(This post was originally published on August 30, 2015)
You’re the Chief People Officer, or the Chief HR Officer…or the top ‘HR Person’ – and you love people, right? Well, just like the rest of the human race, the answer is: sometimes.
I do love people. I find us to be fascinating. We’re all different yet have so much in common. I’m an avid people-watcher. And, as a leader, pushing people to become all that they were created to be brings me great joy.
Having said this, I am a business leader first, HR leader second. As a leader, my focus is being a productive team member shepherding the mission, vision and values of the business. I lead such that a thriving environment is created which can propel the strategies and the goals forward, in the most motivational ways possible. When this happens, the talent should be naturally singing in their best voices among a chorus of others to a beautiful symphony (I needed to play out the entire analogy, sorry).
I step into it. Meaning, I hold myself accountable for having the messy conversations, opening up the can of worms, or compassionately touching the taboo subject – whenever possible. Sometimes I fail at this, but I’m always trying. ‘Stepping into it’ is a critical skill that every leader – especially one who happens to work in HR – needs to develop. It’s your ability to be a truth teller that gets to the heart of matters. The world (of business and in general) needs us to get to the heart of matters…quickly.
This means relentlessly leading within the precious hours of each day that we have to make a difference in the world, to move the needle on a strategy, or to simply exert the proper influence moment to moment. I’ve found that you have to step into it on a regular basis to achieve these outcomes.
What might that look like in practice for the CHRO?
You’re in a large meeting, and someone warmly raises their voice to suggest that you, CHRO, are the ‘conscience of the employees’. You smile (as the people person would) and let them know that people really need to guard their own consciences. You have enough things in your own conscience to tend to and don’t need to take on several hundred others. In fact, managers and leaders better have their fingers on the pulse of their teams and talent so that they understand the state of their business. While talent related solutions can be conceptualized and facilitated by the CHRO and their team, consciences are owned locally. You gently, yet candidly, reshape this thinking - then go back to the business of the meeting.
Or, perhaps you’re working with a leader who is waffling on a major performance management issue that is hurting the business and is, once again, seeking counsel. You tell him that he’s waffling, jeopardizing the entire enterprise, and risking the departures of other staff by not making a clear decision. You deeply respect him and admire his leadership on other fronts, but he needs to know that you’ll be chatting with the top leader (meaning, the CEO) about the issue since it’s now a company problem and is negatively affecting the culture. A few days later you might want to invite him to lunch, by the way.
Leaders, and HR leaders in particular, who lead effectively are singled out to serve as the consigliere to the top leader. This is a vaunted role, hopefully devoid of the criminal elements found in its original title. It means that you’ve arrived at that place of key advisor, counselor and right-hand to the most influential person in the company. You’ll often need to be a wartime consigliere (Michael Corleone understood these important distinctions, though Tom Hagen may have felt snubbed, but I digress).
Leaders who happen to work in HR may in fact be warm and fuzzy in the appropriate setting, but that's only one dimension. As a colleague in the field who recently shared a funny story put it…we are not the ‘puff and stuff’ of the company.
We laugh, we cry, we love, we strongly dislike (mom said to avoid the word ‘hate’) – and, most importantly, we are leaders in service to the business.