anet M. Brady is a member of what we like to call "the new breed of HR." She's smart, visionary and doesn t mind shaking things up a bit in HR when she sees a better way. Brady was in marketing for 17 years at The Clorox Company, where she headed up the function for three years before moving over to HR five years ago. Shortly after her foray into HR, she completely reorganized it, and was featured in "Put Your Job On The Line" (Workforce, June 1995) for her innovative approach to partnering with line management. Here's a look at Brady's interesting and effective HR leadership style.
How would you describe your leadership style?
It s evolving. I find that the more I m in a leadership position, the more I have to learn about being a leader. Let me contrast it with my former job in marketing. Having "grown up" in the marketing environment, and done what the folks I was leading have done, then I could get away with being more directive.
But in HR, because I didn t "grow up" in the functional expertise areas, I don t know where the soft spots are. I m forced into more of a leadership mode because I must be able to articulate where I want to go and what I want it to look like. Then I ve got to leave it up to the experts to be able to deliver that. That gave me a kick to start moving away from management to leadership, but I still have a long way to go.
Do you think it was an advantage for you to not have come from an HR background?
It s both an advantage and a disadvantage. It s an advantage because I don t have any background that says, "This is the way it needs to be done." It s a disadvantage because who knows what I m walking into? I ve found it s evolving--trying to be able to ask the right questions and give people the courage that we can achieve what might look on the surface like it is undoable or very difficult.
Do you have a leadership model?
The model I use in leadership is I try to paint a picture. I try to get people to think about what things could look like, so they can visualize it, too. To use a sports analogy: You re a high jumper and [your coach] says: "I know you can jump another inch." You think, "How am I going to do that?" Then [the coach] says, "I know you can place in the top five in the state championships." And you say, "Whoa, how do I do that?" I mean, he gets pretty energized. I try to paint this kind of picture that stretches folks beyond their comfort zones.
Can you give an example of painting a picture for your HR team?
I ll use a banking analogy. When people used to stand in lines to get their banking done, one solution could have been to add more tellers. But the banks said, "No, we re going to put in ATMs." If you asked consumers, "What do you want?" they weren t going to say, "Gosh, I d like some ATMs" because they had never heard of an ATM. What they needed was faster, more convenient service. You ve got to get them to articulate that.
What we ve tried to do is get our clients to articulate what they need, so we don t just keep adding more HR people. It s asking a lot of questions. And then in this environment of having different constituents-I serve the board of directors, executive management, general office employees, retirees, production and salespeople across the country, every type of function-and they all view HR slightly differently based on their backgrounds, their needs and their histories. That has told me there isn t a one-size-fits-all solution. I ve got to listen and ask questions, so that we can ultimately do something that s fair for everybody. HRcan be very challenging because what we do can affect people at the most personal level and we can t lose sight of that. HR has been very much a challenge from a leadership perspective.
Has your leadership style changed from when you were heading up the marketing function at Clorox to now heading up HR?
My leadership style has changed most dramatically in HR because my constituents are so different. When I was leading the marketing function, I had a more homogeneous group: They came from similar schools had similar backgrounds and they were extremely confident in what they did. In HR, we re charting new ground. I m learning about what it s like to manage international HR. We need to balance the corporate philosophy with country specific needs. That s not easy.
But would you say your marketing background has actually helped you develop this idea of painting pictures for people?
Absolutely. After all, HRalso is in the business of marketing-the difference is we market products to our employees. They are our consumers. And there s also the communication element of leadership. You can t communicate enough.
What would you consider your biggest leadership strength? Do you think it s the painting pictures metaphor?
Yes. I think it s trying to paint a picture and being excited about our ability to deliver it. I m the catalyst for the changes, but I really credit this HR team with making it happen. It s like I m the coach, but I ve got these Michael Jordans. And you know, at the end of the day, you ve got to look at the Michael Jordans and say, "It s a privilege to coach this talent pool."
What s your definition of a good leader?
You see all kinds of different models and different definitions and the things that resonate most with me are ideas about having a vision, having the courage to hang in there, communicating a lot and having credibility behind your ability to be able to deliver your vision. The courage part [is important] to me because when you re in uncharted territory, and folks are looking to you to guide them and you re not exactly sure this is the right thing to do, you really have to have the courage to say, "I think this is right." Then you have to have a strong team that works with you to help you deliver the vision. But sometimes it can be very lonely when you make a suggestion and there are a lot of obstacles. Part of being an effective leader, I think, is to be able to overcome those obstacles-that s the thing I continue to learn. I m not an expert at it, but being a leader is very humbling because you can really stumble. If someone asks, "Hey, are you a good leader?" [The answer would be,] "No, but I know what a good leader is and I m certainly going to strive to achieve that."
Can you give me an example of an obstacle you ve faced in trying to lead this way?
Yes, one of the biggest obstacles was when we reorganized HR a few years ago. Our old infrastructure was based on a model in which each division had its own group of HR people that supported it. And we moved to a model in which each senior HR person supported a function, not a division. Also, there was no longer a staff supporting each of the people underneath them.
And what do you mean by "supporting a function"? Are you talking about HR functions?
No. For example, it would be sales, marketing or accounting within a division. We ve moved HR across the company to be function-based, rather than division-based. So now we have an HR director who supports sales for the company, another HR person supports marketing, etc. And we also established Centers of Expertise, so we have centralized expertise for staffing, training, compensation, benefits and so on. In retrospect, it was absolutely the right move. But when you re going through it and disbanding something that was functioning okay, but wasn t optimal, and also was within the comfort zone of a lot of folks, it s very difficult.
And interestingly, it was the people running the businesses that were very supportive of the change. That s what kind of gave me this "a-ha" feeling, because they were saying, "I don t care how I get this stuff done, I just need it done. You go figure out the most efficient way to deliver it." They weren t really married to this old infrastructure, they were really interested in what kind of support they needed, not how they got it. But there was initial resistance from HR folks and I was kind of muscling my way through the process. Now as we begin to rethink HR again, it is the HR team that is coming up with the challenging ideas, not me.
What has frustrated you most about your leadership style?
When I can see that it s not effective and when I can be excited about an idea, but people aren t interested. Then I have to really do some self-examination. I ll talk to people and say, "Why aren t I getting through here?" It has to be beneficial to all involved. You have to ask questions. Recently, I wanted to launch another [reorganization] of HR and there was frustration in the room. Then I opened it up to talk about it, and I got very insightful input. And I said, "Boy, I really missed the mark there." You can t say, "Hey, guess what, let s turn this place upside-down." The reaction would be: "Well, why?" You have to paint a clear picture and be open to changing it based on input from the stakeholder. Just make sure it s the right picture.