Thursday, April 26, 2012

Be Easy To Do Business With

HR Blogger Liz Ryan just published an interesting piece, at the Business Week Management Blog, titled "What every CEO needs to know about HR." I was drawn in, expecting to read a post addressed to CEOs. Actually it's a list of points for HR leaders. Good points to ponder, to be sure, but not what I expected.

Yet, Liz Ryan inspired me to write this blog post. Over the course of my HR career, I've had the chance to work closely with several CEOs. From my experience, plus the wisdom of Ram Charan (whose 2001 book What the CEO Wants You to Know is a small gem), here are some guidelines for HR leaders in working with the CEO and other business heads.

1.Know your stuff - CEOs are pretty smart people, generally speaking, having come up through a technical or functional path such as R&D, Sales, Finance, or Operations. Though they know an awful lot, they count on you to know your HR stuff, to be the go-to expert when it comes to HR matters.

2.Get close to your customer - The CEO is the customer of the HR leader. The CEO is counting on you to know his business, his needs, his goals, and his pressures and concerns. It's analogous to having a private physician.

3.Identify problems and provide solutions - Business is a constant stream of problems to be solved and the CEO expects that anyone who is hired, whatever their job may be, is a Problem Solver and a Solution Provider. HR is no exception.

4.Innovate - In her blog, Liz Ryan recommends keeping processes simple and scrapping old ways of doing things. I could not agree more. What she is talking about, in my view, is that HR must be an innovator. This may be the hardest shift of all for HR professionals. It means challenging "the way things have always been done." It means taking risks.

5.Operate HR like a business - The CEO expects that the head of HR will understand the basics of business and will focus on the essentials, especially Return on Investment.

6.Be thinking ahead - Much of what a business deals with day to day is the Here and Now. But the effective CEO spends time thinking ahead. Strategic thinking. Scenario planning. Networking externally to gain competitive intelligence. Asking "what if we...?" and challenging others to do the same. HR must do this too.

7.Be strong - CEOs are a strong willed bunch, by and large. In their office, it can get hot quickly. Be ready to stand up for your ideas. Have the courage of your convictions.

8.Be easy to do business with - The CEO lives in the fast lane and has a low tolerance for bureaucratic red-tape. He is counting on you to be a facilitator, one who makes things flow smoothly, and an expediter, one who gets it done.

Liz Ryan ends her blog by saying "It’s a new day in HR. Is your company on the cutting edge, or bringing up the rear?" Let me tweak that a bit and ask HR leaders, Are you and your HR team on the cutting edge? What would your CEO say?

For decades, HR leaders have been talking about "having a seat" at the table with the business leaders. This is the way to earn that seat.

HR is a very dynamic and challenging field, filled with smart, dedicated, and energized people. What are the burning issues of the moment that HR must be on top of? Liz Ryan mentions talent, culture, vision, trust, and real-time communication. Right on the money, I'd say. I would add a few more including change, stress, and growth. These are the things that should be keeping HR leaders awake at night.

Chances are, they are among the things keeping the CEO awake at night too.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday April 26, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Way for Leaders

My OD colleague Roland Sullivan asked what wisdom I would share with CEOs in Asia about learning, development, and change. In my career, I have had the opportunity of observing "up-close and personal" several CEOs lead their organization in both learning and change. Here's some wisdom based on one of these people.

One was the CEO of a rapidly growing telecom company in the 1980's and 90's. He authored and fostered the action-oriented, fast-paced, customer-focused organizational culture that promoted teamwork, initiative, and continuous improvement. He recognized (and often said) that the company's competitive edge came from its "secret weapon" which we knew was the ACTION Culture, embodied in the highly engaged and committed People.

The ACTION phrase stood for the following ingredients:

A = Attitude
C = Close to your customer
T = Teamwork
I = Initiative
O = Open communication
N = Never ending improvement

As you can see, for this CEO, success was all about the people in your organization.

As one who came "up the ladder" through Sales and Operations, he recognized the importance of training and development. He even taught classes to his up-and-coming leaders.

When it came to change, which was constant white-water at this company, he involved everyone. Change was a team sport for him, and he counted on everyone to fully participate, hands, heads and hearts.

As a CEO, he knew that "You are only as good as your people" (quote from Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's) and that in order to grow your business, you must grow your people.

