I spoke recently with a group of human resources professionals representing companies around the Twin Cities. I shared some of The Bailey Group's core ideas about how leaders can learn to become more effective in their jobs. The people in the audience listened carefully, and seemed to agree with me that good leaders need to be mature, versatile, and relational.
Then, from the audience came the comment, "I wish our CEO could hear you." A chorus of "mmm-hmms" and nodding heads followed, telling me her colleagues were in agreement. These were individuals charged with leading initiatives for their companies focused on the latest trends in recruiting, benefits, engagement initiatives, coaching, training, and managing human capital. But they were expressing frustration that the senior leaders they worked for just didn't get it.
Here's where we come to a great disconnect. I work with many senior leaders—CEOs, presidents, and other c-suite executives. Some are working hard to become more effective leaders, others are addressing issues within their management team, and even others haven't yet bought into an up-to-date talent management model.
But let's be clear about one thing: CEOs and senior leaders "get it." They just look at things from a different perspective. Their perspective is focused on revenue growth, profitability, vision, strategy, and other critical issues. Frankly, they're equally frustrated that their top HR people don't "get" what the world looks like at the CEO level.
I work with both HR professionals and executives in the C-suite. As I see it, it's the job of HR people to step up and earn the seat they want on the executive team. That's more than just my own perspective—it's practically a direct quote from one of the CEOs I work with.
Here's the good news: there's clearly a strategic role on senior management teams for HR execs. But participating on that team requires HR professionals who understand the vision and strategy of their firm, and are able to articulate and execute on an HR agenda that supports the achievement of the company's strategic and financial goals.
I recently heard about a company with an IT department that remains a costly revolving door despite the president's stated vision that the company will become a marketplace leader through technological innovation. Yet they have not been able put a chief technology officer in place for the last four months, have lost key people because of a lack of department leadership, and are having trouble building a team capable of executing on this vision.
Any HR professional who can step in and devise a long-term strategy to lead the company out of this hole will have earned a spot at the next executive team meeting.
If you're frustrated as a human resource professional because you're not being consulted by senior managers—or being invited by the CEO to join the executive team—take action steps that will extend your leadership capacity, and involve yourself more fully in the company's strategic work.
Know the Big Picture
Make sure you understand precisely how your company makes money and how HR can support the company's basic value proposition. Make it a priority to know and understand the key strategic concerns of your CEO. If you haven't already, get a copy of your company's strategic plan and become an expert on what it says and the implications for human resources. You should schedule time with your CEO to discuss key strategic priorities and concerns. If necessary, review memos, meet with key people, and ask questions until you have the insight you need.
Focus on Building Leadership Bench Strengths
In growing companies, a key concern among CEOs is finding the necessary talent to lead key new initiatives and ensuring the company has trained leaders ready to step up for the future. One of my current clients is struggling to grow via acquisition because the company needs an executive fluent in Japanese, a talent that doesn’t currently exist in the company. You can get your CEO’s attention when you help them build a strategy to address future talent needs.
Align Your Priorities
A guaranteed way out of your CEO's "good graces" is to ask managers to perform work that's out of alignment with the priorities of the business. Don't distract them from the work they've been directed to do. Performance management training may be critical to your firm's long'term success, but may not be at the top of your CEO's short-term priority list. Make sure HR's priorities are in sync with the business strategy, and if you think they should be different, make a strong business case for why.
Get Your Metrics in Line
Use the same metrics in your HR department that your senior leaders use. By linking HR results to key financial metrics like market share and profitability, you are showing that you recognize the relationship between your work and the work of the management team. For some ideas on this, I recommend reading "The HR Scorecard" published by Harvard Business School Press.
Engage Your Employees
Employee engagement is emerging as a crucial factor in companies achieving their goals. Implement a process of measuring employee engagement within your organization. (We offer an engagement survey that can help you do this.) Analyze the results, and use the data to develop and execute a plan to enhance a performance culture and boost engagement levels.
These are steps that CEOs tell me they want to see their HR leaders take. If it feels like I'm putting the onus on HR to align itself with senior management, I am indeed. But it's a valuable and worthwhile first step, because organizations need strategic contributions from the members of their team, and most human resource professionals I know deserve to have their perspectives heard. The payoff just might be that spot on the executive team.
Leigh Bailey is founder and principal of The Bailey Consulting Group, a firm in Minneapolis specializing in leadership development, team building, and employee engagement through coaching and training. For more information, visit www.thebaileygroup.com.