What HR Leadership Should Look Like

It’s good advice for parents (and supervisors as well) to never discipline in anger.  I suspect it’s equally good advice for bloggers to not post in frustration.  I am breaking that rule just this one time. 🙂

We have long had a MindSet called The Prime Directive for Human Resources.  As any Star Trek fan knows, a Prime Directive is an overriding guiding principle.  MindSet believes the Prime Directive for HR should be to attract, build, motivate, and retain great talent.

When I wrote the Prime Directive for HR 20 years ago, I was not aware of how far many HR Departments had strayed from what should be the core reason for their existence.  It is common today to find HR departments that are devoid of individuals who have expertise in, and passion for, attracting, building, motivating, and retaining great employees.  In some cases HR departments seem to have condemned themselves to this sad state of a narrow administrative focus, while in other situations they have been reduced to this status by sort-sighted CEOs.  In either case, to limit HR to management functions, and to not hold HR responsible for leadership and culture, is a mistake. 

If I were to again take a CEO role leading a major company, and could fill only one top executive position with a person of my choosing, I would want to select the leader of human resources.  I would want a full partner who understood that nothing will better propel our enterprise to success than the ability to attract, build, motivate, and retain great talent.  If I had an HR leader who was failing to accomplish those objectives, I would replace that person with someone who would.

Hire Team Players, not Referees

Somewhere CEOs got the convoluted notion that it is acceptable to allow professionals in HR to be referees instead of teammates, largely reducing their focus to compliance with regulations and legal mandates.  But here is a key insight: there no reason we have to choose between management and leadership.  With respect to the operation of human resources, being technically correct and philosophically right are not mutually exclusive.  We actually can walk and chew gum at the same time…well, if we try.

So why the sorry state we so often see now?  Well, it is far easier to find referees than it is to find leaders.  I also suspect that the too often tedious HR work environment discourages those who might enter the profession, or (even worse) forces those who have a passion for leadership to leave the profession.  This is such a dysfunctional pattern.  We NEED great leaders in HR – which means we should be encouraging talented individuals to assume those reigns and be investing in top-notch leadership training for our HR professionals.

What Real HR Leadership Looks Like  

What leadership should a CEO expect to see from a great HR department?  They should expect ideas and initiatives regarding:

  • Innovative recruitment ideas that attract high quality applicants
  • An interview process that leads to strong applicants saying “yes”
  • A dynamic staff orientation program that sets clear attitudinal and behavioral expectations from day one
  • Working as a partner with front line supervisors to help them create the most spectacularly positive and productive work environment possible
  • Ideas as to how compensation can be more effective and equitable
  • Suggestions for creative perks that build employee loyalty and appreciation
  • Promotion of leadership practices that assure staff members will recognize (and appreciate!) the value of total compensation
  • Ideas to accelerate employee growth and success, including vibrant training initiatives
  • Employee-friendly benefit operations
  • A clear vision of how to identify leadership talent
  • Strategy to develop bench strength for every supervisory role in the company
  • Vigilant protection of the right of good staff to work with good staff
  • Initiatives to frequently re-recruit valuable staff members
  • Regular and thoughtful measurement and analysis of cultural health

Look for Leadership Potential and Passion

Here is a final insight – and I know it is close to sacrilege for a profession that is increasingly focused on having certification initials behind their name – but when selecting a top leader for HR, don’t worry about credentials or even a background in HR.  There are great training programs for the technical aspects of HR management, and it can be learned fairly quickly – and you may want to offer your new HR leader consultation support in the technical aspects for a period of time.  But it is the degree to which your HR executive has leadership insights and a passion for culture that will make the long-term difference to your company’s success.

An Opportunity for HR Professionals

If you share our vision for Human Resource leadership, please considering joining us for the MindSet Leadership Series.  In this 20-hour program, we teach attendees insights and techniques that will build and protect phenomenal cultures – cultures where employees will grow and the company will thrive.  It’s the intellectual capital that cultivated the culture at Omaha’s only FIVE-time #1 Best Place to Work award winner, is endorsed by the Greater Omaha Chamber & HRAM, and has received rave reviews from attendees in the previous seven MindSet Leadership Classes.