“I tell young lawyers that issue-spotting gets you a lot of points in law school, but our job is to think three steps ahead. That’s where you earn credibility.”
That was a statement from Danielle Gray, a Partner at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, who was being profiled in Crain’s New York Business in the 40 under 40 class of 2016.
This is compilation of New York best and brightest that are under the ripe old age of 40.
I need solutions
Ms. Gray’s statement resonated with me because my first C-Suite reporting job had me interacting with our new CEO.
At one of our meeting I was discussing the findings of some focus groups that we had done with her senior team. As I finished my presentation, she put the slides aside and looked at me. Her statement was pretty straightforward:
I do not need more problems, what I need from you is solutions. When we meet, I need people solutions, not findings. I have enough of them as it is”
That short lesson in C-Suite thinking made me begin my quest to solve issues. Ms. Gray thoughts about being 2-3 steps ahead is a business lesson for Human Resources, and not only in reporting problems, but solving them too.
We need to not only be in the moment, but being ahead of the curve. When I speak to professionals in our field, like a drumbeat, I tell them it is all about solving the business issues. In HR, that is what we do.
An HR quack?
As I think back through my career, I remember the times my phone would ring and I was Johnny on the spot with an answer. No research, no critical thinking, just a quick answer. It was the “Take two of these and call me in a week” approach.
I could have been labeled an HR quack for that approach.
However that changed, because my CEO conversation turned my thinking around. It was no longer just about a quick answer, but also a meeting to get to the root of the issue.
This is important because, for the most part, the people on the other line are giving you problems and answers and are expecting you to carry them out. I found that the more my questioning back to them was focused, their answers would give them pause as they realized that maybe their conclusions were wrong.
So, my focus was to build on that approach and create an in-house HR consultancy.
My staff and I would approach each issue from a different vantage point. We would look throughout the organization to try and figure out what we could do to create a more efficient organization.
After a few successful initiatives, our phones were ringing off the hook.
Managers realized that we were more than just glorified paper pushers. We were seen as strategic thinkers who could approach with not just current state but the future state as well.
Yes, we were thinking 2-3 steps ahead. We had become credible
My view on being credible within the organization means having your HR brand read like this: Competence, trust, transparent, knowledgeable, and strategic. You must inspire confidence to have a single ounce of credibility.
People will trust you as an expert to understand the scope of an issue or project, to know the right questions to ask, and to know how to find the answers to those questions. A credible person can be counted on to analyze complex situations, ask intelligent questions, and make good decisions. This person takes a big-picture rather than a myopic view — and a long-term rather than a short-term perspective.
Becoming the in-house expert
That expertise turns into competence when it is put to the test. A person earns that credibility by succeeding at assignments and projects over time. A track record of successfully applying knowledge, and a willingness to continue learning, increases the viability of your HR department’s brand.
This is why it is so important to self-develop. Read any and everything you can about your profession and the intersection it has with the organization. Do NOT depend on conferences each year to do it for you.
You must share articles, read the business section of the newspaper, watch business news shows, and read CEO interviews because you have to stay on top of the overall business issues as well as your industry issues.
If you want to be that business partner, you have to earn it. Just slapping “business partner” at the end of your title does not denote credibility.
As my former CEO told me in so many words, you have to earn it because it will not be bestowed by title. So stop the telephone answers and snap judgments and get to the bottom of the issue as if you had called in an external consultant.
You CAN become irrelevant
That’s because if your model was to just give answers over the phone as a consultant, you would have no billings at the end of the month and would eventually go out of business.
Internally, you can’t go out of business — but you can become irrelevant. It’s important to keep that in mind.