One of the fastest ways to sabotage your business results is to hire the cheapest HR professionals you can find. When you saddle your executive team with under-staffed (or under-skilled) HR support, you hobble their performance. Here's why:
- More than any other person in an organization except for the CEO, the top HR executive impacts how much courage managers will show in hiring and performance management.
- HR has an enormous impact on your budget. In many organizations, the lion's share of the annual budget is spent on salary and benefits, and HR typically determines how strategically that money is allocated. (Good luck attracting great people when you offer lousy benefits and no clear way of measuring or rewarding performance).
- HR has a huge impact on results. HR maps out the strategies that attract, retain, and inspire the staff to help you achieve your mission. (Good luck trying to achieve great things without great people. Even if you hired some great people, ineffective or bad HR strategies could end up demoralizing them just before you need their best work).
- And when things really go sideways, HR helps you evaluate the legal risk of ushering your hiring mistakes out the door, before they cause even more damage. (Or do you enjoy making chit-chat with your former employees? lawyers?)
But it's a precarious business to be an effective senior HR executive. In a cruel twist of fate, doing the HR job well requires putting their own job at risk repeatedly, because it’s often their responsibility to speak the uncomfortable truths to power. Great HR people make the CEO less comfortable, not more comfortable. Consider how:
- When you feel like your organization is already spending too much on salary and benefits, a top HR executive will tell you that your compensation still isn’t competitive, and you need to spend more if you want to hire and retain the best people.
- When you think you’ve communicated enough about your performance expectations, great HR tells you the team is still fuzzy on the details and you need to do more for them to understand you clearly.
- When you would rather dodge addressing a situation with a problem employee, great HR won't let you shirk your responsibility, and keeps the issue on your agenda until you resolve it.
- When you want to blow up in righteous indignation at someone's failure, great HR instead cools you down and points out that there are environmental factors that set them up to fail.
- When you make the workplace less productive by occasionally micromanaging, undercutting your executives, or not acknowledging high performance, great HR points out where and how you could improve.
Good ol’ HR, always the life of the party. (Mommas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys HR pros.)
If you are a CEO and your top HR pro does not make you uncomfortable, consider that you might have the wrong person for the job. Or consider that you may actually have the right person. But instead of letting them speak truth to power, you instead make it abundantly clear that they shouldn’t bring you tough information. Either way has the potential to put everything you worked for at risk; your pay practices, performance management, and maybe even legal compliance could be sorely lacking. You need to encourage HR to bring you the bad news. Take a Dramamine if you need to, because it will rock the boat.
But if you ever want to hear the truth, don’t make it your policy to shoot the messenger.