Here's a reprint of a recent article I wrote for HR Magazine:
Two of the more common reasons people give for choosing a career in HR: “I’m a people person”, and “I like helping others. Good enough to get started but not nearly enough to be great. After more than 30 years in HR, I have some thoughts about what it takes to be effective in this profession. Here then, in Letterman-esque style, are the top 10 things I think every HR professional needs to do to succeed (in reverse order, of course).
10. HAVE A VISION
Know what you want to accomplish, and why. Don’t wait for your organization to define what HR should be: there are lots of examples out there and a little research will orient you to the range of the options available. Make it your business to know what’s out there: study everything you can find, talk to others, network and become your own expert. Being interviewed: articulate your goals; already working: outline them every chance you get. Discuss your ideas with your leadership team: get their input and buy-in.
o Develop a culture where people would want to work and stay
o More than 3 million applicants for the 125,000 openings we filled over 20 years,
o Annualized 11% turnover rate during that time
o No grievances or arbitrations (50% union, 50% non-union)
o One of America’s Most Admired workplaces
9. BE A STRATEGIC THINKER
Every leading organization needs their HR leaders to align with its goals: learn what those goals are and how to support them. We wanted HR to be more than a department: it was the way everyone worked and acted. That meant employees at every level knew and understood their part in supporting our culture and HR philosophies. Two examples:
o We wanted to grow the company: that meant more and smarter managers and supervisors. We started one of the industry’s first college recruitment program - (Mirage Resorts’ Management Associate Program – MAP): nearly 300 college graduates were hired over 12 years who totaled 10% of the company’s management team.
o The company wanted a lean and empowered team: we designed HR tools (see #7 below) that managers and employees used to enter and retrieve their own HR-related transactions and information, teach them how to use them, and monitor their utilization and effectiveness. Having these self-service tools allowed the HR team to become strategic partners rather than transactional clerks.
8. BECOME A GREAT COMMUNICATOR
Steve Wynn taught us the difference between a good professional and a great leader is their ability to communicate. You’re the voice of your organization’s culture: makes sure you’re able to fill that role:
o Watch others speak, adopt some of their styles, practice, and then stand up at every employee gathering and report on the things your HR team is doing – if it’s good stuff, talk about it.
o Use your skills to help others communicate more effectively in pre-shirt and other employee meetings, at company and community events, and in new-hire orientations.
o Start or attend Toastmaster’s meetings: a little bit of this kind of training goes a long way in making you and your team a commanding speaker.
7. BE TECH SAVVY
Starting in the mid 1990s, I wanted to use technology to improve the processes and effectiveness of HR: problem was I didn’t know enough to articulate my ideas or participate in discussions about them. I took computer courses that helped me better understand the terminology and methodology (local community colleges offer these regularly, and there’s more (today those are supplemented by conference education workshops and online courses). I’m never the smartest guy in any room, but by educating myself I was able to accomplish these IT goals:
o In 1996 we partnered with Software 2000/Infinium to develop one of the first data warehouses to organize HRIS data to produce employee relationship management reports similar to those that sales, and marketing departments produced for customer relationship management purposes.
o In 1998 we created one of the first applicant tracking systems (ATS) that allowed applicants to enter their application information directly into the database via 100 computers in our recruitment center
o In 2003 we partnered with Recruitmax to develop an ATS that utilized the Internet to directly capture more than 125,000 applications for positions at all levels of the organization
o And in 2005 we hired PeopleSoft developers and unveiled an end to end paperless HR environment: it maximized manager and employee self-service tools to completely eliminate HR’s data input responsibilities
6 BE FLEXIBLE
First: Be curious enough to discover what you don’t know. It’s easy to do the stuff we know about and are comfortable doing, but you need to learn about the new stuff that’s happening as a result of the pace and volume of change throughout the world, and your industry. Magazines (like this one), the Internet, and networking (in-person or online) help you discover new issues and the best practices others do to deal with them. Consider sponsoring business and industry group meetings at your company site to allow you staff to interact with others.
Second: Try new things: the world’s changing and the static policies you’ve used in the past might need updating every now and then. How many of us have handbooks that contain the “At Will” language: did you ever consider that to be an outdated approach (really: when’s the last time you fired someone for no reason)? Mandatory arbitration: ever wonder why there were so many lawsuits? We mostly do what’s been done before, but sometimes there’s a better way: who better to suggest those things than HR?
Third: Be a wise change master. Our HR roles give us the perfect platform to study, lead discussions about and influence change. Rigid adherence to yesterday prevents adopting possible new and good things tomorrow – that’s where an open and flexible mindset serves HR professionals well. Planning – either for the things we want to do or the contingencies for when they don’t happen exactly as planned, is a smart way to act.
