#006: How Can We Bring People Back Into The Office? With Karen Clark

10
August / 2021

#006: How Can We Bring People Back Into The Office? With Karen Clark

With the gradual march towards recovery from the global pandemic, many business leaders are asking: How can we bring people back to the office? We tackle this question and more in this episode. George Randle sits down for a discussion with human resource expert Karen Clark as they examine the question of sending employees back on-site. Karen shares her insights on what business leaders need to understand and what her approach is towards on-site and remote work. Listen in for more information on how HR deals with the current workplace issues.

Listen to the podcast here:


About Karen Clark

Karen Clark is a proven strategic advisor and business partner with over 20 years of leadership in high growth, high demand organizations. Karen’s unique blend of experience with companies of all sizes spanning multiple industries enables her to advise business leaders at any stage of any organization’s maturity.

Karen’s early career was focused on talent acquisition for cleared programs, partnering closely with business development, capture management and proposal teams in General Dynamics, EER Systems and L-3 Communications. She had the privilege of staffing multiple critical intelligence contracts immediately following 9/11 and attributes that experience to when she truly learned the value and necessity of always being mission driven and customer focused.

After successfully leading talent acquisition teams, Karen broadened her experience by leading the Human Resources team for Trusted Computer Solutions (TCS), a cross-domain security software company focused on DoD and Intelligence customers. Karen led TCS to successful acquisition by Raytheon and continued within Raytheon to merge TCS and other Raytheon acquisitions to create Raytheon Cyber Products.

Karen continues to be an integral part of M&A and integration activities today and leads human resources and business teams through change management, talent management and organizational effective and design initiatives to ensure organizations remain stable, competitive and positioned for strategic and financial growth.

Karen currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley region in Virginia and serves as the Vice President of Global Human Resources Business Partnering, leading teams in the US, EMEA and APAC, at in industry-leading cybersecurity firm. She holds an SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) certification through SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management).

I have the amazing, beautiful, and talented Karen Clark. She’s the best HR leader I’ve ever worked with. Some people would call her my evil twin or I’m the evil twin for her. This was perfect timing to bring her on. We wanted to talk about getting back to the workplace vaccinated or not vaccinated, how you do it and how you do it wrong. Stay tuned as we answer the question, what in the hell do you do about getting people back into the office?

I’m flattered, for sure. I’m honored to be here. This is exciting.

First of all, tell about your role however you want to describe it and what you’re in the middle of.

I lead an HR business partnering and acquisition team for a global cybersecurity company. We have people in 45 countries with a lot of different dynamics. COVID hits different places at different times and with different severity. It’s been challenging. As with the rest of the world, we’ve had to learn as we go on how to manage this.

I got to come back around to it because I know one of those countries is India. They’re never coming back to work.

It’s incredibly heartbreaking when you have team members there. Not only do we have team members in India, but we are also expanding and growing in India simultaneously. By the way, I acquired a company that’s based in India while this is going on. It’s been hard to balance trying to do that expansion and lose any momentum with that but simultaneously, you take care of your team members there. We’ve done that. We’ve gone above and beyond to take care of team members while they’re going. When you have team members going through what they’re going through, my last concern is getting them to the office. The first concern is keeping them healthy.

Tom and I talked on an earlier episode and I wrote a blog about this. In 2008 and a few years after that, having a great CFO after that financial meltdown was everything. In the blog, I talked about having the pre-pandemic, the pandemic, post-pandemic. You’ve got the diversity and inclusion, the civil unrest, the blurring of personal and professional lives in social media. I coined it and I hope it catches on but I said that this is the era of the CHRO. If you don’t have the best HR team and CHRO that’s a true strategic leader, you’re screwed.

HR's is role is ever-evolving. We're not operational and administrative. It's our time and our role is evolving again. Click To Tweet

Being in HR as long as I have, HR’s role is ever-evolving. We’re not operational and administrative.

What time is it? What are we doing in the HR team?

