As revenues decrease and margins get tighter, focus is shifted towards increased efficiency and effectiveness. Many corporations are weary about making adjustments to revenue producing sectors of the business so the support functions have been targeted for change. One particular department undergoing dramatic changes across multiple industries is the human resources department.
When earnings were plentiful, Human Resources consisted of many different sub-divisions such as: employee relations, learning and development, workforce planning, health and wellness, safety, recruiting, and so on. Fast-forward to today when everyone is struggling to meet analyst expectations on Wall Street and you get a bandwagon movement towards a package deal approach. The separate divisions within HR have been dismantled and bundled up into one generalist model.
Large corporations like Amazon, Conoco Phillips, Northrop Gruman and Volvo, to name a few, have transformed to meet shareholder expectations by developing the position of HR business partner. This revolution is demanding HR professionals with a wider skill set and deeper understanding of the overall business. As the title implies, a business partner is involved in the execution of all initiatives. Gone are the days when technical knowledge was enough to move you forward in your career. In the present and future, corporate America wants more!
So what does this mean to be an HR business partner? Partnership means not saying “that’s not part of my job”. Everyone is responsible for success. To foster this new culture everyone has to feel a sense of shared responsibility in the overall direction and vision. Although each department still brings an area of expertise to the table, think of how your knowledge and talents can add value to the entire team. This may mean sacrificing departmental goals in order to meet the needs of the business. The new role will entail making strategic decisions and giving extraordinary efforts as if the success or failure of the company depended on it. Industriousness will not be seen as a rare and attractive trait but rather a job requirement.
To sum it up, advancement and opportunities will only be given to those that bring the most overall value and have the ability to make things happen. The up and coming corporate superstars I have seen promoted time and time again give beyond what is asked for, are able to build effective relationships to drive results, and have the ability to make others around them better. In order to thrive in this new corporate structure, step away from “what’s in it for me” and leap towards “we can make this happen.” After all, partners are rewarded far better than employees.
I just finished reading an enlightening book about Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet members titled A Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin. It allowed me to trace back the roots of the many lessons and values we learned as children. The book uses anecdotes to display the qualities these great leaders possessed and is a true history lesson of how our “American” values were formed. However, these characteristics are not as prominent as their perceived importance has regrettably diminished in our modern society.
What history revealed was leadership in its most authentic form. At a very early age Lincoln was left with his sister to fend for themselves in the wild frontier instilling the perseverance he would be known for throughout the remainder of his life. The refusal to quit or accept failure is universally admired in all great leaders and managers but no one quite defined the term like President Lincoln did.
Throughout his presidency, some of his closest advisors rallied to garner opposition against his administration for their own selfish political gains. Lincoln never lashed out or used his authority to condemn; instead he fought disingenuousness with magnanimity. He understood that the well-being of the country came before all else. Lincoln was therefore willing to overlook the damage these deceitful advisors may have caused to his personal career. He forgave their petty antics so long as they continued to fulfill their obligations to the country.
Lincoln made regular visits to see the troops on the battlefields and hospitals where injured soldiers were cared for, a presidential tradition he started. This allowed him to feel the pulse of his people and understand the full impact of his decisions. His compassion for the soldiers was instantly recognized and appreciated by the troops. They were fighting for a leader they believed in and a leader who believed in them. Compassion gave Lincoln the edge that many of his rivals lacked.
When I think about the managers and leaders I most admire in my life, I think about their strong values. They had qualities; perseverance, magnanimity, and compassion, which made them extraordinary leaders easily distinguishable from all others. There is no reason these qualities should sound antiquated. Let’s not lose the honesty and sincerity in our approach with one another. In other words we have to be cautious of becoming a society focused on form, persuasion and rhetoric, rather than SUBSTANCE. Let’s bring authenticity back to leadership not because it may pay off but because it has moral meaning beyond benefits and rewards!
