Strategic HR with Karin Hurt

Strategic HR: How to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

You want to build a strategic HR team that gets it- compassionate business partners who know their craft AND understand what matters most for the business.  Today I offer some thoughts from both sides of the story as both an HR executive and a field leader leading very large teams at Verizon.

A Good Place to Start For More Strategic HR

When I started my first HR job on an HR team 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. (p.s. who knew decades later I would be writing such books 😉

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.

Learning to “Talk Trucks”

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 whose side  you are 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.

Great HR strategic partners 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?

And, 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?

See Also: Karin Hurt on SHRM’s HR Storytellers filmed after keynoting the SHRM National Volunteers Conference of SHRM Chapter Leaders.

Avoid these infuriating phrases in end-of-year feedback

Avoid These Infuriating Phrases in End-of-Year Feedback

For most managers, the only thing they dread more than going to their own end-of-year performance appraisal is holding end-of-year feedback discussions with their team. Why?

Because the performance appraisal system is unnatural by design. Imagine if we burdened our home relationships with some of the same formal systems we impose at work.

“Honey, I’ve decided to give you an end-of-year appraisal. Your cooking has improved and you’re taking out the trash without being reminded, you get an “Exceeds Expectations” in domestic duties. “But you’ve been so stressed lately, and it’s been months since you brought me flowers, I have to give romance a B-.”

And if your company is using a stack ranking system, made worse with forced ratings quotas,  it’s even more tricky.

I’ll save the rant about these old school systems for another day since chances are you’re already neck-deep in preparing for these required conversations. Instead, I’ve collected a list of the most infuriating phrases many employees have told me have ticked them off (or made them quit).

6 Infuriating End-Of-Year Feedback Phrases That Crush Morale

1. “I don’t have much feedback for you. You know you’re doing great.”

Why it’s infuriating: You know who hears this? The people that have been killing themselves going above and beyond expectations. Every single week I hear from high-performers who feel overlooked and are starving for recognition.

What to Do Instead: If they’re doing great, be sure to give specific feedback about what was so great and why it mattered. Also, care enough to offer specific ideas for how they can grow and do even better. See Also:  7 Things Your High-Performing Employees Long to Hear You Say.

2. “I rated you a meets expectations. Your performance really was an “exceeds” but I had to make the math work out.” Or, even worse, “I could only have one in that category.”

Why it’s infuriating: Basically this is saying, I’m rating you lower than you deserve. And nothing is more infuriating than injustice.

What to Do Instead: It’s always best to stay focused on results and behaviors, rather than the rating. But if an employee is frustrated, they may be so distracted by the rating it’s difficult for them to think about anything else. Be clear about the criteria that you used to calibrate performance and where they met and exceeded that criteria and opportunities to improve in the future. Stay away from comparisons to other employees, or blaming other people for the rating they received.

3. “I know we haven’t had a chance to talk about this before, but _____”

Why it’s infuriating: Nothing new should be surfacing in end-of-year feedback. And yet so frequently employees tell us they were completely blindsided by observations of behaviors from earlier in the year. It’s frustrating because it feels like a gotcha game instead of constructive feedback that they could have acted on if they had heard about it sooner.

What to Do Instead: Never bring up new feedback in a performance review. Be proactive in sharing observations as close to when it occurred as possible.

4. “Well, I don’t really have any specific examples, but it’s become a real issue.”

Why it’s infuriating: Feedback without specifics feels unfounded; not to mention generalized feedback with no examples would never hold up if they challenged you in a formal way (e.g. lawsuit).

What to Do Instead: Be sure you can offer specific examples of the behavior for any feedback you are giving

5. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from other people about your performance in this arena. Who?  I’m not at liberty to say. Have I noticed it, well, no but everybody is telling me about it.”

Why it’s infuriating: You lose credibility and trust by acting on feedback you’ve heard thirdhand—you’re essentially saying, “I trust them and doubt you.” Ouch.

What to Do Instead: Find a way to observe the issue yourself. Or encourage the person with the feedback to offer it directly.

6. “Just write up your accomplishments and I’ll sign it.”

Why it’s infuriating: Why bother? “You want me to do YOUR job?

What to Do Instead: Have them submit their accomplishments, and then invest the time to share your observations and a well-thought-through commentary. Make the effort to ensure they feel seen and understood.

Done well end-of-year feedback conversations can go a long way in building trust, aligning expectations with results, and laying the foundation for a great start to the new year. If you show up with confident-humility, focused on both results and relationships.

