Good to great HR hike

Monday, 23 September 2013 00:34 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Human resource professionals have a critical role to play. They have to think and act like leaders and not as laggards. How can they become ‘great’ leaders? What are the practical avenues possible? Today’s column will shed light on leeway of leadership for HR professionals. Overview Leadership is a much discussed topic in both private as well as public circles. According to R. M. Stogdill, a behavioural researcher, leadership is the most vastly researched and the least understood phenomena on earth. You may find the number of books on leadership in a management bookshelf easily outnumbering the rest. The point here is the vitality of leadership for organisational success. Also, there is an increasing demand for it. Jim Collins in his well-respected 2001 Harvard Business Review article and subsequent book ‘From Good to Great’ introduces a level five leadership. I think it is an appropriate framework to discuss the leadership growth of HR professionals. The concept came about during a study that began in 1996, when Collins began researching what makes a great company. He started by looking at 1,435 companies, and ended up choosing 11 truly great ones. These 11 companies were all headed by what Collins called ‘Level 5 Leaders’. He found that these leaders have humility, and they don’t seek success for their own glory; rather, success is necessary so that the team and organisation can thrive. They share credit for success, and they’re the first to accept blame for mistakes. Collins also says that they’re often shy, but fearless when it comes to making decisions, especially ones that most other people consider risky. In linking to the HR professionals, it can be considered as the Level Five HR Leadership. Else, in a more specific sense, let me call it the ‘Good to Great HR Hike’. Good to great HR hike Adapting from what Jim Collins presented as the “level five leadership”, figure 1 depicts how it relates to HR professionals. It is a journey from highly capable individual to a great HR leader. Such a progress path needs maturity as well as opportunities. Both individual and institution alike have a role to play with this respect. Let’s look at each of the five levels in more detail: Level 1: Highly Capable Individual At this level, one makes high quality contributions with one’s work. One may possess useful levels of knowledge; and he/she has the talent and skills needed to do a good job. It can be a person coming into HR either as a fresher or from another discipline. He/she adds value based on knowledge and expertise. One cannot contribute solely as an individual super star and the mindset change to be a collaborative team player is inevitable. Level 2: Contributing HR Team Member At Level 2, one uses his/her knowledge and skills to help the team succeed. One works pleasantly and productively with other members of the team. This is the first sign of maturity with regards to career growth. You might handle one aspect of HR such as compensation, recruitment etc. but it has to be viewed as a vital part of a larger system. Teams and groups are often interchangeably used to describe a set of people working together. In perusing through the literature of organisational behaviour, veterans like Stephen Robbins and Fred Luthans have identified a group as a set of two or more individuals interacting and interdependent with each other in achieving a common objective. A team is one step ahead. I would simplify a team as a group with synergy. Hence the requirement is quite clear. Contributing HR team members have to work aligned to a common set of objectives in line with broader organisational goals, with needed collaboration. Level 3: Competent HR Manager Now the time has come for one to be in charge of a team in terms of planning, organising, guiding and controlling. In the context of HR, it may be heading a team of HR practitioners with required competence. Thus, the appropriate term is the competent HR manager. They have to continuously upgrade their competencies in line with competitive challenges. Being complacent with what you have might carry them towards decay and dejection. One’s level of accountability also goes up with associated responsibilities. Level 4: Effective HR Leader The stage is well set for one to lead not only one unit but several units in being overall in charge of HR function. The time horizon has shifted from short-term to long-term in being more strategic. This is the opportunity for one to have a compelling vision for HR in line with the broad organisational vision, with a clear mission towards it. The challenge is to move beyond the routine operational mindset to look beyond. HR professionals should be at the top and not just at the tap. In my view, effective HR leaders can add value in three main aspects. Strategic Involvement of HR: Ensure that HR professional is involved in the strategic decision making process of the organisation. Strategic Alignment of HR: Ensure that HR policies and practices are aligned to the organisational strategic direction, and are reflective of organisation’s long term goals. Strategic Contribution of HR: Ensure that HR function, and particularly the Head of HR is accountable for people-related strategic matters and thus should achieved agreed targets. Quantification of targets with appropriate matrices should be a perquisite for this. Level 5: Great HR Leader This is the pinnacle of the hike. It requires a highest degree of maturity to think, reflect and act. One needs to be ready for giving and forgiving. It is the culmination of maturity and opportunity with the level five leader demonstrating personal humility and professional will. I tend to call such a person, a “great HR leader”. They are down to earth and simple. They do not go on other’s shoulders but may carry others on their shoulders, like the good shepherd in the Bible. That’s where the personal humility comes. Rather than strengthening their power bases with keeping stooges around, they genuinely respect counter points perhaps in the case of HR, might be from trade unions and other functional employees. They need to have a professional will. That’s where the result orientation comes. Unless an HR professional is strategically oriented, he/she cannot ad value in the broader complex organisational level. In essence, thinking and action of a person, reflecting the long term plans of the organisation he/she works for, with the involvement in the strategy formulation, implementation and evaluation steps of the strategic decision making process are essential. Having looked at the good to great HR hike, one may wonder what practical actions are required to keep going. Let’s discuss a possible few. Practical steps in moving from good to great Obviously, it takes time and effort to engage in the good to great HR hike. What is important is the clear awareness of what possible level you are currently in and to be aware the knowledge, skills and attitude needed to move to the next level. Some practical actions with emphasis on great HR leadership are worth discussing. As we say, great HR leaders have to be humble people. So, learn why humility is important, and make sure that you understand, at a deep, emotional level, why arrogance is so destructive. Then ensure that you behave in a humble way – for example, whenever your team has success, make sure that credit goes to them for their hard work. Conversely, as a leader, you need to take responsibility for your team’s efforts, even when things go wrong. The global credit crunch started in 2007 showed many examples of how arrogant, self-glorifying, self-obsessed leaders led their organisations to ruin. Much of this chaos could have been averted if appointment committees had recruited leaders with level 5 qualities. Humility matters, including when it comes to recruitment. “A players recruit A+ players, while B players recruit C players,” said Guy Kawasaki, of motorcycle fame. If you’re recruiting A+ players, why wouldn’t you take full advantage of their skills? For that to happen, one needs to be fully aware of the fact that my team members are having higher talent than me and it is my duty to harness them then suppress them. Performance orientation is the other vital dimension. “Professional will” should be translated to goal attainment. A Strategic HR Scorecard in line with the Balanced Scorecard of the organisation is an ideal thing to have in this respect. Measurement imperative has to be there in HR in facing the challenge of converting intangible benefits to possible measurements creatively. Conducting employee engagement surveys is one such example. Way forward Sri Lankan HR professionals have a long way to go in becoming great HR leaders. Yet, the encouraging evidence is there on the growing awareness and increased commitment. With the alignment with organisational leadership, HR professionals can add value to the organisational success. Let there be more companions in the good to great HR hike so that the institutions will have higher performance with more committed and contended employees. (Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri works at the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He can be reached on ajantha@pim.lk or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)

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