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The HR Professional as Company Leader - SHRM15

Human Resources

Say “Human Resources Department” and folks most likely think of hiring and firing, employee benefits, workplace orientation and the annual summer picnic. Perhaps it’s time that perceptions changed to include company leadership.

Today more than ever, HR managers can play a pivotal role in a business’ direction, vitality and future. You can serve your employer far beyond handling employee benefits and overseeing labor laws. Savvy company leaders know that HR professionals represent a firm’s front line: recruiting and training staff to move the business forward, promoting its growth and ensuring its future. Smart business owners include HR on the executive team.

Recognize, Integrate Individuals’ Strengths with Team Strengths

As HR manager, you are the team leader of all the firm’s team leaders. As such, says HR guru Marcus Buckingham, focus your attention on the strengths of your people. What do they know? How are they doing in their current positions? How are they feeling about the company and their roles within it?

Buckingham, delivering a keynote address at #SHRM15, called for a radical shift in corporate thinking: From focusing on “the organization” to focusing on the team leader. Rather than emphasize “leadership,” he says, emphasize “what the best leaders do.”

The best leaders know that flexibility is vital when pressing for long-term goals. As the company team leader, the HR pro needs to check in frequently with department managers regarding priorities and help them adjust personnel strengths to meet objectives. “A team leader asks, ‘What are the priorities and how can I help?’” Buckingham says. “The best leaders realize that it’s hard to plan goals [out] for a year. Things change, so it’s important to check in weekly” to adjust priorities.

As the overall team leader, the HR professional must define what’s universal about the team under her/his purview — and also recognize the strengths of each person in the company, Buckingham says. The perceptive HR manager will then integrate individual and group strengths to shape an effective workforce.

Drive up Employee Satisfaction to Drive Down Turnover

Today, business success hinges on having the right people in the right jobs and encouraging individual and collective talent. Margaret Morford, another SHRM Conference speaker, recited statistics illustrating the importance of managing to people’s strengths — and their employment satisfaction. Morford, CEO of the HR Edge Inc., an international management consulting and training company, noted that:

  • The average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is now 4.6 years, and 3.3 years for senior executives;
  • The average employee tenure is 3.5 years;
  • 72 percent of employees leave jobs because they’re not recognized for their contributions or sufficiently respected or coached by managers;
  • 53 percent of employees say overall performance of management is so-so, and 15 percent say management is “hopeless”;
  • 21 percent of employees say they’re “highly disengaged” from their jobs — a 300 percent increase since 2007; and
  • Fully 55 percent of Americans say they’re unhappy with their jobs.

These figures should make all company leaders sit up and sweat. And act, if they haven’t already done so.

Survey Employees to Know How to Lead

One way to act in the face of such labor-force volatility is to know — really know — who works for you and what each person wants. Buckingham suggests that companies survey their employees to learn whether people are in the right places, using their skills to the fullest and happy at their work.

Knowing how employees regard the company and their role in its mission allows leaders to make changes, where necessary, and maintain positive momentum. Keep in mind, Buckingham cautions, that “There is no perfect profile. Only practices that fit your profile.”

In addition to regular, formal workforce surveys, Buckingham urges every team leader to check in with his/her employees on an informal basis. Frequent, strength-based inquiries about near-term projects keep the lines of communication open and priorities clear. Leaders who check in, rather than check up on staff, foster a culture of camaraderie.

“So goes the team leader, so goes the organization,” Buckingham says.

Stay tuned for more great insights from #SHRM15.


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