Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting to CEO via HR

There was an interesting article in the New York Times, on March 21st, 2009, titled, "The Keeper of that Tapping Pen."  I found it interesting as Anne Mulcahy, the Chairwoman and CEO of Xerox, spent time in Human Resources prior to becoming CEO.  By the way, she has done very well in turning Xerox around during her time as CEO.  She had also spent time in sales as well. 

I thought she had some interesting thoughts on what she had learned from HR:

1) That everyone needs honest feedback but that it rarely gets done
2) Importance of Talent Management

I think that spending time in different areas of the business is a great idea for leadership.  By understanding how HR, sales, finance, accounting, operations, etc, works, the individual can better understand challenges and learn something like Anne Mulcahy. 

I also thought her answer to "her most important leadership lesson" was great:
We talk a lot about execution and the importance of it. But I actually think it’s a lot more about followership — that your employees are volunteers and they can choose to wait things out if they don’t believe. And that can be very damaging in a big company. So it is absolutely this essence of creating followership that becomes the most important thing that you can do as a leader.
I really believe she gets it..followership.  "Employees are volunteers," that is definitely a different point of view.  I would like to think that was also learned in HR!

So may times we hear, "Why we hate HR" and "Why not to Trust HR", I like hearing some good news about HR!  Thank goodness Xerox doesn't hate or distrust HR.

Do you know anyone that has gone to CEO via HR?

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's Time for Heads IN and Hands ON

Today's post is written by Barbara Hughes, Co-Founder, ICC

It’s a long time since I’ve seen so many articles, webinars and interviews on the concept of trust, integrity and credibility. Given the current climate, that focus may not be surprising but not so long ago, companies and the people they employ were swept along in the wave of hard core metrics, analytics and data. Not that I refute them; we are champions of these drivers of business success. But, it’s hard to build confidence and enthusiasm in the future with those tools alone. What business leaders need right now is what Harvard Professor Ram Charan calls a “head in, hands on” approach. I think that’s an excellent blend of the soft skills and hard tools needed to survive now and to thrive when this economy turns around. We know that companies are conserving cash right now, so what can we do to improve the situation with the resources we have?

• Examine Strategy: nothing helps us feel that we have a handle on things more profoundly than knowing where we are going. It’s not enough to be an eternal optimist and put out the best case scenario but also worst-case and most likely scenarios, too. That’s where a tool like financial modeling can be a great facilitator to help with a “gut check”.

• Check Your Leadership IQ: it’s time to get back in the game. Remember the old axiom, MBWA, Managing By Walking Around? Instead of huddling in front of your laptop screen, huddle with your people; ask good questions and listen. Get back into operations: visit customers, find out what really goes on in the customer service/help desk environment. If you do it in a spirit of understanding, it will pay dividends. I’ve seen the employees of a client walk on air after their CEO visited their facility to find out how they are doing. Use the feedback to make immediate course corrections.

• How About That Culture? Right now, being proactive about the impact of the economic turmoil on the company’s results is essential. If hard decisions need to be made, being visible when layoffs happen, for example, will send a strong signal to remaining employees. Give them the facts or empower your direct reports to convey a consistent message. Understanding the reasons behind a decision, even if someone doesn’t agree with it, reduces the emotional toll that not knowing generates. Leaving HR to shoulder this burden alone does not build trust or credibility.

• Have Your Employees Checked Out?: according to a survey of the Corporate Executive Board members, 45% of employees are disengaged but they are doing something worse than leaving – they are STAYING! 70% of these CEB members will survey their employees in 2009 and that is great news, as long as what is being asked matters and someone will communicate what the company will do – and won’t do – with the results and why.

• Have Your Customers Checked Out?: what if those 45% of disengaged employees are “touching” your customers? How much of a hit is that to your bottom line? Every single interaction (yes, Accounting and IT count) adds up to the experience that you create. Survey data is essential but so is a visit or a phone call. I know that when we collect customer data for clients, we are ferocious about alerting them to a relationship that could be in jeopardy. Trust and credibility are only partially built by a well thought-out survey; most of it relies on a more personal touch.