I'd recommend the acronym GROW to all CEOs. It's from the book The Inner Game of Tennis, and it stands for:

G = Goals you wish to attain

R = Reality you are starting from

O = Obstacles you will encounter and Opportunities you must seize

W = Way forward

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday April 23, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Start Making Sense

Professor Dave Davidson was one of my undergraduate professors in Human Communication, my major at Rutgers 35 years ago. His theory of human nature: "Never assume that the next guy knows what he is doing...much less why."

That maxim has bedeviled me ever since. As a Communication and Information theory guy, Dave Davidson was very into the work of Karl Weick, the social psychologist. Among Weick's many contributions, his concept of sensemaking made a lot of sense.

In a nutshell, sensemaking is the mental process of interpreting and constructing the reality around us. So defined, we are sensemaking pretty much all the time as we go about our daily lives. Most of the time, stuff makes sense to us. Sometimes, we find ourselves in challenging circumstances where we have to actively make sense of what is going on.

One of those challenging circumstances is organizational change. That's why Organization Development (aka OD) practitioners need to be sensemakers.

People spend a great deal of their waking life (and maybe also some of their dreaming life) in sensemaking. That is, endeavoring to put two and two together. Sometimes we get four. Sometimes we don't.

Sensemaking goes on at home, in a marriage, at a store, in a courtroom, in a lab, at a traffic intersection, even in a boardroom. Any place in life where we encounter the challenges, problems, dilemmas, decisions, and confusion of everyday living.

The writer E.M. Forster once said, "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?" Though years before Weick came along, this goes to the gist of sensemaking.

To make sense of stuff, we have to get feedback of some kind. Writers get feedback from the page in front of them. Sometimes we get feedback from others. Sometimes it's just from ourselves. For instance, at the store or doing the monthly bills, my mother used to do addition in the air with her finger. I would watch her and laugh. So would she. But it worked for her. And made sense.

In today's turbulent business world, sensemaking can mean survival. For example, consider a company in the throes of post-acquisition integration. The buyer that acquired them is taking hold of everything, and everyone, changing a great deal of how the acquired company did business.

I've lived through this several times in my career. One time, my co-workers (and I) faced a constant stream of new faces, new demands, questions, and uncertainty. All the while, still trying to do our jobs.

In such situations, sensemaking comes in at every juncture as we attempt to adjust our mental models from the old to the new. The old model worked reliably. Hopefully, we say to ourselves, the new model will jell. It will take time.

The other day, a Masters student (at a college where she is studying HR and OD) asked me five questions about OD. Here are the questions, and my answers.

1.What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for business (or for organizations in general) in the next 5-10 years?

Looking 5 to 10 years into the future is guesswork at best. Practitioners of HR and OD have a great opportunity today (and into the future). We are living in very turbulent times, with much uncertainty. For example, here in the U.S., look at how the health care act, now in the hands of the Supreme Court, will impact health care organizations and their clients and their families, now and into the future. The one constant you can count on is Change. Who are the business experts in performance, culture, resilience, adaptability, learning, systems, organizational change and transition? It has to be HR and OD.

2.What do you believe will be the biggest opportunity/challenges for organizations from an OD/Change Management perspective?

While change is often good (eventually), human beings often have a hard time with it, especially when it seems to be imposed from outside forces. Change causes stress. And stress can weaken and erode vitality. When such change and stress are unrelenting, organizational performance and productivity can suffer. HR and OD must be there as facilitators to help the people through the transitions. For those in leadership positions, HR and OD must be coaches and advocates, teaching leaders how to lead, and being the conscience of the organization at times too.

3.What do you see as the challenges in their profession?

Being fearless. Having the courage to speak truth to power. Even at the risk of losing one's job.

4.What words of wisdom would you like to share with a graduate class of OD/Change Management students?

Learn constantly. Be curious always. Seek new ideas. Never stop improving.

5.Please share anything else you’d like for me/us to know.

Though this may seem like "strong medicine," I strongly believe that every HR and OD practitioner needs to experience first-hand what millions have experienced, namely a significant life altering change such as the loss of a job. Until you have felt this yourself, you cannot appreciate the devastating effects that downsizings have on people, their families, and their communities.

Effective OD practitioners are aware of and attuned to sensemaking. Especially in challenging situations such as organizations undergoing the upheaval of change.

Furthermore, the successful OD practitioner herself is a sensemaker. Not in the sense of having all the answers. But one who recognizes that her clients are trying to make sense of things, and who is ready to help facilitate this sensemaking process.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday April 12, 2012