Other Helpful Tools For Your End-Of-Year Feedback Sessions

MIT Huddle Planner (a tool to use weekly to make your end of year sessions smooth sailing)

How to Prepare for a Better Development Discussion

Creative Ways to Develop Your Managers

How to Hold a Better Mid Year Performance Review

How to Hold a Better Mid-Year Performance Review

Tempted to skip the mid-year review this year, particularly with your high-performers? Read this first.

Imagine you’re coaching your son’s football team. They’re up by 7. What do you say at half-time?

“Well, you guys played a great first half. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Or do you just skip the half-time huddle all together and go check your email. After all, you’re busy.

No decent coach misses the opportunity for a great half-time huddle. Why would you?

Why Now?

Mid-Year Performance Reviews are the Half-Time Huddle of Business.

  • There are still six months to impact the year.
  • In most companies, there’s no need to assign a rating or link to compensation. This frees you to be more real and developmentally focused–without the distraction of bell curves and merit payouts.
  • Since a mid-year performance review is often “optional,” conducting them shows the employees you’re invested in them and their performance.

Making Your Review More Meaningful

When Karin was working in her sales executive role, her HR team did an experiment linking performance feedback to employee satisfaction. As expected, those who had received meaningful performance feedback, were overall much more satisfied with their jobs and supervisors. But there was an interesting wrinkle. Those who received a poorly conducted mid-year review were less satisfied than those who did not receive them at all.

It’s important to not just go through the motions. If you won’t invest the time to offer a meaningful mid-year performance review, you’re better off skipping it.

What Feels Meaningful?

A mid-year review should summarize, celebrate, challenge, and inspire

When we ask employees what makes a mid-year performance review meaningful, here’s what they say.

  1. It’s a conversation. We talk openly about what’s working and where I can improve.
  2. No surprises. We’ve been meeting weekly, so there’s nothing new here. We talk about trends, progress and focus on development.
  3. My manager has specific examples and focuses on behaviors.
  4. We talk about my career and long-term goals.
  5. I feel recognized for the extra effort and challenges I’ve taken on.
  6. It’s an opportunity for me to share my new ideas on how to improve the business.
  7. My manager asks great questions and really listens to what I have to say.
  8. What would you add?

Mid-Year Performance Review Conversation Starters

If you need some help to get started, try a few of these questions to get the conversation rolling.

Questions to Reflect on Performance

  • How are you feeling about the year so far?
  • Describe what you see happening with this project.
  • What are you most of proud of this year?
  • What lessons have you learned?
  • What new relationships have you fostered?
  • How are you different now than you were six months ago?
  • Where are you stuck?

Questions to Challenge and Turnaround

  • Have you ever had an experience like this before?
  • If so, what did you do that helped?
  • Tell me about the patterns you’re seeing.
  • What do you think we should do?
  • Which habits would you like to change?
  • What’s the most important thing you can do to turn this situation around?
  • What additional resources do you need?
  • How can I best support you?

Questions to Encourage

  • What would happen if?
  • What’s possible?

Questions to Solicit Feedback

  • If you were in my shoes, what would you be doing differently?
  • What can I do to better support you and the team?
  • What have I done this year that most ticked you off?
  • How have I been most helpful?

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: What are your best practices for highly effective mid-year performance reviews?

Winning Well: A Manger's Guide to Getting Results without Losing Your SoulWant more tools like this?

Read Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results–Without Losing Your Soul.  And Download our FREE Winning Well Book Group Facilitator’s Guide.

5 Ways to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level

How to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level

There’s no question, the downside of a good economy is that it’s harder to retain your best talent. The challenging underperformers stick around, while your rock stars are suddenly the hottest ticket on LinkedIn. If you’re like most executives we talk to, you’re looking to build a more comprehensive retention strategy.

5 Ways to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level

Finding great talent and building a Winning Well culture are table stakes, but what else can you do to retain your top talent?

1. Expand Your Approach to Exit Interviews

Do you know who is leaving and why? Do you have a solid exit interview process in place? If not, it’s worth the energy to build it. Sure you want the data, but the exit interview itself is a cultural intervention.

Imagine that Joe gets a new gig. Joe’s peers all know Joe is frustrated with his boss and they’re struggling with their managers too.  They ask Joe, “Did they EVEN ASK  you why you’re leaving?” And he says, “Nope, they DIDN’T BOTHER to ask. They don’t care.”

Now Joe has left and his friends are wondering if they should too (oh yeah, and Joe gets a bonus at his new gig for referrals.)

It’s worthwhile looking from the other perspective too.

When I revamped the exit interview process at Verizon, I also added an additional question back to their immediate manager: “Would you have preferred to retain this employee?” We correlated their manager’s answer to the employee’s last performance rating and included these two pieces of information along with the exit interview.

