Leaders know their business (Yes, even HR)

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I work in the world of Human Resources. I think it gives me an interesting perspective on how people interact in the workplace, so I write a blog about it. Write what you know, they always say.

I typically focus on leadership (being led and doing the leading) because I think that relationship has some of the greatest influence on the success or failure of a business plan. No matter how great your business strategy is, if you can’t get people to work together well, you’re doomed.

Every once in awhile, I do like to focus back on my HR-centric world. Partially because it’s what I really know, but also because I think it’s useful for leaders and employees to get a glimpse into what happens in HR. Sometimes it’s good to look behind the curtain. From time to time, I also focus on HR because I’m perplexed and a bit miffed at what employees of all walks think HR should and shouldn’t do.

This is one of those posts.Head in Hands

I was speaking at a local HR event recently, and got to talking to one of the attendees. Turns out, he wasn’t really “true” HR, he was the head of operations; and in his organization, HR fell under his purview. So, to his credit, he felt like he should learn more about HR. Good for him.I like when people try to learn a little bit about the groups who report to them.

He asked what I do and where I work, and because of that, we started talking about the water crisis in Flint, MI. He didn’t really know what was going on, so I gave him an overview of the issues, why it’s a scary thing, where things may have broken down, and what we were doing in OUR community to educate our customers about our process and assure that we had the right measures in place to ensure Flint doesn’t happen here.

He was gobsmacked.

Seriously. He was shocked that I knew about my industry, knew what was going on across the country, and knew how my organization was responding to the situation,  both internally and externally.

I said, “But it’s my job to know my business.” And he said, “But…you’re in HR.”

Sigh.

Listen. I am a leader. You are a leader. As leaders, WE ARE REQUIRED TO KNOW OUR BUSINESS. You wouldn’t have that reaction to a marketing manager, would you? You wouldn’t be all shocked that an operations manager knew the business, right? So why be surprised when HR approaches it the same way.

HR leaders, Operations leaders, Sales leaders – we all have the same role, just in different functions. We should have the same expectations placed on us regarding our industry, our business, our customer base, our trends, our threats…all of it. Yes, we have unique expertise, but we apply that expertise to the same organization.

So the next time an HR leader wants to sit in on your staff meeting, don’t freak out. Recognize the action for what it is – a desire to learn more about the business so they can help you be successful.

It’s our job.

Measuring What Matters (the missing piece)

Leaders:

If you know what a KPI is, give yourself a pat on the back. If you have a balanced scorecard, a visual management system, a dashboard, or some other way to track said KPIs, even better. With all this talk of Big Data and ROI and other data-loving phrases, you probably feel like a big damn deal. Bully for you.

Now – what if I were to go to your team and ask, what are your KPIs? Would they be able to answer?

Could they point to the balanced scorecard and confidently explain what it means? Can they describe how the data is trending? Tie their day-to-day work to the metrics?

If the answer to those questions is NO, then you are failing to measure what truly matters.

Business has fallen in love with metrics and scorecards and trends and graphs. Analysts are the new rock stars, the secret weapon of a strategic plan. Throw in the ability to build a visual tool, and that analyst becomes The One (like Neo, or Eddie Murphy in that awful movie with the bald kid). Executives want to see pictures, a snapshot, a cross-section of what’s going on in the business. It needs to look cool, to look smart. [Think I’m exaggerating? Look at how much infographics have exploded recently. You can argue chicken or egg – but leaders want them.]

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Unfortunately, these metrics often fail to make a meaningful connection to the people who actually do the work. They report numbers because they have to in order to make the pretty graphs, but then they turn back to their “real work” and don’t think about what the data is telling them. They are just trying to keep the work moving and ensure they meet their deadlines.

That’s where the leader comes in.

If the metrics truly matter, you will talk about them. Every day. Every team meeting. Every project launch. Every project wrap up.

If the numbers tell you a story about the business, share that story with your employees. Why the numbers are important. What they tell us about our impact on the business, the customers, the employees.

We leaders pretend like it’s the employees fault they don’t know what the metrics are. For goodness’ sake, we posted them on the shared drive!  What more do those darn employees want?!

Employees want – nay, need – context. And employees want – nay, need – their leaders to be the primary voice to provide that context. Supposedly leaders know what their employees do and the day-to-day reality of their world. Who better to be able to provide that line of sight from the work to the metric? Who better to explain why these metrics are helping the business improve? Who better to motivate employees to reach the target state?

At some point, you will notice that the metrics are not moving, or are moving in the wrong direction, or don’t seem to tell the right story. So what happens then?

That’s where the employees come in.

Your employees can help you understand whether your metrics are telling you what you really need to know about the business. They will share whether they think the KPIs make sense, and whether the targets are realistic…or even important. Your employees are the conduit through which the metrics come to life.

So the next time you start pontificating on the importance of your scorecard, think about the last time you looked at it with your team. If it’s been too long, stop pontificating and start communicating.

THAT’S what matters.

Metrics are for doing, not for staring. Never measure just because you can. Measure to learn. Measure to fix.

– Stijn Debrouwere