How to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

When I started my first HR job at 26, my boss handed me a stack of books and two pieces of advice. (1) Always read what the client is reading and (2) learn to “talk trucks” (meaning, “learn the business, kid.”) Straight out of grad school and fired up about all I thought I knew, the reading part was perfect for me. I think she was worried I’d be telling the guys three levels up what to read (and think), and far better to meet them where they were with a little humility.

And the second piece of advice, “talking trucks,” learning the business so well that I could add real value and perspective to the conversation, was PRICELESS.

I spent as much time learning the business as I did doing HR. Back then I thought when someone said,  “You’re the least HR-y HR person I know” that was a compliment. My approach didn’t always sit well with some of the old-school HR execs, who would remind me to “Remember who’s side I was on.” My team and I stayed the course, and always strove to be business people first, who happen to have expertise in HR.

A decade later when I pivoted from HR exec to a variety of field executive assignments in customer service and sales, I was shocked at how few HR managers supporting my team truly understood the business. They’d come in talking about constraints and rules and time to hire stats that all sounded like a big “why we can’t” do the things that, with a bit of HR creativity, we surely could.

Four Ways to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

Today we work with a wide range of clients from fast-growing start-ups to those with large corporations with employees scattered around the globe. A clear common denominator of those executing well, growing deliberately in size and margin, and building engaging cultures,  is they have a strong, STRATEGIC HR team, who get it, and because they do, they have a seat at the table. They influence from the inside.

If your HR team isn’t there quite yet, here are a few good places to start

  1. Align HR process measures to business outcomes.
    When I took over in my first executive HR role, one of the first things we did was change our scorecard to align with business outcomes. Of course, we kept some vital HR favorites (e.g  attrition in the first 90 days; time to fill positions; diversity distribution) but we added in revenue and customer experience targets as well. My team went nuts at first. “We can’t control NPS, why should our bonus depend on it?” Welcome to every manager you’re supporting’s world. They can’t control it all either. Great teams share common goals, and as HR professionals we need to be part of the team, not outside. How you train new hires impacts the customer experience and sales. The employee engagement support does too. If our programs, policies, and procedures don’t ultimately have a business impact, we’re focused on the wrong things.
  2. Share sensitive information.
    If you can’t trust your HR team with sensitive information, why in the world would you entrust them to manage your companies’ most important asset– your people? If you don’t have an HR team you can trust, fix that. If you do, err on the side of letting them in. The number one reason people can’t think strategically is that they lack information and context. Share what you can. Have them sign internal NDAs if that helps. But the longer you wait on sharing your (fill in the blank here) merger intentions, location closings, reductions in force, new product launches, etc. the less time they have to be proactive and help you plan a solid execution strategy. HR practitioners all over the world complain of being brought in too late in the game to make a difference. They’re left punting–doing the best they can with the situation they’ve been handed and frustrated with what they know they could have done if they only had a few more months to plan and execute.
  3. Rotate them through a field assignment.
    Do you have a high-potential HR manager you’re grooming for a larger role? I know it feels like cutting off your right arm now, but an 18-month assignment in a field role could make all the difference. If they come back to HR, great, they’ll understand the business pressures so much more. If they chose to stay in the field, they’ll be applying all their HR knowledge to building great cultures and leading effective teams. Either way, you win.

    A pivotal point in my career was when a senior leader I had been supporting as an HR business partner, looked at me and said, “Karin, you’re young in your career (I was then) and if you don’t go get some field experience soon, the very best you can be here is a VP of HR. I think you can do more. If you want to go back into HR after the field assignment, cool, you’ll be that much stronger.” Three months later I found myself leading a bunch of B2B call centers for which I had no experience. Now I was not telling people how to lead, I was leading from the deep end and learning the business through a fire hose. Then I rotated back into HR for a turnaround effort of the training organization, and then back to the field to lead a 2200 person retail sales team (a role for which every ounce of HR training came in helpful.) If you want your HR team to truly understand the business, let them lead it.
  4. Foster a “how can we” attitude
    I still run into companies that view their HR teams as police or a hurdle to get through. Work with your HR team to listen carefully to new ideas and strategies and start with a “How can we?” attitude to identify creative ideas to be part of the solution. 

Your turn. How do you help your HR team to be more strategic?

I enjoyed speaking at the SHRM Volunteer Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. We are happy to be a recertification provider. Please drop me a note at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com to learn more!

 

6 Simple Techniques to Help Your Employees See the Big Picture

If you’re like most managers, you know the importance of helping your team see the bigger picture. You would do more, if you only had the time. The occasional all-hands meetings help, but without interim reinforcement, those motivational meetings can feel like a fire hose of plans and numbers. If you want your team to truly “get it,” sprinkle little bits of big picture reinforcement into their week.

6 Ways to Get Your Employees to See the Big Picture

“The big picture doesn’t just come from distance; it also comes from time.”  -Simon Sinek

1.”Postcards”

It’s easy to forget that the main reason many employees don’t think more strategically is a lack of information. It’s hard to connect the dots when a third of them are invisible.  It’s also tough to translate all you heard three days later. What I’ve found works quite well is just to send soundbites out via text message throughout some of the more strategic meetings I attend.

I make them fun and relevant to their roles. It creates interest and sets the table for the more robust conversations that follow.  These have worked for years, long before 140 characters was the way of the world. “Oh boy, Competitor X just launched new plans that will change the way customers think about our pricing. Let’s talk more on Monday.”

2. Gamification

It’s easier than ever to turn learning into a game. In most of my keynotes I use kiwilive as a simple platform to poll or ask questions, poll everywhere is free for up to 25 responses (no, neither of these companies are paying me).  Participants can “compete” on who knows your big picture fun facts from the convenience of their phone.

