HR Administration

Some Presidents Would Make Great HR Pros

By Kris Dunn

Nov. 27, 2015

We're 11 months from the presidential election. With that in mind, look at the following list and tell me the presidential career that most resembles the arc of a world-class HR pro (at any career level):

Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter.

Time’s up. Which one did you pick? The truth is that two names on this list resemble world-class HR leaders at their best.

Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan could have both been great HR pros. Turns out that to be a great HR leader, it’s more important to be moderate than either Republican or Democrat. Need proof? Let’s examine the relationship between getting things done in politics and getting things done in HR.

Great HR leaders, like effective presidents, understand that to get results, they have to be the moderate voice of reason.

Think about it. To get things done for the American people, effective presidents have to be moderates and reach across the aisle for balance and compromise. The same holds true for great HR pros, except that instead of moderating their stance as Republicans or Democrats, great HR pros have to balance the conflicting platforms of “the company” and “the employees.”

When it comes to the company, HR personnel are obviously employed by the company they serve. That company is in business to serve customers and make money. If the HR people in question doesn’t have a firm grasp and appreciation for that and are only concerned about the welfare of employees, they’ll systematically help kill the enterprise that employs the workers. Ironic, don’t you think?

But of course, HR pros get paid to understand the finer points of people management and have to be the advocate for talent in any company/organization. If HR fails to realize this and is only concerned about the interests of the company it serves, all kinds of bad stuff happens (unions, bad culture, retention issues), most of which affects the company in a negative fashion.

Great HR is played between the 40-yard lines of the business world, at the intersection of company and people interests. Move too far to either the left or the right and the blitz comes, and you find yourself lying on your back. Decreased profitability and layoffs usually follow.

Let’s discuss a couple of ways you can channel your inner Reagan or Clinton via a balanced, moderate approach.

Times are tight in companies, so being a moderate in HR means you advocate for a reasonable amount to spend on people, then live within the budget. You know that spending on people initiatives is usually the first thing stripped out of the budget, so you have to be good at the budgeting process.

But your job isn’t to dream of unlimited spending on programs you wish you could have, it’s to get agreement that a certain amount of spending on people is strategic. Once you have that budget, it’s up to you to figure out where the return on investment is. Just make sure you have a budget on people that equates to the corporate equivalent of a percentage of the gross national product.

Before we fool ourselves into thinking that all citizens are created equal, we should point out that pork-barrel programs focused on your best talent are critical. The true moderate politician takes care of the masses, then looks out for special interests that are strategic to the citizens they serve.

Once you’ve secured the budget for your general programs, it’s time to find some pork, Washington-style. You’ve taken care of the masses with the merit budget, now you should be politicking for a discretionary budget to accelerate increases for your stars — without taking something away from the normal citizen.

Of course, none of it matters if you’re not on message. Helping the masses understand their leaders and vice versa is critical. Once you’ve flexed your moderate muscles through funding and development of programs that help the companyand people, your attention must turn to communication.

You need a communication plan that helps the masses understand the challenges your company faces, and also helps your leaders understand what keeps the common employee up at night.

You can get your Fox News or MSNBC game face on and rant that Clinton was a liberal socialist or Reagan was an arms-race warmonger. If you chose either of those stances, you’re missing the point.

And if you miss the point on that, you’re likely missing the point that HR pros are the ultimate political moderate in any company culture.

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributing editor.

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