How HR Leaders Gain the Respect of Business Leaders

Published December 16th, 2015 in WUWUK Blog, WUWUK For Employers | No Comments »

Whenever the holiday season comes around, I love to spend a cozy evening watching It’s a Wonderful Life, but that movie always make me wonder about life choices. Have you ever wished you had a crystal ball that could show you the outcomes your career choices will have on your progression toward your goals? I’m guessing we all have, at one time or another. But since a reliable crystal ball hasn’t been invented yet, I like to talk with people who made good choices and have enjoyed a lot of success. But instead of what they did right, I find out what they would do differently. Recently I had this kind of discussion with Julie, a Chief Talent Officer in the healthcare industry. She said that if she could do it all over again, she would get her MBA. She’d gotten her undergraduate degree in Business/HR and her Master’s in Organizational Development, but she still had to gain a lot of her financial and business acumen by digging in deeper. Back in the day, she filled that gap by asking a lot of questions and raising her hand to acquire the knowledge to truly understand the business’s needs. But she pointed out that in today’s world, everything is very metrics and data driven, so if you are going into HR, you can’t rely on just your knowledge of the “soft science” of HR. You may start with some kind of HR, business, psychology or sociology degree—those are great—but you also need to round that out with financial and operational education so that you really know how the business runs and how it makes money. Then you make sure that as an HR executive you are always looking at the business through that lens. I asked Julie to give me an example of how this type of knowledge has helped her in her job. She explained that her job is to increase the quality of the talent of the organization in the spirit of the company becoming higher performing. If the head of HR can’t speak the language of the business—like what’s going on with an organization’s revenue, EBITDA or productivity—you won’t have the respect of the business leaders. To be an effective HR leader, you need to be able to have those types of conversations. I asked for a little clarification at this point in the conversation—was Julie’s point that you need this business education if you want to have a seat at the table? “I dislike that phrase,” she told me earnestly. She pushes back on those who complain about not being valued or “having the seat.” She said you earn it by proving you bring value to the business. I realized how right she is about that as she went on to explain: If you demonstrate with quantitative data how the business’s talent affects its bottom line, then the CEO will want you there. But if your evidence is anecdotal and qualitative, you won’t be invited. Whether the economy is declining or your business is booming, you can add value. Come to the CEO or CFO with several strategic initiatives for how to improve the bottom line—for example, by restructuring, looking at the business through the lens of turnover, making sure you have the courage to employ top-grade talent. They want to know what lever to pull, so help them by bringing relevant, actionable data. Now Julie demands a seat at the table. She once turned down an opportunity because she could see that the hiring executive talked about how important talent was to the company, but didn’t back the words up with actions and strategy. She realized that he wasn’t committed to having an HR leader who would be strategic and transformative, and she didn’t take the job. The choice Julie made is the type of decision people can make with confidence when they are working from a position of strength. And in this case, the strength comes from knowledge—financial, operational and business acumen. So if you’ve been thinking about getting that MBA but have been on the fence about it, it could just be the key to opening the door to your wonderful life.