I got to a point in my career where I wanted more. I wanted to make a difference and was not satisfied with the status quo. I felt I had a good grasp on my job and was ready to take on more responsibility. The only problem was I was in a race with 600,000 other employees, some of whom felt the same way.
My answer was to do something the other 600,000 were not doing. For me, it was going back to school to get my Masters in Business Administration. I wanted to set myself apart from the rest of the pack. I didn’t want to be Bert employee # 349,999.
A year after going back to school, I got a promotion. I urge you to be proactive in your careers. Take the next step although it may be an uncomfortable one. As the old adage goes, it is the difficult things we do that make us better. Do something extra that you wouldn’t normally do and test yourself. I truly believe that great achievements are born out of extraordinary efforts.
What I have learned from this is that we can’t wait around. Don’t stand still and wait for your boss or the company you work for to decide if you are ready. Take the initiative and make that plunge. Create value in yourself that can’t be ignored by anyone. Make yourself ready for the opportunity and the opportunity will be more likely to present itself.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own careers we forget about the people who work with us. They too have career goals and ambitions. However, we don’t always take the time to listen and figure out what their aspirations are. I found out the hard way.
It was time for my annual review and I was feeling pretty good about it. I had one of the best operations in the district and half expected the red carpet to be rolled out for me. That was not the case! The review started out as I had expected. I was thanked for my performance throughout the year and congratulated for my team’s top performance. Then lightning struck. My manager asked me if my people were ready to take my place. He asked me if I would recommend anyone of my people to step in and do what I currently do.
To those who manage employees, this answer should come instinctively. I drew an immediately blank. I realized that I lost focus of my people and their development. My attention centered around achieving results so much so that I lost touch of the people who helped me reach those goals. It was a necessary but embarrassing moment. This was my mangers way of telling me what I was lacking, development.
I needed to be more proactive in my employees’ development. My manager was right. My employees were uncertain about the direction of their career and where their future lies in the organization. After hearing this, I knew that I had really failed.
I encourage you not to make the same mistake. Take a moment to set aside time with your employees and ask them about their goals. Use this information to help them develop in their areas of interest. Be as proactive about their career as you are about yours. Make their development a priority and schedule regular meetings to accomplish this. Don’t differentiate their development from yours, they are one in the same.
We are all looking to get ahead in our careers. But what are corporations looking for? What we have been told is a combination of business skills we have learned in school lumped into one big package. That package is the ideal candidate for a promotion. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the promotion process and my past four years in HR have revealed that it comes down to a few core principles.
Never underestimate the value or power of work ethic. Shortcomings in other areas can be offset by an individual willing to do “whatever it takes”. This trait never goes unnoticed or undiscovered. Not only will it reflect in the work of the person but in their attitude and demeanor. This is someone that takes the extra step, although it can be difficult, to make sure things get completed. It seems that this has become rarer and rarer to find. The great news is it is 100% controllable so put in the extra effort and reap the rewards.
This ownership incorporates a few things. Ownership of yourself, your actions, and the actions of those you lead and work with. We all know those who are quick to pass the buck. When a problem occurs it is never them. Let’s reverse that train of thought and think about people we know who take ownership of their own actions and those they work with or manage. Not as easy to come up with. This is what separates leaders from followers. The few individuals who always accept responsibility emerge as leaders. They continue to learn from their mistakes and grow from them because they take ownership of their actions.
Accountability has two facets. Accountability of those you manage and accountability of yourself to follow through with commitments. Accountability is necessary to achieve results. Think of great teams or workgroups who are successful. The players or individuals in that group hold each other accountable. Without this, nothing gets done. Individuals who are successful learn how to hold themselves and their people accountable to meet goals and expectations. At the end of the day, it is much easier said than done.
