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Gut Check: Are You Stepping Up as an HR Leader?

My team and I have worked with a lot of organizations over the years. They often call us in when they are at critical inflection points. This means the company must figure out how to get change right.

During all these experiences, one of the key variables to success is whether the HR function is strong enough to support the company as it transforms.

Now many HR leaders may focus their energies on the “technical” aspects of their jobs. Things like compensation and benefits, learning and development, recruitment and many other important areas.

But over the last couple of years, I’ve seen the expectations dramatically increase for HR leaders. CEOs and other senior executive teams expect HR to be leaders, not merely practitioners, and to support the company’s transformation efforts.

This makes sense as many HR leaders often work alongside other leaders in the company, supporting them and their teams through change. Now if these HR leaders aren’t strong enough, then the transformation efforts are at risk.

I’ve been chatting with a lot of senior HR leaders to learn what their experiences are in leading organizational transformation. Of all the HR leaders I have met over my career, few have had as much frontline experience with transformation as Jim Reid.

Reid is the CHRO at Rogers Communications and over the past seven years he has worked with three different CEOs to help execute several high-profile transformation initiatives. During this time Jim has helped oversee a nearly complete rebuild of the composition, culture and practices of the leadership of the company at all levels of the organization.

Despite all the pain and stress and disruption that comes with that much change, Reid remains one of the most optimistic and enthusiastic HR leaders I have ever met.

In a recent interview, Jim said that his trial by fire over the last seven years has convinced him that he is truly blessed as an HR leader. “I love my job, I love my team, I love the challenge of being here,” Jim told me.

“I’m in my wheelhouse, which is driving the relationship between leadership teams, culture and performance. There is no better assignment for a CHRO than the one I’m in today in Canada, in my opinion.”

One of the most frequent things Jim talks about when he discusses his job is the privilege of working “inside the tent,” which is how he describes being brought in by the senior-most leaders in the organization to help plan and manage strategy. Not all HR leaders get the opportunity to work “inside the tent.”

Jim and I agreed on one point: not every HR leader is truly prepared to work inside the tent. Some senior HR professionals are too timid about rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in organizational strategy. Still others don’t know enough about the business of their organizations to understand the challenges that are being faced.

Jim’s advice to HR leaders is solid: as an HR leader, make it clear you want to be involved, and then roll up your sleeves to make a positive contribution.

“You can’t wait to be invited in,” he said. “You have to step into that role, lean into that role. You have to have the courage to agree and disagree in an honest, authentic way and not be afraid to take a risk.”

“It’s important to realize that this is not a 9-to-5 kind of thing. You’ve got to be ready and willing on the weekends when they call. The HR community needs to step up and step into their role and partner in different ways with line executives to help drive the impact in the organization.”

Ultimately, the success of an HR leader, especially a CHRO, will be based on his or her ability to build trust with the executive team.

“In a high stakes situation where you’re advising a CEO or members of an executive team and helping that team perform better, you’re put in a position of trust that is so important and delicate and fragile. And you can’t let people down, you have to have people’s backs and take it seriously.”

Once “inside the tent,” Reid said that it’s important to manage the relationships you built so that as the senior HR executive, you can be the go-to person on big challenges. “It’s such a privileged position. You have to be in 100 percent and never betray that trust.”

Reid’s experience with transforming Rogers has many valuable lessons for leaders of HR. You have a critical role to play and you can’t sit on the sidelines. It’s time to move beyond your technical expertise as an HR practitioner, and step up and be a truly accountable leader. Are you up for it?

This week’s Gut Check for Leaders asks:  Are you stepping up as an HR leader?

This week we launched our first issue of Transformation Insights – our new digital magazine. Check it out here.

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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