3. Bring-a-Friend Staff Meetings

Sometimes the best way to understand how sausage is made, is to help make it. Giving people exposure to the conversation and thought process, not just the outcomes of strategic decisions, goes a long way in helping people connect the dots. Every time I’ve held a “bring-a-friend staff meeting” where my direct reports each bring one of their direct reports, you can almost see the light bulbs going on.

4. Field Trips

There’s a reason every elementary school takes a trip to the zoo. You can read about giraffes all you want, but until you have one bend down and lick your face, it’s hard to really understand what they’re all about. There’s real power in taking a “field trip” to another department and seeing how they really think and operate.

5. Mentoring Circles

I’ve shared this idea with you before. I’m repeating my self because mentoring circles work. Click here for more information.   If you want more information on mentoring you can download my FREE eBook, Mentoring in the Age of the Millennial from my new ecourse landing page.

6. Teaching Operations Reviews

Another one of my key go-tos. For step-by-step instructions click here.

Effective managers are translators. Help your team see the bigger picture. Before you motivate, translate.

BONUS TRACKS: FREE Webinars, Radio Interviews and HBR

Karin Hurt Promo

reorganizationIf you’re free on Wednesday October 28, I’ll be out in the online-world making a bit of a ruckus.

At 1pm, I’m joining Twan van de Kerkhof on a panel: Is the Future of Leadership More Personal (I bet you can guess my POV).

At 2pm EST I’Il be on Faces of Success Radio talking about David Dye’s and my upcoming book, Winning Well (click on the image to enlarge).

Also, I was recently interviewed in this article for HBR on about What To Do and Say After a Tough Reorganization. Such circumstances can hurt or help your career. If you’re faced with a reorganization, I hope this helps.

How to Help Managers Become More Strategic

John’s frustration had turned to exacerbation.  He’d done everything he could to position himself for the next promotion. His results were amazing. He’d taken on several cross-functional projects and nailed those, too.

He was delegating more and growing the competence of his team. He’d become far more open to feedback and had truly become a team player, even navigating the tricky inter-departmental dynamics. This time, the “I’m sorry, we’ve given the position to someone else” call ended with “We’re concerned about your ability to be strategic.” When he probed deeper for specifics, he didn’t get much of an answer.

John’s not alone. I’ve seen some great talent hit a wall with this “competency deficit.”

There’s no doubt that strategic thinking is vital. There’s strong evidence to support that strategic thinking is one of the most important executive competencies.  In a recent HBR article,  Robert Kabacoff shares his research of 60,000 managers in 40 countries.

We found that a strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied. It was twice as important as communication (the second most important behavior) and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors. (This doesn’t mean that tactical behaviors aren’t important, but they don’t differentiate the highly effective leaders from everyone else.)

But it’s a mistake to view strategic thinking like handedness–you’re either born a lefty or a righty, and it’s really tough to change. Managers can learn to be more strategic through understanding, exposure and challenge. Resist the urge to label and box your talent and move on. Instead invest in your highly talente managers and teach them the art of strategy. It’s a win-win. The more people you have thinking strategically, even at the frontlines, the more innovative and dynamic your company will be.

How Help a Manager Become More Strategic

1. Define It

Help them visualize what you’re talking about. An easy to articulate definition comes from the Lominger Institute:

Can think and talk strategy with the best; intrigued and challenged by the complexity of the future; likes to run multiple “what if” scenarios; very broad perspective; counsels others on strategic issues; can juggle a lot of mental balls; isn’t afraid to engage in wild speculations about the future; can bring several unrelated streams of information together to form a compelling vision; good at meaning making; produces distinctive and winning strategies.

And then customize the definition for your industry.

For example, being able to think strategically in the high-tech industry involves a nuanced understanding of strategy topics such as network effects, platforms, and standards. In the utilities sector, it involves mastery of the economic implications of (and room for strategic maneuvers afforded by) the regulatory regime. In mining, leaders must understand the strategic implications of cost curves, game theory, and real-options valuation; further, they must know and be sensitive to the stakeholders in their regulatory and societal environment, many of whom can directly influence their opportunities to create value. Becoming More Strategic:  3 Tips for Any Executives

2. Provide Opportunities For Broad Exposure

It’s frustrating when I hear executives complaining about the lack of strategic thinkers in their organization, and yet they hold all the long-term vision close to the vest. Strategic thinking requires context. Do whatever you can to explain not only the vision and the direction, but why those decisions are being made. A side effect that goes beyond more future leaders: stronger engagement and better decision-making down the line.

One of my favorite developmental activities is “bring a friend staff meetings,” where my direct reports could bring one high-potential manager to the table to experience the thought process. If you’re meetings are strategic, this is a real eye-opener. Oh yeah, and be sure to give the “friends” a few strategic action items for follow-up.

3. Move Them Around

Move your people around, particularly from line to staff and back.  Sure, many high-potential folks hate lateral moves. It feels slow. Share the wisdom of going slow to go fast. Nothing beats building strategic mindset more than looking at the problem from multiple perspectives. Don’t limit it to the hi-po crowd, you may be amazed at what blossoms in a different role.

4. Think Out Loud

It’s easy, and perhaps even tempting, to take all the input, make the decision, look wise, and move on. That doesn’t build strategic thinkers. Slow down enough to explain your thought process as you make decisions. Use each major decision to catalyze strategic confidence and competence.

You can help your managers to be more strategic. Let’s share best practice and tackle this challenge together.