In conversations with HR colleagues from different organizations over the past ten or so years, I’ve continually been surprised at how many of them are unhappy with their own HR leader, whether that leader is a manager, director, or senior executive. I guess some HR leaders forget that they are typically held to a higher standard than leaders in other areas. Why?
Because HR professionals generally understand what good managers are supposed to do (because we coach other managers on this), and when their own leader doesn’t follow those best practices, it can lead to professional frustration and sometimes even anger.
The best HR leaders I’ve seen are great at seeking input, gaining alignment, and setting clear direction with a short list of priorities that clearly support the organization’s strategy and annual plan. They make sure each member of the team, right down to the most junior, understands their role in delivering on that short list of priorities.
Also important is creating an atmosphere of shared responsibility which requires candid two-way feedback. Being direct with my staff and expecting them to be direct in return has always been a key part of my approach—and this approach has worked well. Getting to know your team members on a personal level and letting them know a bit about you helps with
achieving this kind of license, both speak up and also to create the willingness to listen to and accept feedback.
Once the team’s direction and alignment has been set and communicated, good leaders get out of their team’s way, and focus on sponsorship and barrier removal. Especially in multi-nationals with head offices in other centres, the role of “chief deflector” is a key leadership responsibility.
The best HR leaders really understand their organization’s business, the ins and outs of its P&L, and what it is trying to achieve over the long haul. Yes, being able to help solve a short-term crisis is valuable, but those who ultimately keep the long term in perspective–even while putting out fires–tend to be the best. This is a perspective that good HR leaders
impart to and continually reinforce with their team
Stephen Gould has been recognized as an influential HR leader in Canada for over 15 years. He was most recently the Senior Vice-President, Human Resources at Purolator Courier Ltd where in addition to leading the Human Resources function, he was also responsible for Engineering and Quality, Environment Health & Safety, Corporate Communications, Corporate
Social Responsibility and was the company’s Chief Privacy Officer. Prior to his role with Purolator Courier, Stephen was the Vice President of Human Resources at American Express. Steve has also held several senior HR leadership roles within the PepsiCo organization and McDonnell Douglas Canada. Stephen has been a speaker at numerous conferences in Canada on the topics of Being a Top Employer, Employee Engagement, Talent Management and The Healthy Workplace. He was also featured in Aspatore’s “Inside the Minds” series, in their book
entitled “Managing the Human Resources Team”.