We then reported out to the senior team on “good attrition” and “bad attrition.” This strategy isn’t foolproof, clearly, as some gamer managers might make excuses for losing an A player, (eg: “He was a troublemaker.”) But a strategic HR partner can see the patterns. We found that these simple additions helped us hone in our real retention issues, and gave our best managers the cover they needed to deal with long-term performance issues without being hassled about their retention rate. They were rewarded for building a team of Winning Well players who focused on results and relationships.

2. Pay Fair Market Value (So Obvious, Often Overlooked)

I recently received a call from a millennial who loved her job and was getting great feedback about her performance, but was really frustrated by her pay. “All my colleagues tell me that the only way to get a raise around here is to get another job offer and bring it to them–then they’ll match it. That strategy has worked well for several of them. So, I’ve joined several networking groups and am determined to get another job offer so I can get the raise. Of course, who knows? I might even find a better job along the way.”

It’s your job to know their market value, not to send employees shopping.  If budgets are that tight, consider right-sizing so you can pay your team fairly. I’d always rather have a team of 8 highly-motivated rock-stars than 10 that I settled on because I couldn’t afford to attract the right talent – and who are looking around for a better opportunity.

3. Re-Recruit Your A Players

Particularly during times of stress and change, it’s so important for your A players to know how valuable they are. Tell them specifically why you value them and the contribution they make. I remember at one point in my work at Verizon, I was frustrated by my lack of career movement. A merger came along and the prospects for future growth didn’t look good, so I started looking outside and was becoming intrigued by what I saw. One senior leader I supported wrote a quick note to my boss’s boss (copying me) and said, “I hope you realize what a gem you have.” and he responded, copying me “Yes, I do, and I see a bright future for her here.” It opened the door for me to initiate a “Where is this going?” conversation. He encouraged me to be patient. I was. It was worth it.

See Also: 7 Things Your Hight Performers Want to Hear You Say

4. Build A Culture of Accountability

You know what your team wants more than a Foosball table and mimosas on Monday afternoon, right? They want clear direction, and a boss and team they can count on to perform consistently every day. I promise. A Players want to work on A teams. If your A players go home frustrated every day because they work on a team of slackers, they will start looking around for a place with other people who get it.

5. Listen

Just today, I had a manager confide in me:

“My compensation is tied to the performance of my peer team. Results are not good. I’ve transferred in from another division and I know some easy ways we can make this better. I’ve talked to my boss and she gives me lip service saying she’ll give me an opportunity to share at a future team meeting. And it doesn’t happen. She’s not listening. I’ve got a young family to support. If no one will even listen to my ideas (which I know work!) why should I stay?”

Human beings want to be heard. Do your managers have the skills and tools to hear them?

See Also Why Bother Speaking Up: It Won’t Help (and other destructive thinking)

If you’re struggling to retain your best talent, dig a level deeper to find out what’s really going on.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: What are the most important elements of your retention strategy?

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

5 Behaviors That Will Turn Your HR Team Into Your Biggest Fan

5 Vital Behaviors That Will Impress Your HR Team (with Video)

What does your HR team say about you? Does it matter?

As we engage in our long-term leadership development programs, we inevitably spend time talking to the HR team about who’s in the program, why, and how we can best help. For better or worse, we hear what they’re thinking about you. Their hopes and dreams for what you can become, and of course, their concerns.

It’s been fascinating to experience the consistency of HR thinking across industries and geographies. Whether they are in Singapore, San Juan, or Kentucky, it’s the same behaviors that drive the HR VP nuts.

And of course, their impression can influence your career. Most senior leaders have one trusted member of their HR team on speed dial–not because they HAVE to, but because they WANT to. In my time at Verizon, I’ve been on both sides of that call.

There’s no better ditch the Diaper Genie™ conversation than what happens with an exec and their trusted HR strategic partner on a talent issue.

Here are 5 Behaviors That Will Impress Your HR Team

If you’re looking to get to the next level, or even to survive tomorrow, it’s helpful to have your HR team in your corner, cheering you on. In addition to being a rock star in your day job, Here are five behaviors that can help enhance their impression of you as a high-potential employee worth extra investment and support.

