How a New HR Director can Join the Executive Suite

5 min read
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So You’re the New HR Director …

I would love to think that companies seeking a new HR director are looking to change strategic direction. This only rings true sometimes. Sometimes the HR director post was recently vacated due to retirement, reorganization, and/or expansion. Here are key tips to make sure that you do not become the newest contributor to a high turnover rate.

Be an Available HR Director, but Not Too Available.

Your first week on the job is not a social event. You’re likely sorting through unfinished work from whoever was the last HR director, manager, or generalist. You may be thrust into the grind of conducting orientation, on-boarding, payroll, legal, performance review, recruitment and budget review activities left behind by your predecessor. Needless to say, you’ll have your hands full. Schedule people in blocks and learn to delegate and say “No” very quickly. Otherwise, your work will likely wind up taking on the job description of an HR assistant. Learn your department’s workflows very quickly, and push to get on-boarding tasks completed before the first week. For example, aim to check off provisioning your software access, signing policy acknowledgements, and review objectives.  

Be Analytical.

Image of a person doing analytical type work I do not mean that you need to bury your head in spreadsheets and emerge with something groundbreaking. What I do mean is that you are open to learning new frameworks. Then, take action by looking at problems and organizing ideas and evaluating solutions. Thoughtful, creative solutions cannot be automated (at least not by existing technology). Creating systems to replicate those solutions is a key indicator that you are fit for the job. It also indicates that you are tough to replace. For example, have you have ever worked as a business analyst on a software, data science, or BI projects? The skills that you have picked up during those roles are in high demand.  

Be Cross-Functional.

Image of business people working across the organization It always sucks to hear an employee who is asked to take on a new task respond with “that’s above my pay grade,” or “that’s not why I was hired.” Truthfully, American workforce is becoming more cross-functional overall, including the HR director. As a result, every Project Manager suddenly becomes a Sales Account Manager. Every knowledge expert in the company gets upgraded to Blogger, regardless of writing ability! You must adapt, by staying on top of the trends facing your business. Understand the jobs of the people who work at your company. This also makes you a valuable asset during the recruiting process – as a designer for new job roles and as a designer for candidate and employee evaluations.  

Be an Executive.

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I know I just said that you should be a consultant, but hear me out: An HR Director by title is just that, a director. If your company has multiple levels in the C-Suite, there is a great chance that you will be considered little more than a Department Manager (of a cost center, no less). This role represents overhead to be allocated. Of course, all your decision-making ability will go to a Financial Manager instead. Take on the role of a high-energy and financially literate HR director. Then, you’re likely to get invited to a seat at the table for the most important decisions of the company.  

Be Shrewd.

Focused on money and costs - a jar of coins An HR director should keep a laser-sharp focus on the budget. Constantly striving to work within your budget and finding creative ways to lower budgeted HR costs over time is the most productive method of elbowing a seat at the executive table. It is your job to convince the financial officers that people are the firm’s greatest asset.  

Be Influential.

Hands raised in the air with motivational language across them, which are things that influential people do Become a domain expert. It sets you apart from a standard occupant of an executive seat. Don’t just be an expert – be an influence: Build a relationship with local government offices and representatives, with the intent of having your perspective being a consideration for legislative decisions. If you do not think that local politics matter, take the example of the lobby efforts that bring public funding to public-private partnerships, such Miami’s Liberty Square redevelopment project. You may not be called upon to lobby for your company and your industry. Though, introducing yourself to other business and political leaders is still helpful. Speaking at conferences, meetup groups, mentoring younger leaders and joining business associations are more accessible ways of elevating your influence and level of respect in the field. Most importantly, meet the people at the company and listen to their problems. If you are not able to influence people from the bottom up, you will fail as a change agent.  

Finally, Be Patient!

Person losing patience with complex puzzle Your résumé and life’s journey was not built in a day (and neither was Rome!), but it takes less than a day lose all the goodwill from a strong first impression on your organization. Whether you are intent on reorganizing the structure of the company or implementing a shiny new HRIS and payroll system, you should know that there will always be a subset of the board, C-suite, or workforce that is resistant to changing behaviors and perspectives. The key is to take the time to understand the underlying reasons for resistance. Then gather commitment from the bottom up. Initiatives cooked up in the “ivory towers” die a slow and expensive death –  with the eulogy usually delivered by your replacement HR director in a gutted department that could not prove its financial value.