove the value of the HR department? Solve a problem that plagues the management team. Yes, it seems simple, but it is often overlooked because HR tends to exist in its own little “bubble” and never takes the time to actually find out what the business needs are from the HR function.

Then take the time to communicate what you’ve found in the way of solutions to current problems.

Pretty soon your managers will be saying, “I am looking forward to the next HR meeting to see what they have come up with this time.” Then ask for a raise. You deserve it. :-)

What are your thoughts on this relationship? Is it valued at your company? What has been your experience? 

Sold Out: A Lesson on Event Content (and the Future of HR)

This summer at SHRM I was looking through the sessions in the app in an attempt to figure out which I wanted to attend, and I saw this one right up front.

SOLD OUT – #707: HR Metrics that Matter: The Process of Developing a Business Scorecard

It made me stop and think, especially in light of some of the conversations I had with others at the event about what sort of content was being offered. For instance, one session at the event was focused on the usual “top ten ways to avoid legal trouble this year,” and it had packed out the entire room and the overflow area as well. I’ve always had trouble with those types of training on the supervisory side of things. Why? Because it makes us focus on the negative aspects of our work, how to avoid getting “in trouble,” and makes us seem more like a nanny in the workplace than a trusted resource for managers/employees and a key business leader.

Policies vs. Actual Contributions

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship (mostly hate) with policies. I think we should take more time to coach and support than regulate and demand. Yes, there are times that come when we must make a rule, be the bad guy, etc. but it shouldn’t come on a daily basis. I recently shared Alison Green’s comments on how managers can have a good relationship with HR. The comments on that blog post when she linked from her site are pretty standard, and yet they still hurt those of us who see ourselves as good and helpful business leaders (instead of merely being the “no, you can’t do that” department).

Going back to the original intent of this post, I was glad to see the metrics session being sold out. Why? Because it’s something that we can do that is not just about being sued, covering our company’s butt, or some other litigation-related idea. Even small companies have the ability to gather and use data in a meaningful way.

In my opinion HR pros who make decisions solely on laws and what the handbook/policies allow aren’t making much of a contribution to the organization. It’s those that take the initiative to find ways that they can contribute in a more meaningful way, offer advice and flexibility that pushes the boundaries, and don’t say, “No” to every request that comes in (even if they are a little bit scary).

A Shift to PositiveHR?

It gives me hope that our philosophy as a profession is changing. SHRM and other organizations will continue to offer these “how not to get sued by your employees” sessions, because there is significant demand for them. But over time, I hope to see us focusing more on the other end of the spectrum. There’s even a group of my friends that started this #PositiveHR movement on Twitter, because they believe that we have the opportunity to do great things if we are truly positive and not self-defeating at every turn.

I do understand that there is a natural maturity curve as well. Smaller organizations or those with inexperienced HR pros will drift toward the legalistic side of things, while organizations with more radical HR pros will seize opportunities to focus on engagement and other positive things we bring to the table. It just seems that many organizations (and HR pros) are reluctant to move beyond the legal side of things. Is it because it offers them more power inside the organization? Is it because they need to feel more intelligent/informed than their peers? I’m not sure…

What are your thoughts? Are we still mired in this world of legal issues or is there a chance we can more into more strategic areas of impact? 

Are You Going to SHRM in Las Vegas? #SHRM15

A few weeks from now I’ll be joining thousands of my closest HR friends in Las Vegas for the 2015 SHRM Conference. This year is a bit different than the years I visited only as an attendee, because I will be speaking on behalf of Brandon Hall Group about strategic HR at the SHRM SmartStage, which should be a blast. Here are the details:

Strategic HR (It’s Easier Than You Think)

Monday, June 29, 2015 – 3:20pm

Session description: One of the most common suggestions a lot of HR practitioners hear is “You need to be more strategic.” The challenge for many HR pros is that the actual implementation of strategic HR practices is not always clear cut. This presentation will review several mini case studies to teach the audience how to break down problems and present strategic solutions in a simple, yet meaningful way.

Are you going?

If you are going to be in Las Vegas later this month, I would love to meet you at the event. I’m always amazed when I get to meet the great people that follow this blog. One of the fun things I get to do as an HR analyst is talk with HR pros about what’s going on in their businesses, what challenges they are facing, etc. It’s always a great conversation.

If you plan to be there, please shoot me an email and we’ll plan to connect. And if you’re not, we can still connect! Email me and we can chat on the phone or via email. I thoroughly enjoy connecting with every person I can within the HR community.

The Biggest Benefit Your Employees Won’t Even Use

In case you weren’t aware, March 31st 2015 was cast as Vacation Commitment Day, brought to you by the Take Back Your Time nonprofit. The organization is devoted to helping workers across America focus on taking more of the vacation that they have available, because we are notorious for accruing, but not using, our leave.

This sounds like a great idea, but the timing is interesting.

This is an intriguing coincidence because just last week I was reading a new study from Accountemps about the top benefits employees are asking for in 2015. Want to know what topped the list?

More vacation time.

So what gives? We want more vacation time, but we also don’t use all of the time that we accrue.

As if that wasn’t enough, the federal government is now attempting to introduce legislation that will force small companies to offer paid leave to employees. Continue reading

Retain Your Older Workers (It’s Good for Business)

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, more than half of workers over age 60 plan to continue working in some capacity after retiring from their current career. I’ve read about the “graying of the workforce” and the impending “brain drain” for years, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the topic’s sheer magnitude. And while it might be your first instinct to think that the shift is toward part-time work, the population of individuals over 65 who are pursuing full-time work has been on the rise for years. Today I’d like to share a short anecdote to help illustrate how this can play out in the real world and to teach a lesson in retaining older workers.

