Monday, September 12, 2011

Four HR Skills Critical In Turning Around A Crappy Culture

If creating or fixing a company culture that delivers true employee experience were easy, everyone would be doing it. It's hard, and it requires the commitment of your C-level executives and HR pros who can do more than process transactions or plan the next company outing.

our new CEO shows up and observes for 30 days. One of his conclusions at the end of the observation period: The culture is broken and needs to be fixed. Your HR team is going to lead the effort and help drive the change.

What an opportunity. And what an opportunity for disaster.

Of course, if creating or fixing a company culture that delivers true employee experience were easy, everyone would be doing it. It's hard, and it requires the commitment of your C-level executives and HR pros who can do more than just process transactions or plan the next company outing.

What skills does an HR pro need to help your company implement a positive, performance-oriented culture? I've got a list of four, and they're not easy to find in the world of HR.

1. Lobbying Skills. Even with the support of your C-level, to create a culture that delivers true employee experience the HR pro responsible for implementation is going to run into a group of managers that resists change. It's not what the managers are used to, and it's going to feel like a loss of control to many. That's why lobbying skills are so important to the HR pro who is assisting your company in delivering employee experience. Your HR pro needs to have all the characteristics of an effective politician: the ability to share the vision, be on message, cut deals to move progress forward and ruthlessly leverage resistant managers when necessary.

The goal of the lobbying skills is pretty straightforward. The message of the mission statement you create to usher in a new culture doesn't matter. If the managers don't buy into an attempt to be a part of the change, the effort is going to come across as lip service. After all, the managers are the ones the employees will ask, "What do you think?" in relationship to new company leadership, attempts to change the culture, attempts at communication, etc.

If the manager is not a part of the change, the cynicism will make efforts to change the culture DOA. A good HR pro knows when to pat a wayward manager on the back to encourage them to get with the program, but they know when to kick them as well.

2. The Mentality of a Super Agent. Changing a poor culture means the employee is at the center of company strategy. That means your HR pros have to view their operation from a perspective that makes the employee the client, much like an agent in Hollywood or the sports industry. "What can I do today to advance my client's (the employee's) career?" is the question that HR pros should be asking on a daily basis. Delivering on that view requires the lobbying skills mentioned previously as well as the ability to market and confront we'll discuss next. Think Jerry McGuire or Ari Gold.

3. Marketing Chops. If you're going to be an agent of change as an HR pro, you better understand how to use the tools to market your product: your employee base. This involves using all types of tools (social media, video, print, various types of promotional strategies) to aggressively market your talent internally and externally without fear or embarrassment. HR pros in companies with great cultures could easily transition into the role of marketing manager or director of marketing for the line of business. That's the highest compliment we can pay a HR pro.

If you're going to be able to use the tools, you better be able to generate content. Tools are distribution. Content is original thought. HR pros who contribute to great cultures have the ability to write, speak and even listen in a way that allows them to create content that reinforces the culture. Content creation and knowing how to use the tools to spread the word are the hallmarks of an HR pro who is key to a great culture. The result? The ability to attract and retain great talent.

One word of caution regarding marketing: The best HR pros also understand authenticity. They won't market things that aren't true or are 99 percent spin because they know it will backfire. Employees can smell a fraud in internal and external messaging a mile away. With that in mind, the solid marketers among HR pros never overreach with the message they're broadcasting.

4. Ability to Confront. Guess what? As you try to create and maintain a great culture, there are going to be people who look to derail your progress, either willfully or subconsciously. Regardless of the intent, the job of the new age HR Pro is to confront those impeding progress or serving as outliers. A mixture of skills is necessary in this area, beginning with the ability to make observations and be unafraid of the conflict and dialog that follows, and continuing with the skill to box in outliers in a tactful, yet firm, way to get what you need.

How does your team stack up? If you don't think they can cut it, start thinking about whether the gaps can be closed by focused performance goals and consistent feedback—no training exists to create these skills; you'll have to be the coach if they're going to close the gap—or if you need new blood.

Get ready. At some point you're going to be expected to deliver all four of these skills on a regular basis in addition to your day job.

Thanks to Kris Dunn / WorkForce / Crain Communications Inc.

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