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March 06, 2012
Tips for HR Pros: Working with the C-Suite
By Steve Bruce, Ph.D., PHR, Editor, HR Daily Advisor

Special from SHRM Employment Law and Legislative Conference Washington DC
HR managers want to “get invited to the table,” says attorney Jonathan Segal, a featured speaker at SHRM’s Employment Law and Legislative Conference, going on this week in Washington, DC, “but asking isn’t the way to get the invitation.

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Segal, a partner with Duane Morris law firm in Philadelphia, shared his tips for working with the C-Suite.

1. Stop Asking To Be At Table

Asking only reinforces the perception of your subordinate role. Instead, demonstrate why you should be at the table. Give feedback before the meeting: Here’s what the issues are, here’s what you should consider. Maybe the CEO will say, “We need you in the room.”

2. Avoid HRese

Overuse of terms like these won’t help your cause, Segal says.

  • Proactive
  • Value added
  • Synergy
  • Outside the box

Maybe if we synergistically create value added in a proactive way, we’ll be thinking outside the box, Segal quips.

3. Learn the Business of Your Business

If you are not aware of the basic elements of your business, you won’t be perceived as serious. Find out about:

  • Finances
  • Products or services
  • Short-term and long-term goals
  • Competitive concerns

4. Learn Basic Business Terms and Concepts Used by C-Suite

In a similar vein, learn about business terms and concepts.

  • Accounting
  • Business matrices
  • Other business tools/terms

5. Link HR Goals to Corporate Goals

One client proudly showed Segal the new HR Dashboard—it had great information but it wasn’t linked to the corporate goals. That’s what makes the CEO view HR as an expense, Segal says. Be sure you’re focused where the C-Suite is:

  • What talent will the business need?
  • Where will you find the talent?
  • How will you grow it?

6. Re-recruit Top Notch Talent

No matter how bad the economy, top talent can always move, Segal says. And when a key person leaves, HR often is blamed (and blindsided). You have to be proactive to retain key people. What can you do?

  • Recognition and appreciation
  • Non-competes, etc.
  • Payments contingent on current employment

7. Recalibrate Your Time

Many HR managers spend about 85% of time on the “favorite” 15%—the troublemakers. You can’t totally reverse that, but you can move along the continuum to focus more time on the good employees you want to retain.

8. Say No to GOMOs

You need to learn how to say nicely: get out of my office. HR cannot be friend to the friendless—it is not in job description

9. Be Careful of Being Seen as Employee Advocate (or a Management Tool)

You are a member of management, says Segal, but you often play a mediator’s role. The key is to explain concerns about treatment of employees in terms of impact on the organization  For example, this will affect retention, encourage unionization.

10. Never Say: “But the Policy Provides”

This reduces your role to reader (not a high paying job), Segal says. Begin with the policy, but don’t end with it. Be especially careful of policies that lock in management (e.g., we will post all vacant jobs, we always offer progressive discipline, we always complete an investigation in 10 days)

11. Be Careful of Consistently Focusing on Consistency

Executives often want to act outside of policy or in an inconsistent way. Sometimes that’s OK. You can consider (and document) legitimate, non-discriminatory factors for actions. For example, length of service or mitigating circumstances. That means you don’t have to treat a 6-month employee the same way you treat a 20-year employee. And you might excuse an employee guilty of a normally terminable offense if she just found out about her son’s cancer hours before.

12. Don’t Inundate C-Suite with Minutia

The boss’s goal is to make the problem to away. Figure out what your boss needs to know and what he or she does not want or need to know. Too much information is as bad as no information.

13. Provide Updates to the Senior Team

Make sure you keep C-suite up to date on new developments including pending legislation that may hurt (or help) the organization, and at the federal, state and local levels.

14. Accept and Clarify Your Role

Clarify when you are advisor and when you are the decision maker. Don’t intuit—ask, says Segal. Failure to recognize when you are “only” an advisor may lead to serious problems.

15. Revitalize Yourself

Make sure others know what you have done—you can have humility but still sell your competence and your accomplishments, says Segal.

Finally, he says, make sure you have passions outside of work. (His is animal rescue. If you’re not busy this weekend, go and adopt a dog, he suggests.)

Stephen D. Bruce, Ph.D., PHR is an award-winning writer and editor, who has been following and clarifying developments in the HR field for 20 years. Currently the editor/writer of the 225,000 subscriber HR Daily Advisor, the most-read HR publication in the US, he has published many books (Seven Secrets of Managers Who Avoid Employee Lawsuits, Face to Face: Every Manager’s Guide to Better Interviewing, Best Practices for HR Managers), newsletters (HR Manager’s Legal Reporter), and training materials (the best-selling Stop Sexual Harassment), plus videos, CDs, and more.

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