That’s the awesome part of it because it is our time and our role is evolving. What we do is impactful. Every day, what we’re doing has a huge impact on the culture, productivity and performance of the organization. Especially in the middle of a pandemic, when we’re helping leaders, these are critical times. No one understands how to keep employees engaged. Employees are working at home, homeschooling and taking care of parents or whatever all that is. Not being able to travel and not being able to do the things that they’ve been able to do to balance their lives and remain healthy. I’m not happy but I love the way that our role is and what we’re doing right now.

For those of you that don’t know and those that have read The Talent War book, if you look at the back of it, Karen’s name is in there and for a good reason. I know the company that she happens to be talking about but we have certain agreements that some things will and will not be named. I got to be the first person to tell on myself. Even when I heard about COVID, it didn’t spook me. I don’t know if that was me being in the army and being in malaria and war-torn countries. I was like, “So what? It’s a pandemic.” I didn’t think anything. You and your boss got ahead of this. I look back at how smart you guys were. What made you think to start getting ahead of this? How did you get ahead of it?

Being in tune with the workforce. Let me take a step back. I might have been a little bit ahead of you but I don’t know how ahead of you I was. I remember I was the person that showed up at Dulles International Airport and I was coming in to Austin. I walked up to the airport there and no one was there. I was like, “Let’s go.” This is Dulles International. Anyone who’s ever traveled knows it’s always crazy.

You’re like, “No one lines in TSA. I’m golden. This is my lucky day.”

TWP 6 | Bring People Back
Bring People Back: It’s been a challenging 18 months and like the rest of the world, we’ve had to learn as we go on how to manage this.

There was nobody dropping off, nobody picking up, nobody there. I thought, “This might be real. What’s going on?” That was my moment. I did go to Austin and I completed the trip and got back quickly. It was the last time I traveled for a year. We understood what people were going through and we knew the stress that people were under with the unknown. There’s this unknown. Are we coming back to the office? When are they going to force us? Everything in social media, you’re seeing all these things. Things are forcing people to come back. We knew that our workforce was outside of trying to balance a whole new life, their job and whatever was going on at home, being stuck at home, being stuck 24/7 in a 400-square-foot apartment or whatever that was. We knew that this was a stress factor. We knew it was something we could address.

Quickly, within the summer right after COVID hit, we went in and designated an entire workforce on whether they were going to be fully remote, whether they needed to be in the office or we flex. Flex meaning you may be in the office 1 or 2 days a week or 1 or 2 days a month. We would sort that out but to understand what we were going to do going forward. We did it before everyone else. Everyone else was trying to figure out how they were going to be productive at home and getting the right equipment. Simultaneously, we did it all. I don’t know that we knew we were ahead of the world at that time by doing that, but we were. Of all of the feedback that we’ve gotten from the employees and many different engagement surveys, etc., we have gotten the highest remarks about being in front of it. We’re being transparent in communicating so that everyone knows what was going on. In hindsight, it was great.

That was genius. They say fate favors the prepared. It was amazing. I’m one of those old crusty individuals. I didn’t want to work from home. You all kept sending out, “Let’s talk about whether they flex or how much do they need to be in the office?” I got people asking me that now. They’re like, “How do we classify our workers?” In my head because I had seen the example that you guys set forth, I’m like, “I’m trying not to say I told you so but I’m thinking why weren’t you guys so far ahead of this?” I am realizing that you and your team, Karen, were unique and that it was genius. Everybody is seeing that now. Did you have to convince the execs that it was a smart thing to do?

Did we have to convince and do we continue to have to be convincing? The good thing about that time is that everyone was a little bit at a loss. We had leaders who were quick to follow what we were implementing because they were looking for guidance. Generally, it was easy to go through that process with a little education and guidance. I have to tell you the struggle that you come into now as certain locations are opening up and you’re not masked. We’re collaborative in the early stages because we’re in a pandemic and nobody knows what to do. Now, people are very comfortable and there are a lot of opinions about what it should look like now, what the new normal should be or what works in a workforce. People have less struggle in that time because everyone came together versus what we’re continuing to do, which are different opinions.

