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What Your Personal Board of Directors Wants From HR

September 19, 2008
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, The HR Profession, Your HR Career, Featured Article
I know, I know. You’re tired of hearing about "how to get to the table" as an HR pro. By this time, you know the drill. An article comes out bashing the HR function, everybody reacts to it, and then we all go back to the steel mills and the software factories to get on with our lives.

    So, you’re tired of the game. You’re not alone, as even former SHRM chief executive Sue Meisinger grew grumpy about it, encouraging HR professionals in her goodbye speech to "stop asking, and start taking" the proverbial seat at the table.

    Hearing a SHRM chief say that, as I pull my monthly copy of HR Magazine out of the mailbox, is surreal. Think about it. The magazine’s cover tells me I should focus on the subtleties of background checks. Then SHRM implores us to take the seat. It’s like going to the community center for a zoning meeting and ending up at a Hells Angels convention.

    Don’t ask! Take!

    Of course, the thing the HR profession most needs from SHRM is for the organization to take a stand and tell us what the midlevel HR pro should be doing to "take the seat." Unfortunately, if SHRM provides that guidance in the manner necessary, they’ll alienate a portion of the base that has no interest in doing what’s required, or perhaps isn’t capable of taking the seat.

    We’ll see if SHRM takes that stand under new CEO Lon O’Neil. I won’t hold my breath, which is a shame. He could take the stand, and it would really matter.

    High-performing HR pros understand there’s no sense waiting for SHRM to tell you what to do. With that reality in mind, I’m going to share some thoughts on the subject. Here’s the catch—they aren’t my thoughts. Rather than give you the usual "blah, blah, blah" from me, I’ve commissioned my own personal board of directors to tell us what HR should do to take the seat. The voices include a CEO, a CFO, a VP of marketing, a director of customer service, a general counsel and a VP of sales—all of whom I have enjoyed working with and for in the past.

    The exercise was simple, as I posed the following question to them: "What should an HR manager/director/VP do within the business to gain your trust, be viewed as a valued partner and become a star on your team?"

    Here are the top 10 things my personal board of directors (or the PBOD, for short) told me HR pros should focus on to take the seat at the table, ranked according to frequency and intensity across the assembled group. I’m assuming your PBOD would give you similar feedback:

    10. Eliminate every piece of paper I see from your department. Every time your PBODsees a form from you, it thinks bureaucracy. Automate everything you can to raise your stock in the board’s eyes and banish paper—even if it means documents through e-mail.

    9. Know the company numbers as well as you know the policies in the employee handbook. Your PBOD wants you to have a grasp on how the company makes money, and the challenges the company faces in growing both revenue and profit. The key signs that you "get" that as an HR pro are your observations in conversations your PBOD has with you, as well as the little things the board sees from your practice. One executive pointed to the example of candidates for open positions having a firm understanding of the business, based on their initial conversations with you—the talent agent/recruiter.

    8. Be a cheerleader, but figure out the ROI of your rewards and recognition efforts. Your directors want you to lead the charge with rewards and recognition because they don’t have the time for it. However, they want more than a cheerleader. They want you to understand the ROI of the programs you have in place, which leads to constant tweaking of the programs based on effectiveness in driving cultural items like engagement.

    7. Have your meat hooks deep in talent pools that are important to the business. Your directors want you active in the talent pools they’ll need to tap before they have an opening. That means being an active member of the talent community in their functional areas, or being a facilitator for their involvement. The test of effectiveness in this area is whether you have names of candidates in mind when the next opening occurs on their team.

    6. Have your own set of metrics, and do more with it than simply read from your slides in a monotone. Monotone was good for Ben Stein inFerris Bueller’s Day Off, but it’s bad for an HR pro. Your PBOD will think it’s cute if you have your own deck of metrics that you report on. The board members will look at you with respect if you can tie your metrics to their operating results in a way that makes sense. You’ll know you’ve arrived in this area if they talk to you proactively about what their departments can do to improve, based on the metrics you report.

    5. Help the organization drive performance. Your PBODvalues a performance management system that enables the organization to establish customized goals and objectives for each unique role. When your directors’ departments get "stuck," they want you to be the expert in helping managers rate and deliver feedback to employees, which in turn drives the overall performance of the organization.

    4. Help all my new managers learn how to ... well, manage.Your directors are looking for you to teach and coach their managers on how to engage employees in every area. A funny thing happens when you do this. Managers start coming to you for role-playing purposes, positioning you as the consultant you long to be, rather than the henchperson.

    3. Help managers execute when tough decisions have to be made.Your PBOD has experienced the HR pro who says no and points to the employee handbook, or maybe cites some legal considerations. While those factors are important, what your PBOD wants is an HR pro who refers to the handbook or law as a factor, then partners with them to figure out tough decisions that have to be made to run the business.

    2. Be the talent agent for managers in the organization—and I don’t just mean forwarding résumés. Your directors wantan HR/talent shop that handles multiple steps of the staffing process, culminating in only the best candidates being handed to them for review. Don’t let anyone in your shop simply spam their departments with unscreened résumés. You’ll look like a paper pusher.

    1. Fight when you need to fight, andcome back with your shield—or on it. Regardless of functional area, your directors like peers to have the same tenacity they have. They’ll respect you more if you’re willing to go to the wall for what you believe in. Fight when you need to, and you’ll often convince them of the merit of your ideas in the process.

    For me, the call to action became clear as I did the interviews with my PBOD. Every time you see an article that says "HR stinks" or that HR doesn’t have a seat at the table, start a value-added project that will deliver value that your PBOD doesn’t expect. Don’t wring your hands, don’t spend energy wondering why. Instead of telling me to take the seat, my PBOD told me to do something specific. Don’t believe the feedback? Assemble your own board and see what they say.

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