Making (HR) Leaders Better

[NOTE: I’m basically guest posting on my own blog.  One of the nicest, coolest people I know – Steve Browne – reached out to various folks to request a post on how we would make HR better.  And you just can’t let Steve down!] 

It’s been an interesting start to the year for a lot of businesses.  The economy is showing signs of recovering…then faltering….then recovering again. Companies say they’re going to add jobs, while others announce massive layoffs. There is uncertainty in the air, and that uncertainty leads to panicky employees. Add on top of that the fact that it’s annual performance review time for a lot of organizations and you have a recipe for trouble.

(Not like “zombie apocalypse” trouble. More like, “oh no, we’re out of coffee” trouble. But it’s the really GOOD coffee. And there are no Starbucks nearby.  And you’re walking into a 3 hour meeting.)

When unresolved panic meets feedback meets merit meets goal-setting, you get a perfect storm – one that HR must guide that ship through. Because whether you like it or not, people take their cues to how HR handles things.

Through the years, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and learned some important lessons, as an HR leader.  And lest you make a joke about an HR leader not being a “normal” leader (and there are plenty), keep in mind that HR leaders tend to face greater pressure and scrutiny for their leadership behaviors. Our mistakes sometimes echo more than the mistakes of others.  We are held to a higher standard because we should know better. Even though we’re human like everyone else.


So how can HR leaders get better? A few thoughts:

  • Stop trying to get people to like/notice/appreciate/praise/[insert verb here] you: If you got into leadership for all the cupcakes and unicorns, you made a HUGE mistake. Leaders rarely get the day-to-day kudos, and HR hardly ever gets them. You need to be okay with that.  You need to understand that a job well done in HR leadership means you know you’ve done the right thing and you’ve done it correctly…and it’s okay that no one threw a parade.
  • Keep the lines of communication open: Employees get creative when nobody tells them anything (especially in times of high change). You should hear some of the whoppers coming out of employee break rooms!  Give them an avenue to voice their opinions, and share what you can as often as you can.  They may not always believe you, but later on they’ll appreciate the effort.
  • But don’t overshare: This is a common mistake of newer managers and HR professionals who are very close to their business partners.  You want to liked.  You want to help. And sometimes lapses in judgment cause a LOT of problems. HR in particular needs to present a united front.  If HR has been asked to keep a confidence and someone slips, two things happen – 1.) you’ve taught the business it pays to answer-shop, and 2.) you’ve lost credibility as an HR leader.
  • Seek alignment: We are all running in so many different directions and are easily pulled into our little corner of the HR world.  The best thing HR leaders can do for themselves is TALK TO EACH OTHER. What is everyone working on? How does it impact the other areas of HR? What are risks we might be overlooking in our own projects? Employees (HR and others) notice when HR leaders are not on the same page and they may try to take advantage of it.  Besides, we might get our work done more efficiently if we actually work together.
  • Build a (positive) support network: I’ve talked about building a personal board of directors before. I still highly recommend it. What I also recommend is that you seek out some people who are in your organization who totally get where you’re coming from…and will NOT resort to a bitch-fest every time you get together to chat. You know why I would write a post for Steve Browne whenever he asks?  Because he is the most positive HR professional I have ever encountered. Even in the darkest of situations and the most FUBAR implementations, he shakes it off and works to find a solution.  And I love that about him, and believe more of us need to be like that. Snark may be funny (and it totally is), but moving forward makes the HR world go round.
  • Meet people where they are: Okay, I totally stole this one from Steve, too, but I love it.  I think it was a quick line in a presentation he made but it has stayed with me as one of the best pieces of advice any leader – HR or otherwise – can accept. If you meet people where they are; be it their learning curve or change acceptance; you increase your chances of making a connection.  With that connection comes trust…and trust can move mountains.

So there you have it – a few suggestions on how HR leaders can make themselves, and ultimately their business, better.

HR Tip #007: ‘Not everyone is going to like you.’

What would you add to the list? Share in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “Making (HR) Leaders Better

  1. Hello,
    By “accident” through Steve blog Iread your input. Could You please explain for me in some words mor , what is meant in your last thought by “be it their learning curve or change acceptance; ” Thank You!

    1. Anita, thanks for the comment! The idea is that everyone is experoencing something unique. They might be in the process of learning a job or the culture (learning curve). Or maybe your organization is going through a massive change and some employees are dealing with it better than others (change acceptance). Hope that helps!

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