The new year is typically a time of celebration and personal reflection but also a time for resetting priorities and identifying goals and objectives for the coming year in the workplace. I was contemplating the coming year with some apprehension, because it was recently announced that our HR Director is leaving to go to another internal assignment.
Transitioning From Good to Great
Reflecting a little on my almost 35 years working in human resources, it occurred to me that my tenure with the current HR Director over the last 9½ years probably represents the longest single period of time that I’ve ever worked with one top-level HR executive.
As noted in the past, my belief is that our HR organization has appreciably raised its game during that time. Moving from an organization with a reputation of Just Okay into the zone of Very Good. And now to within sight of the threshold of Great.
That prompted me to reflect on the regular questions regarding whether leaders are born or are they made; the role of transformative leadership and how much of the change experienced by our organization (admittedly, over almost a decade) was attributable to our current leadership.
Starting Off On The Right Foot
Our HR Director, while picked from a talent pool internal to our organization, could not have been a more unlikely candidate for the job – as she had exactly zero formal background in human resources at the time of her selection.
While not explicitly “an organization in crisis” at the time of our HR Director’s selection, our human resources functions were clearly in need of some changes and most importantly, adopting more progressive thought processes across the full spectrum of human capital planning and talent management.
To her credit the new HR Director spent her first couple of weeks making the necessary time commitment to visit each department, to convey her initial expectations but more importantly to ask each department head 4-5 questions:
- What is your department's primary purpose?
- What are your department's capabilities?
- What would you say has gone well in HR – and maybe less well?
- What are two or three key changes you might suggest?
- What are your expectations of me and what support can I provide?
All too often this is a step that new leaders devote a minimum of time to or – worse – skip altogether. Whether or not she was aware of it, it was apparent that our new leader’s effort at outreach had communicated a number of things to the current staff:
Humility. As an HR Director with a decidedly non-HR background, this outreach demonstrated a willingness to learn and to acknowledge her lack of full understanding of the functions of the organization and an implicit willingness to rely on the team’s greater knowledge and expertise.
Validation. This outreach also allowed the business line owners to explain and show the positive impact that their function and their work unit contributed to the organization. It also began the process of identifying business improvements that were needed . . . and worthy of their effort.
Clarity. Changes in upper-level leadership almost always create a degree of anxiety and uncertainty within an organization. Early engagement and outreach by the new leader helped to convey a sense of the expectations, the level of performance and the outcomes and results that would signify success.
Structure vs. Consideration
Of the two generally accepted management styles, our new HR Director landed squarely in the consideration column – which has served her well. She’s demonstrated a predisposition toward being empathetic and empowering in her dealings with both employees and staff. Those qualities have been complemented by her ability to learn quickly, accurately assess incomplete information, take balanced risks and make difficult decisions that were in the best interests of the organization.
Miles To Go Before We Sleep
The line from Robert Frost embodies what’s been achieved and what still remains. Over a decade we’ve successfully made numerous changes to our thinking and our processes, and along the way we strengthened both the “human” and the “business” facets of the human resources business. Some of those changes were driven by leadership, but many originated from within ourselves.
It’s with some sadness that at this time of year we say goodbye to the old, but also welcome the new. We look forward to continued success and building on what’s been accomplished as we prepare to welcome a new HR Director and a new leader next week. Happy New Year!
Everyone probably has a different perspective. What’s yours?
Chris Dobyns, CCP, CBP is currently employed as a Human Capital Strategic Consultant for the Office of Human Resource Strategy and Program Design for one of the largest U.S. intelligence agencies. The Office of Human Resource Strategy and Program Design is responsible for organizational effectiveness, personnel assessment, compensation and incentives, occupational structure, recognition and rewards, HR policy, human capital program design, implementation, evaluation and assessment and internal consulting. Chris has worked in the area of compensation for more than 35 years, and has been employed in various compensation-related positions by a number of large, private sector companies including, Sears, Roebuck, Arizona Public Service and Westinghouse Savannah River Company.
Original "Take Me To Your Leader" image courtesy of Chris Dobyns.