Fourth: Manage these changes effectively. It’s one thing to find great ideas another entirely to implement them. Great ideas take time and effort to implement, and someone has to manage them. Learn the best practices of project management so you can lead these changes: years ago I went back and took Community College classes in order to fully understand the computer terminology and technology related to the ATS and self service applications I envisioned. This gave me the confidence and confidence to articulate my ideas and manage them to completion. Know what’s available, use all the tools you can find, and take a leading role in the implementation of your HR plans.
5. UNDERSTAND THE NUMBERS
Want something that costs money: it’s all about budgets and savings, and you have to fight for what you need. HR leaders are often hesitant to propose programs because they fear these will never get approved. In 1998 I proposed creating a new applicant tracking system and having applicants use 100 computers in the recruiting center to enter their own data directly (rather than having them fill out paper applications that HR would have to read and enter into that system). The cost (for this and the better one we designed for Wynn Las Vegas 6 years later) was high, but I was able to show a return on that investment that saved enough in 2 years to pay it back). Had I not understood the need for, and methodology of, a standard return on investment (ROI) analysis, these would never have been approved. We all live by budgets, but that doesn’t mean you should give in without using all the tools available to argue effectively for your ideas.
4. BE A FULL PARTNER
I often hear that HR wants a seat a ‘the table’ – guess what: you have to earn it. That means people see you as a clear thinker, a good leader, and a smart business person: all of which it takes to be successful in your career.
o Collaborate with everyone to learn what their needs are and what they expect from HR. Collaboration is the best way to get HR ideas and practices accepted and implemented in your organization.
o Spend time working in every department, conduct focus groups, run trial programs in a few departments to assess acceptance and usability of your ideas, and start an advisory group to provide input to your planning process.
o Appoint Department Training Managers: they’re line supervisors who take on the responsibility of determining what training is needed in their areas, when and how training should be presented, and monitor attendance and post-training performance and behaviors.
o This kind of collaboration gave our HR department excellent insight into the thinking and context of all areas of the organization, and helped us know if we were providing what the organization needed.
3. GET OUT OF YOUR OFFICE
Be out of your office more than you are in it. Employees often think of going to HR as something like going to the “Principal’s Office”. Not so if you’re the kind of HR leader who frequents the places your employees work: they’ll become familiar with you and be more open to asking questions or making comment in their own environments. And you’ll become more familiar with the context of the issues you have to deal with.
o Employees will appreciate your presence and managers will get more comfortable with ideas: and you’ll be seen as part of the team rather than the HR-person who hides behind the policies. This gives HR a chance to handle issues before they become major problems: following this practice, Mirage Resorts had no grievances or arbitrations between 1989 and 2000.
o Establish policies like requiring managers and supervisors to explain “why” when giving directions: this promotes their ability to plan, communicate, listen to feedback and respond to concerns. Create an open door policy that allows employees to appeal adverse decisions: this allows them to ask questions, get answers and develop trust in the organization.
2. TAKE RISKS
Most HR professionals are risk averse: probably because they’re not encouraged (or trusted) to take risks. But successful practitioners understand the need to take chances and the value that can result.
o Talking about and practicing Hiring for Attitude in 1989 was contrary to the more common practice of hiring for skills: we defined the attitudes that were best suited to the work we did and then designed simple assessments to make sure those we hired had what it would take to provide the kinds of service we wanted to offer. We married this up with Training for Skills and together these two became the focus of our recruiting strategies: spending so much on training – programs and dedicated staff – allowed us to provide the skills training that allowed our employees to be confident in their duties and allowed their attitudes and smiles to shine through. These shifts in focus revolutionized Mirage Resorts’ recruiting practices and resulted in extraordinarily high customer satisfaction scores. It also led to the company’s achievement of coveted 5-Star and 5-Diamond ratings.
o In a TEDx talk last year (http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Because-You-Can-You-Absolutely) I spoke of several alternate recruitment programs I developed: working with Police gang units and special boot camp programs for 1st time non-violent felony offenders, local agencies that promoted services to disadvantaged individuals, and other, we reached out to people who never thought they’d have an opportunity to work for a large casino company: not because we needed more applicants but because it was the right thing to do.
o Nobody thought my computer ideas would amount to much, and I basically had to bet my job and career on them: IT was reluctant to buy into my apparently novice ideas, and software vendors who build one-to-many applications were hesitant to try something so radically new that didn’t yet have a market. They worked better than even I had hoped and are more accepted now than anyone anticipated.
1. INSPIRE OTHERS
The word I most often use to describe my HR style is inspirational. HR professionals represent “the rules”, and too often are seen as technocrats or policy wonks, somehow disconnected from the real world of organizational needs. For sure that’s in the job, but the more you inspire others to understand how and why HR stuff is needed, and how it can work to their benefit, you’ll be a recognized leader in your organization. If you have passion, there will be passion in your corporate culture; if not, it will just be another job for you and those who work for your organization. That’s no fun, and not the kind of leadership needed from HR leaders today.
These are the things I believe can help you become a more effective HR leader. Don’t get hung up on their order: if some seem more important than others, rearrange them so they work best for you and your organization.