Getting the C-Suite to Take Notice

How to become a better business partner

By Aliah D. Wright Oct 2, 2014
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LAS VE​GAS—HR consultancy Mercer revealed in 2010 that 84 percent of C-suite executives said “they had little to no understanding of human capital return.” HR professionals can change that, said Brad Karsh, president of JB Training Solutions, speaking during the Society for Human Resource Management’s inaugural Emerging LEAD(HR) Conference on Sept. 30.

To deepen HR’s importance to executives, Karsh said HR professionals must do the following in order to become better business partners.

Know the Business. “Understand your business and what it’s all about. Talk the talk, speak the language and have business acumen. Know what makes your company money, connect to how they make money and think like a chief financial officer.

“We sometimes get cloistered in our own little world ... and we often don’t think about the big picture,” he said. Get out from behind the computer and have face-to-face conversations with people in different divisions. 

HR professionals should “follow the money and the big picture. Read what [executives] read. Read the annual report and competitors’ annual reports. Read business publications and trade publications, too,” Karsh suggested. 

“Then what you can start to do is make connections” and see how human capital plays a role in the company’s development. Find out, too, “what keeps your CEO up at night,” he said. “What can you do to help your CEO? How do we break into other markets?” If you can find out where HR fits in to answer those questions, “that gives you better credibility.” 

Karsh asked the HR professionals in the room to discuss what’s on the horizon for their companies and in the world within the next five to 10 years. They mentioned acquisitions and mergers, demographic changes among workers, outsourcing and globalization, IT and engineering labor shortages, managing compliance with the Affordable Care Act, helicopter parenting and its impact on Millennials’ ability to integrate well into the workplace, and a host of other issues.

“HR should think about what it can do proactively to help solve those issues,” Karsh said. 

Embrace Change. “Change is difficult. But we have to make sure we deal with it effectively because we live with it each and every day,” he said. 

When embracing change, “validate that primal fear. It’s like Linus when his blanket is in the dryer; there’s nothing to hold on to,” he said, referencing the Peanuts cartoon character who is never far from his comfort object. 

He encouraged attendees to “Practice change; just say yes,” when they typically say no, and to “do three things a week that scare you—that’s how you embrace change.”

Communicate Effectively. Paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, Karsh told the HR emerging leaders, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it is actually taking place.” 

Karsh then listed some communication do’s and don’ts.

Do:

Be direct and succinct. “We tend to say more when we could say less. If you’re writing an e-mail, the person reading it should not have to scroll.” If the e-mail is longer, you should get up from your desk and go talk to the person, he said. “If you have to scroll, it’s a problem.”

Tell employees about considerations and limitations when it comes to tough decisions. 

Focus on “can” and “will.”“Never start an e-mail with the word ‘unfortunately.’ Say what you can and will do.” For example, say “I’d love to meet with you; I can do it Monday or Tuesday.” “‘Unfortunately I can’t meet Friday’—put that last,” Karsh said. “Focus on solutions; you’re getting things done and making things happen,” and that should be first in your response.

Don’t:

Wait for all the answers when it comes to responding to someone—especially via e-mail. “No news is bad news all the time. Respond to requests. Get back to people within 24 hours—but keep them apprised of the situation and let them know the status of an issue.”

Use weak words.“Maybe,” “probably,” “possibly,” “sort of,” “you know” and “like” should be avoided—especially when you’re giving feedback. “You can be assertive and nice.”

Use “HR-speak.”While you may know such terms as FMLA or PIP, “such acronyms are jargon. Stay away from that stuff. Speak clearly and be specific with examples.”

Communicate in rules and regulations.

Be a Project Manager. “Do what you say you will do. Under-promise and over-deliver,” he advised. For example, “If you [tell them] you can have it by Wednesday, give it to them by Tuesday.” It will make you look brilliant. Be sure, too, that there is a “flawless execution in everything you do,” he said. “Have a bias towards action” when it comes to meeting deadlines and getting things done. 

Just do it.” 

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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