Role, Goals and Conversations

Role, Goals and Conversations


Congratulations and some words of advice on your taking up a new role as Head of HR. You have held such a position earlier (and I had written to you then which you can access here  ‘Becoming Expert and Leader An Open Letter to HR Manager’ ) so you are not a newcomer to it, even so some suggestions for your consideration.

Begin with Clarity of Goals and Role

Ask your boss this question: ‘What are the two deliverables on which if I do not show high level of performance in 18 months you will think that my appointment was a mistake?’ Putting things in this way draws out the best response and we discover what is at stake and why. Make sure you discuss the ‘why’ of each deliverable to get its context and intrinsic importance.

Why eighteen months? Because it usually takes about six months for a person to settle down in a leadership role in a new organization. Then you get twelve months to do the job.

And think about your role. A role is a set of expectations. When you meet various vertical heads, assess what their expectations from HR function are. This will help you get a fair understanding of your role. It is a clever idea to make a summary and then discuss it with your CEO.

You must get two things right: Your Role and Goals; they are best understood through conversations and not through any other method.

Make sure that you draw up a plan of action and show it to your boss. This is the way to gain his/her confidence. Moreover, a conversation about your goals and their implementation will provide clarity.

Nothing is more important than knowing the pulse of people.  

In an organisation where the investors are at work, they appreciate those executives who know the pulse of people. Why? Because they abhor getting caught off-guard, particularly any show of mass unrest or dissatisfaction. They have a very high stake. In a successful company, the value of their shares runs in  a few thousand crores. They do not like it coming under surprise attack. Knowing the pulse of people is therefore very important. 

Devise programs for knowing the people issues. Very often people call it ‘Town Hall’ meetings. The problem with these meetings are two-fold: First, these meetings often have ‘top-down’ communication instead of ‘bottom-up’ communication. And second, they usually do not guarantee anonymity. Please hold meetings where you will lead the meetings. Ensure anonymity to the questioners, which is the prime requirement.

Choose Your Area of Impact

In HR there are various ‘verticals’ such as Talent Management, Compensation and Benefits, Employee Engagement, Industrial Relations etc. You will have goals in all these areas. Select one of the verticals for the maximum impact. To elaborate, if you choose Employee Engagement as the area for highest impact, find out what was done in the past, what other organizations are practising. Usually managers in successful organisations do not care to find out how a certain thing is done by others although there is often so much to learn and benefit from their ideas and practices. Consult a few knowledgeable persons. And then make a plan.

When you impact one area of HR, it raises understanding levels of other areas too. Because you gain insights in those areas. For example, if you decide to choose Comp and Ben as your high impact area, you will also gain a good understanding of the role learning and development plays in increasing person’s worth, as well as the type of learning which benefits people given their level within the organization.

The point is that when you create a substantial impact in one vertical, it also spreads everywhere in your work area.

Proactively Establish Excellent Working Relationships

Your immediate goal ought to be to establish excellent working relationships proactively. My way of beginning a good working relationship was to begin by introducing myself, with my family background, academics, and my career, and a few statements about my understanding of what works and does not work in HR. I often took 10 min or more to do this intro.

I would then ask them to introduce themselves. When you introduce yourself openly the other person becomes comfortable to share. When you introduce yourself with such a candour and openness, they also open out. Ask them how the organisation has changed during their tenure, and what two things they will expect HR to do and stop doing.

If you collect these statements, you will get a readymade agenda. So, meet all key managers in this way. These meetings were one on one.

Remember that whether at work or in personal life, relationships must be established proactively.

Conversations Will Win the Game for You

Your ability to engage people in good meaningful conversations will make you successful. Do not try to crack problems of logical thinking alone, speak to people, because you are going to manage issues which have more than one right solution.

And do not speak about your past company for at least two years. If you do often, people feel you are living in the past and not yet got in the groove. They also feel that you are not really a part of their organization.

Remember that when you moved to the role of HR Head in the earlier job, you had already built your credibility in the organization, because you had worked there for many years. When you join a new organization, we must rebuild credibility. We begin at zero level. This is painful, but we have no choice. Find your ways of getting accepted. I think there is no set formula for it, but the general rule of ‘Understand the other party first, before seeking understanding of your view’ which is the Habit 5 of The Seven habits of Effective People; it is the golden rule. In other words, practice empathetic listening.

There is a simple rule of engaging people in conversations. When a person says something, think immediately ‘What is the right response,’ and then respond accordingly. The general rule of right response is to begin by restating what the person has said to reassure him/her that you have heard the person correctly. Such a reassurance works wonders. Occasionally, mention the feelings the person is impliedly communication such as ‘I see that you felt very let down at that statement by X’ etc., and then make your point. Corporate managers are too preoccupied with their work and many among them are terrible listeners; do not fall in the trap of instant response even if it is provocative.

Invest in Yourself, Growth is automatic, Development is a Choice

Much is being written and spoken about formally coaching and mentoring. Stay away from it. Yes! Stay away. People will come to you when they feel that there is something to learn and get benefited by interacting with you. Mentoring and coaching will happen naturally then, do not make specific efforts to coach or mentor. Do it only when people ask for it.

Just as water flows from high point to low point, knowledge and insights also flow from those more developed to less developed. In any specific area. To reach the high point, there is no alternative but to invest in yourself. Methodically. A lot of information is available on the internet. Being abreast of the latest thoughts and concepts is important and it adds value. Subscribe to McKinsey’s Quarterly online – you get free access to a vast number of articles. No payment is required unless you want to access premium articles. Do subscribe to HBR. Adam Grant’s books are useful. Study them carefully.

And Finally

You will be taking up the leadership role. Your level of proactive approach will be the critical success factor.

Thanks, I wish you success at every step,