How does one become a business leader after a solid career in HR? We’re not just talking about the HR Manager title, but actually transitioning from being a cog in an HR machine to a true Business Leader. This question comes up often at HR conferences, when senior HR executives reach the top of their discipline, exhaust their interest levels, and begin to seek out a broader scope of influence. Talk at the 2016 HR California conference at Long Beach this month, was no different when it came to how to extend oneself beyond HR and become a broad and impactful organizational leader. As an HR person, one wonders how each of us may use our HR tools to become truly indispensable to the Company – where it counts! Leadership = marshalling the support of others for what we hope to achieve (HBR)
Is it really important though what department we are from in leadership? When it comes to leadership, a successful leader must be in the business of development!
A successful leader has to 1. Develop people and 2. Develop a culture where these people can thrive. Whatever discipline one originates from, whether it be Finance, Marketing, HR or Operations – you must know the golden formula of how to develop people and culture in order to lead, achieve and sustain business success. As an HR person with a black belt in the “people” side of things, perhaps we have a lead on the rest of them.
* When we develop people, we are enabling them with opportunities to grow (whether this leads them onto their next gig elsewhere or not). We are also acknowledging that growth is very unique to each individual experience, and what one person is motivated by, might be something completely different for someone else. Impactful leadership goes hand in hand with 3 key things: First, identifying the individuals to hire whose values gel with the organization. Second, getting to know each individual and what drives them and; lastly, creating an environment where these people can thrive.
* Developing a prospering climate where people will thrive?
Developing oneself as a leader means stepping out of the silo of your discipline… and broadening one’s vision towards the organization’s development and the larger business needs of the company and its culture. For an HR leader, a finance leader, marketing leader or wherever we come from it doesn’t really matter where we were before.
In the very beginning of employment culture, we thought employees were happy when they had a job and even happier with good pay. We then grew to see that it took more than just a job, or more money, but that there is in fact a hierarchy of needs to fulfill, in order for an employee to be really satisfied. At last we realized business success was not only about satisfaction, but more than that, it was about engagement. Engagement = people are committed and care about achieving the organization’s goal(s).
Engagement has been a buzz word for some time. Yet what is it that creates the engagement?
At the HR in California #CAHR16 conference, there was a definitely a buzz … the buzz was all about “belonging”. Belonging you might ask? In the workplace? Belonging = the drive to form and maintain lasting, positive, significant, interpersonal relationships.
And yes! Belonging is being recognized as potentially the most important aspect leading to a long term, sustainably successful culture. Leaders who are able to nurture belonging amongst their teams seem to be those who knock it out of the park, time and time again. Some of the companies who are achieving this are: Apple, Amazon, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, AIrbnb, Uber, Netflix, Hasbro, Soulcycle, GE, RiotGames, and Google to name a few.
“Create a world that inspires human connection” is the tag line at Airbnb. The company CEO, Brian Chesky, leads with the following vision as he spearheads an initiative against discrimination, “Every time we make someone else feel they belong, that person feels accepted and safe to be themselves. Imagine what we can achieve together.”
Pat Wadors, the SVP Global Talent at LinkedIn, discusses how Diversity and Inclusion appeal to the mind, but that belonging is what counts because it appeals to our hearts at a very personal level. She sums up this idea of belonging by saying, “I feel that I belong to a team, I matter, and I’m able to be my whole authentic self, even at work. That is when I have the courage and motivation to speak up, the desire to go beyond my comfort zone. That’s when it’s fun”.
In this modern world where authenticity is valued, where everything is visible and almost everything we do and say is available on Social Media – honesty is all we have. Truly being in the right culture for us is what allows us to be our authentic selves. This makes being real, real easy! To feel a sense of belonging, employees need to feel part of something greater than themselves, with which they can identify. They need to feel that the organizational values are the true values of the leaders…that the storytelling makes sense and …that the leaders walk the talk. In fact, from a psychological perspective, this values alignment is essential for the organization’s employees to form an attachment to the organization. This attachment is what enables connection, trust and authenticity which all lead to this sense of belonging.
From what we have seen, here are a few ways that leaders, can nurture this sense of belonging:
- “Walk the talk” cherish organizational values – hire and promote those who do
- Welcome newbies by defining the culture even more than the job expectations
- Foster two-way communications and celebrate contributions and successes
- Encourage co-ownership to attain buy-in and support from individuals
- Nurture organization-wide camaraderie – team work across departments
- Invest in people development – show them you care about their growth as a priority
- Create space for relationships, ensure people feel they have friends at work, invest by creating spaces and opportunities for socializing at the office.
In conclusion, I don’t think it matters whether we are in HR, marketing, finance, operations or anywhere else. Making an impact on the wider organizational purpose is the defining factor. People are people. Everyone is seeking to be developed, to grow, in a culture that allows them to thrive and feel as if they are part of the DNA, appreciated, acknowledged and needed…because they belong. Making a true impact by shaping this sense of community is what really counts!