  1. Be Coachable (#1 By a landslide)
    Be open to feedback, from up down and sideways. Really listen to what you hear. And show how you are integrating the feedback into real behaviors to improve. HR hears “Yup I got it” all the time, and then watch employees slip back into old behaviors. Show them you’re hearing the feedback by acting on it.
  2. Tell the Truth
    Nothing frustrates a good HR person more than half-truths. If you want them to be straight with you, be straight with them.
  3. Treat others with Deep Respect (Including Your HR team)
    This seems so obvious…and yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a “high-potential” manager talk down to their HR team as if their role was somehow less important than a field assignment.
  4. Work Hard
    “He’s smart but lazy.” “She’s great at managing up, but doesn’t actually get much done.” “Yeah, you know that Gamer you talk about in Winning Well? That’s John.” Not the recommendation any of us are going for.
  5. Be Open to Try New Things
    Your HR team is looking to build a strong bench of talent for the long-term good of the company. They need utility players who they can count on to turn-around just about any sticky situation. HR loves the employees who are willing to take on a new challenge or make an unexpected lateral move.

Your HR team can be an invaluable resource to help you navigate your career and to get the feedback you need to grow and develop. It’s work the effort to invest in these important relationships and to ask for, and act on their feedback.

See also 5 Secrets of a Utility Player

how to build a best in class new hire orientation

Make Your New Hire’s Day: 7 Ways to Improve the New Hire Experience

Your new hire is driving home from her very first day. What’s she feeling? What’s she going to tell her kids about mommy’s new job? When she wakes up at 3 am anticipating Day 2, what’s on her mind?

The statistics are astounding. There’s no question that the first day, and the 89 days that follow, have a huge impact on retention, engagement, and productivity. You can’t undo that first impression. Here are seven ways to make your new-hire orientation more memorable and meaningful.

7 Easy and Innovative Ways to Make Your New Hire’s Day

I’m going to assume you’ve got the basics down–who needs to sign what, security and confidentiality, and the shortest way the bathroom. Consider weaving a few of these ideas into your new hire’s first day.

1- Make it a Celebration

It doesn’t take much to create a little ruckus. A few balloons, a cupcake or a little bling can go a long way. Even a big poster board on their cube with a “We’re so glad you’re here” signed by the team sets a tone of celebration. If all that feels too crazy for your culture, how about a sincere card with a few sentences about why you chose them?  The important part is to make it sincere and personal. The first day in a new job is a big deal to them. Show them that they are important to you, too.

2- Connect Through Stories

Tell some stories about what it’s really like to work here. Be strategic in your messaging to reinforce key values–you want to inspire, but even more importantly you want to connect.  Sharing “How I learned this the hard way” stories or “Whatever you do don’t make this crazy mistake” funny stories are a great way to make a human connection.

3-Create a Family Welcome Kit

Take them to lunch and find out a bit more about them and the other important people in their lives. Then before they leave at the end of the day, pull together a gift bag with some branded bling for their significant others, and a nice card from you: Logo lollipops for the kids, a branded coffee mug for their spouse, or even a branded Frisbee to play catch with their friends. Of course, this requires a bit of pre-planning to build your stash, but once you have it, it’s easy to pull together some personalized fun that shows you’re paying attention and care about the people in their lives beyond work.

4- Let Them Do Something Productive

So many companies spend the first day giving new hires a fire hose of information–it can be a lot to retain. Try mixing up the orientation with a bit of real work that lets them add value immediately and get a taste of the role. It will build confidence and help punctuate the learning with some doing.

5- Visualize the MIT (Most Important Thing)

Find fun ways to visualize and reinforce your MIT priorities. If their job is to expand in global markets, give them a dollar store globe squishy ball.  If recruiting and retaining talent is #1, give them a magnet. Visuals are a fun conversation starter about what’s most important and why.

6-Make it Really Easy to Ask Questions

When I would go talk to the new hire classes at Verizon, I learned if I just asked for questions, I got all the politically correct ones. But if I passed out index cards and encouraged people to ask me anything on their minds, that’s when the real conversation started. If you’re just hiring one person at a time, assign them one of the most approachable peers as a buddy and encourage them to ask anything they want. They may be embarrassed to ask you or HR. Do everything you can to shorten their learning curve and reduce anxiety.

7. Help Them Build a Plan

Make it easy for your new hire to make connections and learn the business. Identify a few key people (not just in your department) that can help accelerate their learning curve and make some introductions and set some follow-up appointments for the first few weeks.

You may also want to introduce them to the Let’s Grow Leader’s EOY Planning Letter (FREE TOOL) — and instructions. They won’t know enough the first day to complete it, but it’s a great assignment to tee-up on day one and getting them to visual an amazing year. Have them write this letter to you as if

Of course, a copy of Winning Well also makes a nice welcome gift for a new manager 😉

Your turn. Would love to hear your creative ideas for ensuring your new hire has an amazing first day.