It drives me nuts. Kudos to the execs that were listening to you. I know some of it because I experienced it. They said, “HR, what the hell do we do? Guide us. Lead us.” All of a sudden, you’re the most important thing in the world. Not services, not sales, not R&D, “HR, you need to lead us. We need to figure this out.” They have some short memories. We’re strategic, we deliver the value, we do all those things right and then it’s like, “You go back in your corner,” which we wrote about in the book. That’s what gets people in trouble is when they shove HR in the corner. We’ve all got Facebook. We’re all epidemiologists. We know exactly what the hell to do. Now you’ve got to be running into the exact opposite.

You have a different opinion about what the new normal will be and when it will be. I giggle about that because we’re not through this. We’re getting through this at varying stages based on location but we’re not through this. If you’re watching any bit of the news on what’s going on, we still got some strides to make. The issue is when things start to normalize, leaders go back to their default, “How I lead, what I’ve learned, what I know, this is what works. I’ve got to go back to what I know.” The issue with that is that’s not going to align with the expectations of the workforce going forward. Our biggest struggle and I’m sure most HR folks can empathize is trying to help leaders understand that there are different ways and probably a transition time and the gap between how I feel and how the workforce and the employees feel.

Your next culture and climate survey is going to have a different set of questions on it, for sure. I hadn’t set that one up. You were diplomatic and kind. I know there’s got to be more than one exec that you want to slap silly and say, “It’s not over.” We both know where the bodies are buried, for those readers out there. I’m hoping that the leaders come back around. A lot of times, execs are living in a bubble. The minute that the rest of the market in the world returns to maybe a false sense of normalcy or a different sense of normalcy, now they’re like, “I’ve still got my revenue goals. I’ve still got my product delivery timelines.” How is that coming across in your world? How are you managing not to join AA at the end of every single day? Did you give that up altogether?

We understand what people were going through and the stress that people were under with the unknown. Click To Tweet

There are days. I’m not quite sure it shouldn’t be in a number of different meetings. There are always the execs or the leaders that think they know best. You work to understand how to make yourself better and you learn how to make your team better, more productive, high-performing. Openly, most leaders will tell you that there’s goodness that comes from in-person team building and collaboration and no one’s going to disagree with that. Outside of COVID, you do have some generational thought differences from people on that topic. The issue is that for most of us, there are certain health care fields and other ones that it is what it is, they have to be in person but what COVID taught us is that they can be more productive from home.

It’s a double-edged sword because you’re home, you’re not commuting and you’re not doing all these things. Probably the commute is great for your mental health but that Audible you’re listening to or that phone conversation with your family, friends or whatever that is that helps you either decompress after work or start your day, whatever that looks like, all of a sudden is missing. We filled all that time in gym time, commute time, everything with work. Productivity went up. The argument that productivity is it’s factually data-proven incorrect that you have to be in the office to be productive. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some great engagement. I love to see your face. It’s the best.

Tom and I talked about that. There is a value in breaking bread together and having a cocktail together. That’s what we were talking about. We’re trying to figure out how to balance. You got something echoing in my head now. The productivity went up, which means the expectations went up.

This is what you’ve got to deal with. You’ve got to go through a change management process. You’ve got to bring people and always lead with the data and the metrics. You’ve got to bring leaders to understand that they are productive. What are you missing? What we’re doing to bring people forward is we’re starting with the why. Now people want everyone back to the office. I don’t have a crystal ball that’s going to tell me where we are in 18 and 24 months. I can only tell you where we are now. The job market is hot and people are nervous. If you’re in here five days a week like we’re singing, I hope you’re building your TA team fast and furiously to deal with that attrition.

That’s another episode we are going to cover. You’re right. We were working on the brochure and 52% of people, at any given moment, are looking for another job.

The jobs are there. When we’re talking to the leaders, we very much have to say, “I understand what you believe is that people need to be in the office to be productive. That’s not true. Let’s talk about why do you want them in the office. If you don’t have that why, that business essential why, do you want to risk 50% attrition? Do you want to do that?”

TWP 6 | Bring People Back
Bring People Back: No one understands how to keep employees engaged when they’re working at home and homeschooling and taking care of their parents, not being able to travel, not being able to do the things that they’ve been able to do to balance their lives and stay healthy.