The Risk of Employee Retirement

When I was working as an HR Director several years back, an employee called me and told me he planned to quit. When pressed, he admitted that he liked the job and his coworkers, but he wanted to spend time with his grandchildren and pursue some hobbies.

At the time, several things were running through my head simultaneously: Continue reading

Strategic HRM (HR Carnival)

This week I’m hosting the Strategic HCM themed HR Carnival. For those of you that might be new, the HR Carnival is a series of links to blogs around the world that are gathered together for a single post. Sometimes there is a theme, and sometimes it’s wide open in terms of topics. I try to create themed carnival posts, because I like collecting content around a specific topic to allow you to go deep into one content area. As you might have guessed, this time we’re talking about strategic HRM (or strategic HR, whatever works for you). Here’s what I requested from the community in terms of content:

For this Carnival, I’m looking for posts around the theme of “How to be a strategic HR player in 2015”. In recent weeks I have spent a lot of time researching and writing about HR strategy, strategic planning, etc. I took the SPHR exam, which focuses heavily on strategic HRM. I think HR as a profession knows that this “strategy thing” is important, but they don’t know how to do it, where to start, etc. I’d love to hear some examples, simple ones, of how people actually put this stuff into practice. Or maybe just a tip or two on where to start for the newbies.

Make sense? Are you with me?

Good. Let’s jump into the submissions.

Strategic HRM Carnival of HR

David Richter from OctopusHR offers a great case study into how the HR team aligned training goals with the organizational strategy (with some excellent results). I really like this one, because case studies are excellent tools for learning about how other organizations face challenges. All too often we hear about business issues or successes independently, but a case study that highlights the issues and how the organization overcame them is especially powerful as a learning tool for the rest of us. Well done, David.

hcmx radio strategic hrm development planningMy friend and colleague Trish McFarlane posted on the Brandon Hall Group blog about her recent HCMx podcast with David Wentworth. During the episode they talk about the changing world of learning and development, but it really gets into strategic territory when they discuss how to link individual performance with organizational performance. That, my friends, is what aligning talent practices with organizational goals looks like. I encourage you to check it out!

Sandrine Bardot at Compensation Insider brings us a plan for how to get buy in for your compensation and benefits plan. This is an excellent post not only because Sandrine offers us an easy template for putting this into practice, but because she also gives us some critical advice for getting your stakeholders on board.

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership by Dan shares excellence in written form as he discusses strategic alignment of leadership development programs. I’ll be honest–many organizations think that even having a leadership development initiative is enough to check off the “strategic HRM” box, but as Dan mentions in his article, it’s just the beginning. You have to continuously reassess to determine the strategic fit.

Amit Bhagria of Young HR Manager gives us his insights on strategic HR in 2015, and what I particularly liked was the initial review of the previous year’s high level changes to consider (mobile, social, economic, etc.) When teaching students to prepare for the SPHR, one of the keys I had to drill into them was the importance of evaluating the external environment in the strategic HRM planning process, and that’s where Amit starts in this post.

Jeanne Achille of Devon Group offers something simple, yet easy to miss. Often when we discuss strategy and how to “live it out,” we forget that a significant portion of the way we communicate is nonverbal (or “presence,” as Jeanne refers to it). Developing a strategy is only half the battle–if you can’t communicate it properly then you are going to ultimately fail.

Linda Brenner at Designs on Talent finally gets us to one of the most basic of strategic HR tenets: metrics. Measuring quality of hire (you have to check out her definition!) is a must if you want your talent acquisition practices to be strategic for the long term. If you’re not measuring, how will you know if you’re meeting your goals?

Winning the award of “strangest title” in this HR Carnival is a look at Aristotle’s beliefs on oysters by Tim Jones at Lumesse. The gist of the story is that for many years, people believed something that was completely false simply because they didn’t test the theory. This translates to the world of strategy in that we have to be looking for opportunities to test what we believe. This is something I plan to write on soon because it’s so critical and yet rarely done. Don’t assume that a new project will fail–test it. Don’t guess about someone’s reaction to a new policy–try a pilot program. Excellent reminder, Tim.

Allison at Meshworking provides insights into the power of using employee contributions to drive and enhance your engagement strategy. The point here that made me stop and think is that when HR discusses employee engagement, the initial suggestions are very tactical. However, incorporating an overall engagement strategy (or engagement culture, as I like to position it) that includes employees in the development process is a much more powerful strategic HRM move than one driven only from the corporate side.

Jennifer at Workforce Software gives us some strategy resolutions for the coming year. The specific item pertaining to strategic HRM I appreciated was this: total workforce management allows you to visualize your entire workforce, across all locations. And that insight empowers faster, more strategic—and more cost effective—decision making.

A big thank you goes out to all of the participants for sharing their knowledge and insights!

Which article about strategic HRM did you like best? Why?

Better HR Communication for a Better 2015

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?

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.

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.

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 to consider based on the results of Brandon Hall Group’s Business Focus 2014: Leaders’ Top Priorities report:

  • 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 need to hear.

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 comments

  • 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?

 Originally published on the Brandon Hall Group blog