Solid metrics coupled with the will to get our heads in the game and our hands dirty are what will build the tools and the skills to not only get through this downturn but will also position our companies to take advantage of the upturn.

What are your thoughts on this subject, please post a comment and share those with us!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Here we go again....

The last time an article caused a big uproar in the HR community was the infamous 2005 Fast Company article, "Why We Hate HR."  I made that required reading in all my HR classes at the time. 

Well today we have the blogosphere and Twitterville, discussing the latest article about HR, at, "Memo to CFO's: Don't Trust HR."  Yikes!

Well I see some very similar themes in both articles regarding our short comings as a profession:
1) Business "savviness"
2) Analytical ability
3) Performance Management

I do agree with those listed above, in general.  I say that because as an HR consultant and professor I do meet a lot of HR professionals.  I will say that I think there has been a change in the last few years though.  I have met some extremely talented HR professionals that really "get it" and "get it done."  For example, we have a client in manufacturing that just hired a new HR Manager.  This manager understands manufacturing and adds value on a daily basis assisting the CEO and Executive Team with sales process improvements, lean principles to enhance efficiency and troubleshooting late shipments to increase customer loyalty.  I think that is adding value!

I disagree with Professor Beatty regarding employee engagement and financial returns.  I believe there is a connection and there is a ton of research that supports, "Happy employees=happy customers=higher returns."  Its HR's job to figure out which employees are engaged, AND which ones are engaged plus performing and which ones are not.  The ones that are not need to be managed out of the system. 

Professor Richard Beauty, from the article suggests enlisting someone in Operations to do HR's work.  HR has the knowledge, skills and abilities to do value added work, no doubt.  By investing time into understanding business and analytics, HR can really become a trusted business partner.  I think the economy has heightened the need for this skillset as many diffcult decisions are being made and data/analytics for those decisions is in high demand. 

How do you accomplish this illusive business "savviness" and analytic ability?  All of these articles are quick to point of the deficiencies but rarely offer any are some off the top of my head:

1) Get an MBA if you are serious about HR and understanding the business
2) Spend time on other parts of the organization learning sales, marketing, accounting, etc.
3) Report to a CFO
4) Take classes in analytics or statistics

I think we are at a time in our profession, where we have to JUST DO IT!  We need to up our skills sets and take this challenge head on.  Maybe then we can stop discussing the table and these articles!!

What are your thoughts? 

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Surprise at the Tag Office

I had to go to the tag office this morning and I was not looking forward to it at all for all the usual reasons, waiting in line, grumpy people, etc. To my surprise when I got there not one person was in line and a friendly employee says, "How can I help you?" She had the transaction completed in less than 5 minutes. I stood there in shock. I said, "Wow this is different than my last experience." The employee said, well we all received some really good training and every time I get one of these comment cards, I get a reward. She pointed out the post cards, taped to her cubicle with accolades from customers. Since, the tag office is part of the county government, I am guessing the rewards can't be huge. She went on to tell me that they also get "points" for efficiency as well. So not only do they have a quality measure but they also have a quantity measure. Wow, am I dreaming at the tag office?

Here are some lessons in this story for HR:
1) Training does work if done correctly-Apparently the training the tag office employees received worked
2) Pay for Performance does work-I looked around at the other cubicles and comment cards were being proudly displayed. I suspect their is a "friendly competition" that goes along with those cards as well. Whatever the rewards are, they are working!
3) You don't have to have a big budget to turn around performance
4) Make sure you have metrics that are understandable and balanced between quality and quantity

All of these things can be accomplished in today's environment where emphasis is on cost containment/reduction. By making sure your customers expectations are exceeded during this down time, will mean repeat and referral business when times are good! Now, I know I have to get a tag, I don't have a choice, so I will be a repeat customer, however, the experience was pleasant. I think it is a l esson to all of us in the private sector. I might even think twice before getting my tag online!