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HR: A Trusted Management Advisor

While it’s easy to get caught up in daily task execution during this time, talent managers would do well to focus on the most critical role they can play right now: being a trusted partner and counselor to senior management.

May 26, 2009
Related Topics: Strategy and Management
Corporations are leaving no stone unturned as they try to reduce expenses and eliminate all but the most essential activities. While it’s easy to get caught up in daily task execution during this time, talent managers would do well to focus on the most critical role they can play right now: being a trusted partner and counselor to senior management.

In fact, HR is in an ideal position to step up and assume this role. But how is this relationship built? How do talent managers go beyond their HR expert label and become a necessary and critical asset top management uses to shape the organization?

Become an agenda setter. Every executive has an agenda of his or her critical priorities or goals, and it is the talent manager’s job to fully understand them. This might sound simpler than it is, however. For example, a senior executive may not want to spend the time to share long range plans with HR. Further, an agenda typically comprises a business and a personal component. For example, a business goal may be to grow revenues in the Asia-Pacific region, whereas a personal agenda item might be to get promoted or perhaps retire in two years and leave a legacy. Talent managers must keep track of both sides and be instrumental in helping improve and shape the agenda as a whole. Why? When you only react to an executive’s strategy, you are an interchangeable staff expert. When you are an agenda setter, you become a counselor and trusted partner.

Evolve to become a deep generalist. America has become a nation of specialists, and we revere the expert. It’s no surprise then, that some HR professionals spend their entire careers digging deeper into their core specialties. If you want to manage your department or area effectively and also be a trusted advisor to top management, you need depth and breadth — you must become a deep generalist.

To do so, fight hard to get broad exposure early in your career. Invest time to become intimately familiar with your company’s strategy and operations. Read general business publications, not just HR magazines. And get out of the office to spend ample time in the field. I know one HR leader who requires his staff to be out of the office in the trenches at least 50 percent of the time.

Add value for time. We tend to think about value for money as important, especially during a recession. But for senior executives, value for time is even more critical. Most top executives could fill their day with appointments three times over. When you want their time for something, they ask themselves: “Does this align with my priorities? Can we handle it by e-mail or voicemail? Can I delegate it to someone on my team?” You can add more value for time with business leaders by following these strategies:
  • Make sure what’s being discussed is connected to that executive’s most important issues and priorities. Ask yourself: “What’s the most important issue we should be discussing today?”
  • Get to the point quickly. Most senior executives are used to dealing with information in five-minute chunks.
  • Always have an opening hook that grabs the executive’s attention in the first few minutes of a meeting.
  • Bring unique information and perspectives into your conversation. These could be insights about the organization, especially in the lower levels; data about your competition or customers; or best practices you’ve identified in other leading organizations.
Always make the business case. Value-add and measurable results have become mantras for CEOs who are under increasing pressure from shareholders to deliver profit growth. Not surprisingly, smart HR professionals put their programs and policies solidly in the context of how they will help achieve business results. To accomplish this, tie everything you want to do to your company’s business objectives. To start, give yourself a solid grounding in your company’s strategic, operational and financial objectives and thoroughly examine the hard and soft impacts of every recommendation.

Stretch yourself during breakthrough moments.
Many great trusted partner relationships are forged during crises. In some cases, the catalyst was a major acquisition. In others, it was a crisis precipitated by external events. Recognize these moments, and be prepared to truly stretch yourself to meet the challenge — you may find your relationships transformed as a result.
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