Last night I read an article published on HC Online that for the most part I loved – ‘Influencing the C-Suite: advice for HR leaders.’ The article quotes Susan Davies, Director of Human Resources, Administration and Customer Service at TNT as saying “If you really want to develop influence, you’ve got to have credibility and if you want a seat at the boardroom table you have got to be adding value. This means having a deeper understanding of the business itself – how it operates, what customers are expecting, sustained profitability – and then you need to deliver around these three imperatives.”
Susan offers wise advise – I couldn’t agree more that HR people need to be commercially savvy to earn the credibility they need to have any real influence on the performance of a business. HR leaders need to not only think like business leaders but talk like a business leader. All too often I observe HR driving their own agenda discounted from the rest of the business and what they are striving to achieve. Alignment of HRs focus and efforts with achievement of business outcomes is a key indicator of the value they are likely to bring.
While the article was directed toward HR professionals there is no question the advice offered is relevant to any leader of a corporate or shared services function. In fact its fair to say any leader will have greater credibility and impact if they have a deep understanding of the business and are able to make a difference the organisations thinking and success. Credibility to a reflection of trust, and trust is built on the perceptions people hold both our character and our competence.
Susan suggests HR leaders focus on three key things; two of which I agree with wholeheartedly:
- Encourage honesty: “… being open and honest will encourage others to get to the bottom of the issue quickly.”
- Be solutions-oriented: “I am a great believer in not always bringing issues to the table, but bringing solutions. Everyone should be accountable; all care and no accountability is a bad approach.”
What I don’t agree entirely with is Susan’s suggestions that HR people “Focus on facts”. Susan shares that she will…. “always try and steer discussions away from emotions, which generally gets you to the ‘real story’ behind a conflict or an issue.”
While I agree that its important to focus people on the facts, getting a full picture of a situation often takes understanding the emotions involved. Often sitting just beneath the emotions people express are the real issues. At times they aren’t obvious and are difficult to understand without discussion. For example someone who is coming across as being angry may in fact be feeling sad, threatened, frustrated, disrespected, disillusioned and so the list goes on. Focusing on the facts, such as things in someone’s control, is unquestionably important, however understanding the root cause of an issue often takes exploring how people feel.
In my experience shutting down conversations about emotions can drive them “under ground”. People allow thoughts to fester away in the back of their mind – some even role-play arguments they never got to make before being shut down or steered away from how they feel. The things people really care about, and in some cases are holding them back, are the things they are most likely to say when you open up and allow them to vent.
It is often appropriate to take conversations about emotion ‘off line’ but its critical that you then follow through. Putting emotion to the side during a conversation can go someway to forcing objectivity but over time that strategy will no longer work as people loose confidence in being heard. There are plenty of times also when how people feel about a particular scenario is as relevant as the facts of the situation and need to be waded through in order to truly understand where they are coming from.
The inability to deal effectively with emotion is a common challenge for leaders. The ability to empathise builds rapport and trust, which in turn lead to the ability to influence the way people think, feel and act. Rather than always steering discussions away from emotions, I encourage you to explore emotions – just keep them in their place. Never pander to emotion, never assume emotion tells the whole story, but understand emotions are typically a reflection of someone’s thoughts – these thoughts are where you will findinsight to the whole picture not just the rational, head based aspects of what matters in business.