I had the opportunity to listen to a speech given by one of the executive presidents of my company. His speech was short and concise. He asked all of us in the room what it took to get ahead. Everything from promptness to education was mentioned. He said one thing, Integrity. He continued and said always do the right thing. Never take shortcuts or compromise your integrity for anyone or anything. Essentially, it is what you do when no one is looking. It may take a lifetime to build a reputation but only one incident to ruin it. Nothing else means anything without integrity.
Human resources is often involved in employee relations issues that have spun out of control. The situation usually revolves around an employee that does not seem to “get it”. These disciplinary talks usually involve the employee’s immediate manager or supervisor and an hr representative. In most instances, the management team is partly responsible for allowing the employee to get out of line.
Many of these problems can be traced back to the message we are delivering to the employee. Think back to a time where you had to have a serious conversation with an employee that broke a policy or simply did not do what was asked of them. How did you go about this conversation?
The first step should be to gather your thoughts. Start with the outcome in mind. What is it that you want to accomplish from the discussion. Have this be the basis of your strategy for the conversation. Back up your opinion with specific, accurate, and factual information. Be objective and direct with the message you want to convey. The tone and delivery should be consistent with the message being communicated. If the employee has an attendance problem, have their record on hand and show it to them. Tell them it will not be tolerated and unacceptable of any employee. The unwanted behavior or incident needs to be clearly outlined and the company’s stance given in a straightforward manner. Explain frankly, the consequences of not following the instructions given and get a written commitment from the individual. This written commitment needs to include details of the conversation, expectations of the employee, and their understanding of the consequences of another occurrence.
Pitfalls of disciplinary reviews usually lie in the message. Managers that are indirect or bring in other irrelevant situations lose credibility with the employee. Sending mixed messages is another common mistake. Don’t end the conversation with a warm and fuzzy or change the subject. End it with a mutual understanding of what is expected. The employee needs to leave understanding that they made a mistake. When the message is communicated poorly, it fosters bad behavior. Providing the employee with the right message is the right thing to do.
There are various things to consider in arriving for an interview. How should I dress? Should I introduce myself first or allow the interviewer to do so? Firm handshake or relaxed? Address them by their first name or sir/madam?
Unfortunately, there are no cookie cutter answers to those questions. Let’s start with appropriate attire. This rudimentary expectation seems to be a lost art with Millennials. No longer do companies expect individuals to dress professionally for interviews. This neglect has brought about some ambiguity on proper business attire. That being said, I would not recommend anything less than a long sleeve collar shirt and slacks. Anything less is disrespectful in any business occasion. Have a good understanding of the position you are applying for and come respectfully dressed to attain that position. If you are applying for a warehouse position, a suit and tie is probably not necessary. You can overdress. Wearing a three piece suit to apply for a seasonal ski lift operator is a little much. It may leave the interviewer questioning if you arrived for the right interview. It signals misunderstanding and overqualified although that may not necessarily be the case. Research the profession or position you are applying for and use that to determine your attire for the interview. Remember, nothing less than a collar shirt and slacks.
Allow the interviewer to introduce themselves first. It’s polite and your fate lies in their hands. It will also allow you to pay attention to their name. Letting the other person state their name first allows you to concentrate and make a conscious effort to memorize it. As I stated in my earlier blog, addressing the person by their name will be of significant importance. Addressing someone by their first name is a catalyst for building a personal connection. It eases the tension and allows conversation to flow. Also, continue to address them by their first name so it becomes ingrained and instinctive. It will be easier to recall when you follow up. Sir or madam is too cold and formal in today’s work environment.
Lastly, the handshake. The goal is not to deform the hand of the person that may provide you with an opportunity to work. Not too firm and not too soft, enough to have presence but not enough to inflict pain. It is important to make eye contact showing your attentiveness. Take the initiative to shake hands again when the interview is over as a show of respect and thanks to the interviewer. It goes a long ways.
These etiquette tips may seem elementary but they are so often mishandled. Pay attention to the small details and the more prominent items will take care of themselves. Be proper, polite, and personable to create the presence that every company desires to have.