Becoming Expert and Leader: An Open Letter to HR Manager

Becoming Expert and Leader: An Open Letter to HR Manager

Dear HR Manager,

Congratulations on being appointed as Head HR. As promised, here are some thoughts for doing an expert job in HR.

Let me begin by answering an important question, then I will discuss other questions.

  1. What are the hallmarks of a ‘Professional?’

When we think of professionals, let us begin by thinking about Doctors, Lawyers and Chartered Accountants. They are all undoubtedly seen as professionals.

What are common facets?

[a] They have a code of conduct. [Even HR professionals have a code which is promoted by NHRDN].

[b] They constantly update their knowledge. Think about this: A lawyer can’t say that a particular case was decided after he obtained his LLB and therefore he does not know. Or a CA can’t say that he did not study GAAP therefore he will not work on it. We must constantly update our knowledge. And skills. Time must be earmarked for regular updation of knowledge and skills. As a professional we have to be up-to-date on the developing knowledge in our field of specialisation.

[c] Decisions must be made based on a body of knowledge. On sound theories. A lawyer decides based on rights, liabilities, privileges based on the law. A doctor decides based on the analysis of the various tests in the light of latest research. In the last one year I find the approach of the Diabetologists has changed. That’s the evidence of evolving knowledge, and how it is put to use. A good HR manager must decide based on what is legal [rights and liabilities] and what proper, fair and just is [based on goals, values and behavioural sciences tell us what works].

[d] They are members of professional bodies like CA Institute, NHRDN etc.

  1. How should you increase your expertise?

Remember that you will be seen as expert. An expert is respected because [s]he brings to the table knowledge, skill or perspective not available elsewhere in the organisation. An expert is created when [s]he gets depth of knowledge in any subject. Remember always that one of the reason some HR Managers do not earn respect is because their ‘expertise’ is no better than fellow managers’ like Production Manager’s or Sales Manager’s. Even the ‘HR Generalist’ role is an expert role!

How to ‘deepen’ your knowledge?

There are three simple ways: [a] Read with focus. In other words, pick up a subject of your choice and then read ONLY on that subject, various aspects, till you feel that you have gained good depth of knowledge. Usually this takes six months. Remember you must read a subject and then also read based on the author. Let me explain. Let us say you are reading on Performance Management. You will find that there are [at least] two authors who have written about it. Say, Dr Jeffrey Pfeffer and Dr Alfie Kohn. Then using ‘Advance Search’ facility pick up the articles of those two authors and study. This helps us gain insight.

[b] Remember that when we read, or make efforts, to acquire knowledge in order to solve a problem, we remember it for a long time. Link reading to problems. I know of a very senior professional who was in the Company’s canteen. He wondered if he had to give a Notice of Change under the ID Act for revising the canteen food prices. He opened his books, consulted his lawyer and found out the answer. He told me that he remembered the answer with reasoning mainly because he linked his study to a problem.

[c] Make notes. All experts make notes of what they study. Not just for reference. It helps them remember what they studied. There is not a single expert I know who does not make notes.

Developing Skills

This is simple. Please identify a good training program. The best thing to do is to identify such skills at the beginning of the year. My experience is that no consultation with senior is required for this purpose! What you feel is good enough.

  1. How will you set goals?

As the Head of HR, your job is to add value at three levels. These are increasing efficiency and effectiveness of ‘practices’ [recruitment, training, compensation etc.], fine tuning policies [these can be administrative, and also those unwritten such as HR or ER], and impacting development of organisation culture positively.

Typically managers focus on the practices, policies and culture in that order [although they may not admit it].

I found holding a detailed discussion with HODs, in which you must focus on asking and not telling, helps us identify ‘organisational issues.’ [What are the top two concerns you have on people front? / Where do you expect support of HR to increase effectiveness of your department?]

These could be slow decision making, inter-departmental lack of communication, accepting shoddy jobs etc. You will find that your effectiveness increases when you discuss these issues with your CEO, preferably when no big mishap has occurred.

Remember that HR Heads invest tons of money in training when they should be focusing on solving costly organisational issues thru OD work. This is one excellent way to impact the policies and culture.

Solving these issues require maturity and certain amount of discretion and confidentiality. This is why nobody else will ever do it except you as head of HR.

  1. Relating to your boss

Remember two principles at all times.

[a] Bosses are nervous wrecks. They may say that they delegate but in practice they do not do it unless they gain confidence that their junior can handle it. This comes by association and not by position.

[b] Remember a very basic rule: Never catch your boss by surprise. Always keep the boss informed about what you are doing and planning to do. Even if your boss says [s]he will rely on you, please keep doing it. That’s the only way to gain confidence. So do not make a proposal without first testing his/her mind. The best way to do this is to ask boss not to decide but just listen to your proposal.

  1. Relating to your juniors and peers

Just remember one dictat: Nobody in this world developed because of other person’s judgment. People develop because of support.

And that brings me to the last point.

  1. Two skills will make you very effective:

These skills are [a] influencing – this is a great skill but is best learnt by observation, and [b] converting a concept into an action plan. This is a skill which is terribly in short supply. Use How-how analysis technique here. To the best of my knowledge no management school teaches these skills!

All the best in your career,

Vivek S Patwardhan