Leadership Development

It’s Time to Move the Needle on HR

Stop the chatter and navel-gazing and start making some real changes in our profession.

Sometimes I hate my role.

I’ve worked in HR for the last 20 years and have weathered the searing criticism from experts who claim that it’s time to transform and rebuild the function. We’ve made very little progress.leadership

I listen to other HR leaders and I’m speechless: platitudes, clichés, and disconnected “business speak” that is stalling the possibility of transformation. Let’s all agree — stop complaining. It’s time to start approaching change with the integrated support of the CEO, the board of directors and HR working together.

A great board member can be an incredible asset, and there can be significant cohesion between board/CEO/HR leader. More recently, there has been an increased focus on culture, and I’ve been relieved to have board members in my corner. Throughout my career the best board members worked with me to coach the CEO and develop the company culture. We were a formidable team. A board chairperson who is realistic about the human issues every CEO faces and also understands the isolation of that role is priceless. This team of three can craft the most meaningful culture and employee experience, which in turn becomes a company differentiator.

But here’s something to remember if you concerned about culture: the fish rots from the head. Your HR leader can help you dial in the Glassdoor ratings, instill the Valhalla culture in every new hire and deliver the values/behaviors statements that inspire tears of joy and passion for the mission. You can ask your HR leader to coach the CEO, but if the fish is rotten, don’t expect the culture to change.

Feedback for the CEO

CEOs are in a fishbowl and everyone loves to watch. Each CEO action has all eyes and ears on the reaction. It can be incredibly isolating. It doesn’t have to be this way. CEOs should build a trusted relationship with an HR leader to provide brutally honest feedback that is always protected by discretion.

How do CEOs do that? Start by asking questions about your actions, such as: “Do I retreat to my comfort zone of skills which led to my role as a CEO? Do I manage the how instead of the what?” The right HR partner can typically see more clearly than either the CEO or the chairman. So CEOs, lean on your HR leader and seek honest feedback. And HR leaders? It works both ways.

Let’s reimagine recruiting for HR. I’m a big fan of business experience before joining HR. What if we hired HR people based on their business acumen? Someone who has been in sales and loves people understands the sales cycle and knows how to close deals will find joy in the win of a new hire.

Those coming from accounting may want a break from the numbers cycle and instead apply their skills to compensation and benefits. In HR, we endlessly manipulate data, spend a considerable amount of time marking against the market, analyzing trends, creating incentives and develop programs that affect every employee’s life.

Coming from the business into HR is critically important to avoid designing HR solutions that can negatively affect the business. Everyone in HR should know their company’s revenue, the gross and net margin, and how employees impact those financials. Hiring the right people will radically influence every element of the organization.

I’ve worked in an organization where engineering services were the product. When we had too many employees outside of these core services, we dramatically reduced profitability. For most of us, that makes perfect sense but only if you have direct product line experience. If you’re hiring HR people, change your thinking about the experience that will most benefit the business. If you’re in HR, get a role in the business and then consider coming back to HR.

With all the clichés and criticisms that are polluting the HR role, it’s time to stop talking and start making some real changes. It may be a stretch for some and even painful, but reinvention will improve culture and build sustainable organizations.

Gaylyn Sher-Jan is the chief people officer and vice president of enterprise services for Insitu, a Boeing company.