The 6 Pledges of Tomorrow's HR Leaders

December 6, 2013

As 2013 draws towards a close, many of us will take time to reflect on the year gone by and begin to make resolutions for improvement in the New Year.


Among your resolutions: improve professional performance in 2014.


In human resources, it’s all too easy to get mired in the day-to-day grind. Leaders in HR know that success lies in effective strategy. Elevating themselves above the paper-pushing monotony and focusing on a few key pledges can improve their organization and propel them to the top.


Pledge #1: I pledge to take a holistic and strategic view of my organization so that I can implement programs that create business success.


Here’s a startling statistic: 40% of C-level executives think HR is “too focused on process and rules” and over a third said that HR professionals “do not understand the business well enough.”

The C-suite is focused on business success – not process or rules. To be viewed as a leader, your programs should create tangible improvements in your company’s business outcomes.

To find success, look from the outside in. What are the general business conditions and challenges (demographic, technologies, etc.) that are affecting your business? How can you build programs and initiatives to help better meet those challenges and support a more effective service or product delivery?

Remember, business outcomes, not just meeting minimum compliance standards, are the goal.

One great way to understand the challenges facing your company? Gain cross-functional expertise. Participate in boards, volunteer for committees, learn the language of finance, take on new projects. This cross-functional experience will help you gain a more holistic understanding of your organization, which will translate into more effective strategies and programs.


Pledge #2: I pledge to have the courage to try new things and challenge the status quo.


Now that you’re thinking strategically, you have to implement change. This means having the courage to challenge conventions and test the untested in order to make your strategic visions reality.

While it can feel scary, success lies in the unknown.

Case Study: The Makings of a Training Magazine “Emerging Training Leader to Watch”

Consider Carmen Murrell Randell, Director of Field Training Services for G4S Secure Solutions (USA), who was named one of Training Magazine’s 2013 Top 5 “Emerging Training Leaders to Watch.”

Recognized for her leadership and innovative programs, Ms. Murrell Randall’s accomplishments include the design and deployment of G4S’ High-Impact Leadership Training Program, which trains more than 6,000 first-line supervisors and office staff.

In order to create a successful program, Ms. Murrell Randall had to fight to implement new technologies, including the company’s Secure Trax® mobile system, as well as Intellum’s Exceed learning management system. In the end, her initiative has paid off. Ms. Murrell Randall’s programs have earned national recognition, and she is on the fast-track to success.

When looking to improve your programs, here are a few questions to ask yourself.

Automating processes will pull you out of the day to-day grind and free up your time to drive strategy. They will also give you time to create training and education programs that will empower your staff to make tangible improvements to your company.

What technologies can you implement that will automate otherwise cumbersome processes, better enable communication, and drive talent success?

What programs or processes are outdated and ripe for overhaul?

What are best-practices used by other organizations?

Of course, challenging the status quo won’t help your company unless you have the right talent in place to execute your programs. This brings us to…


Pledge #3: I will learn how to attract, retain, engage and motivate top-talent.


A topic this broad and diverse would benefit from a post (or book) all its own; however, to get you started, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) outlines seven key initiatives for effective talent management:

One key idea to keep in mind, beyond any rule or initiative, is that attracting and retaining great talent is about one thing: instilling passion in the purpose of your business.

Develop an integrated, proactive talent management strategy: View “employer of choice” status as an outcome of coherent corporate culture rather than ad-hoc programs.

Balance grassroots involvement in talent attraction and retention with management accountability.

Know the company’s business environment and plans—the competitive climate.

Know plans for growth, merger, divestiture, and new products or technologies and project their impact on immediate and longer-term talent needs.

Know what factors contribute to difficulties in attraction and retention: Base initiatives on the real concerns of employees. Raw numbers on turnover can show where retention problems are but not what they are.

Keep various retention factors in balance, especially the mix of compensation and nonfinancial motivators.

Track turnover: Know its costs and where they are the greatest and convey them to management to support the business case for retention.

Market the company and its brand to current employees as vigorously as to the outside talent pool.

Consider these two job descriptions (as excerpted from an article in Inc. Magazine), both describing the position of a software engineer:

Which would you rather do? The second, of course.

Software Engineer with 10 years of experience in a Java-centric software development environment. Must exhibit both innovative thinking, ability to work in a team and leadership skills, preferably in the research and development of medical devices.

This job is all about building software that helps doctors heal people and save lives. You’ll be part of a creative team that designs and implements the software that runs some of the most advanced medical devices on the planet. Your skills in Java programming will make those devices easier to use and thus able to help more people. You will be making a big difference to the lives of many people.

This brings us to our fourth pledge.


Pledge #4: I will implement training and education programs that reach beyond compliance obligations to inspire continual learning and growth.


Talent is among your company’s most important resources. As an HR professional, finding innovative ways to support your staff’s growth and development is among your most important responsibilities – and is among the most powerful ways to demonstrate your contribution to business success.

As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said, “an organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

Your ultimate contribution to this goal is the development of a learning organization. A learning organization refers to “a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. A learning organization has five main features: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. By cultivating this learning organization and instilling a culture of informal learning, the HR executive can create a company that is more like a community that employees can feel a commitment to, rather than a faceless organization.”

One of the most powerful ways to develop your learning organization is to instill a culture of informal learning within your company, a topic we’ve written about in great detail here.


Pledge #5: I will cultivate organizational capabilities that reach beyond talent.


What is your company’s core competitive advantage? What are you known for? Is it customer service? Innovation?

Whatever it is that separates you in the marketplace, these are your organizational capabilities.

No matter how good your talent attraction and retention programs, it is a fact of business that talent will come and talent will go.

Ingrained organizational capabilities, and an inspiring workplace culture that supports the development of these capabilities, will outlast any one person.

In human resources, supporting the development of these organizational capabilities doesn’t mean simply creating structure and process; it’s about creating a feedback loop that leads to sustainable and self-perpetuating growth.

Dina Knight, HR director for E2V, uses what she’s dubbed an “organization capability review.” Ms. Knight explains, “the HR department [works] with divisional directors to examine what the business is going to look like, the key themes of growth and where we are going to focus. This work keeps HR completely in line with business strategy. We are helping our managers take control to help HR move further up the value chain. Growing a business is more than just organizational development, but HR’s role as a capability builder is fundamental. It is not just about building strategy, but starting with a strategic direction. HR departments have to work much harder in aligning themselves with businesses and putting managers in charge of issues such as disciplinaries.”

The development of review systems and core organizational capabilities will help to create a sustainable and self-perpetuating culture of continual improvement and growth for your organization.


Pledge #6: I will surround myself with a diverse and dynamic team.


Innovation, talent, process, organizational development, learning and development, employee relations – the responsibilities of the modern HR professional can be overwhelming.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has created a detailed map covering all the critical skills for a modern HR professional. A quick look at the list and it’s clear that no person can manage all these responsibilities on their own.

This is why the true leaders in HR pledge to surround themselves with a group of talented and complementary professionals to ensure they can meet the ever-changing and evolving demands of the modern workplace.