4 Ways to Become a Standout HR manager

HR leaders wear a lot of hats these days. Gone are the times when HR were ‘just’ there to fight fires and chase up contracts. The new generation of HR are business leaders, expected to deliver outstanding results on behalf of the company.

Yet there’s a problem. HR managers often struggle to find legitimacy within the senior executive team, and are sometimes accused of being overly inward-looking as a department, or even of unintentionally obstructing the wider business goals.

In truth, the HR department has a bad rap in many companies, and HR managers far too often find themselves battling these negative perceptions, or are simply not given the support they need to deliver the very outcomes the business requires of them.

According to a large global leadership study published on Harvard Business Review, HR leaders are ranked by their companies, on average, at 6% below leaders of other departments such as sales, accounting, or general management. Yet within this data, a narrow cohort of HR leaders was rated as exceptional by their companies.

So, what can you do to make sure that you’re one of these standout HR managers who are highly valued by their employers, and performing above the curve?

We’re not going to delve into the standard HR strengths here, such as developing others, functional expertise, building relationships, and leading by example. These are things that it is already expected that HR professionals will do well, so it’s entirely crucial that you already have these elements mastered; in truth, it would be surprising if you’d made it in HR without excelling in these areas.

The real gains in your performance and reputation will be gained when you make inroads on the things that HR leaders are not thought to do particularly well.

1.Build your expertise on the company.

HR managers are already expected to have an exceptional functional knowledge, (for example regarding employment law), but how well do you know the operational details, challenges, and customer profile of the company?

The better you know the company’s inner workings, the more you’ll be able to provide highly tailored HR advice, and know how your HR strategies will impact the company on a day-to-day basis.

2.Align yourself more closely with the wider business goals.

HR leaders are sometimes accused of not understanding strategic business goals, of not considering the impact of their strategies on the company or end customer. If you seek to be highly valued by the company, you’ll need to send a clear message to senior management that you have a strategic perspective and are there to provide positive HR solutions to move the workforce towards the goal.

3.Be outward-looking.

HR departments are perceived to be largely inward-looking and not thoroughly engaged with the company as a whole. Therefore, now is the time to start breaking down this reputation of being separate. You might want to represent the company at HR conferences, begin building your network in the company’s industry (not just in HR), or simply reach out more to the other senior managers so they increasingly see you as an informed and powerful player at the decision-making table, rather than an obstacle.

4.Learn to anticipate problems and respond to issues speedily.

Interestingly, slowness in forecasting or reacting to problems is a common complaint about HR leaders. We understand that there are many grey areas in HR and that motivating or bringing about change in a workforce is a long and complex process, but you need to create a reputation for anticipating problems and being quick to provide solutions.

The top-rated HR leaders in the HBR study showed that they performed stratospherically above the standard in the areas listed above. The competency gap between the top quartile of HR leaders and the rest was staggering, for example, they were rated in the 75th percentile on ‘Developing Strategic Perspective’, where other HR leaders ranked in the 25th percentile.

Real success in HR management (as perceived by the company) is not about becoming a better coach or building better relationships. Those things are a given. True success as an HR manager is about learning how to do the things brilliantly that HR is often perceived as doing rather badly. There’s so much room to impress here, so get going!

Until next time,


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