Another loaded question. I’m going to get you into full care and form at some point. Of the percentage of executives you’re having that discussion with, how many are listening with the intent to learn on a percentage basis? That’s got to be your biggest challenge. You and I have talked about this. Our jobs are always far more than blocking and tackling but you have to get that right. Those discussions whether people come back to work or not to work, that’s not for your ordinary, uneducated HRBP or HR person who’s doing blocking and tackling. How are you making it happen? You still have to give me the percentage.

I’m going to be fair. We have made tremendous strides in upgrading our leadership, thanks to some help from you and the organization. I have to say 70% to 80% because I have a strong and credible business partnering team and we have hired some exceptional executives. I’m probably in a better place the most. Based on that 20% to 30% that’s walking in and going, “They have to be in here,” as I’m banging my head on the wall going, “Let’s see how that’s going to work out for you. Let’s talk about goals. What did you sign up for? If you lose whatever percentage of your workforce, the roadmap won’t happen, the sales won’t happen,” on and on. There’s a direct correlation to revenue generation. Let’s bring that back to you. It’s almost the 80/20 Rule all the time for everything and it is but we’re getting them there and there’s also the value of some executive-level of peer pressure, leading and setting the example.

The other point is it may get there. If someone sits here and tells me they know exactly what the workforce is going to look like in eighteen months, I’m calling you a liar. There’s no one who could have told me what it looks like now and where we would end up. We have some idea that this was going to change the world. Let’s be clear. By the way, there’s still an issue with children at home especially in regions and daycares that collapsed under COVID and the resources aren’t there. There are a ton of things. Employees are not able to snap their fingers and go back to the life that we had in January of 2020. If you don’t allow time and flexibility to transition into what that normal is going to be, that’s pretty naive.

There are a lot of people that are small to medium business HR professionals. You and I, we know if we take the 23andMe DNA test, the dominant gene will be the one that says masochists on top of it. We’ve spent decades in the function. We’ve had the benefit of big corporations. By being in the environment, we see both the excellent and the pure crap all in one-hour meetings. We’ve had that exposure. If you had HR professionals from smaller firms coming to you, what would you tell them to be paying attention to make sure that you’re communicating the flexibility or you’re thinking through this the right way? What advice would you be giving to some of these people that don’t have the benefit of the world that we live in?

There are a couple of things. Understand the talent acquisition market, what’s happening, where you have people, and where you’re recruiting. Understand the expectations of that market and get the data. How do you influence leaders? Bring the data forward. We can’t argue with accurate data. Point blank, you cannot argue with that. Another element is to start with the why. I don’t want to hear that in 2019, what you knew was that being in person made you more productive. Did it? To my point, the productivity went up. Start with the data and the why and that’s going to help you influence that leader. When you start with the why, they’ll wrap themselves back around to understand, “Maybe I don’t need that.” Market TA data, attrition data in your industry, what people are saying or what’s going on there, and then starting with the why. Use data and why. You’ll get there.

I would imagine you have but I don’t want to presume. Have you guys started a new culture survey? Culture Amp, was that the tool? Have you sent out a survey asking how much of what the population wants is affecting that? Have you done that yet?

We’re getting ready to do another engagement survey with Culture Amp. We haven’t done it through that tool but we are talking to the organization. Remember that when we did this early workplace designation, that was early on. It was smart, but it was early. What we’re doing is we’re looking at it again and we’re having the same conversation over again. Now that you know what you know, is this the right designation? Can we be more flexible? As part of that process, we’re talking to organizations so we are bringing in groups of leaders. We understand what the workforce wants in partnering with the business partners. Having a good business partnering team, we have our pulse on the needs, wants and expectations of our workforce. We don’t differ from anyone else. You can look at any survey out there and what people want is flexibility.

You've got to bring leaders to understand that, “Hey, they are productive, so what are you missing?” Click To Tweet

To your point, you were saying, “I want to work from home.” Not many people want to work from home five days a week or all the time. They want flexibility. They want to say, “I do need that engagement. I do want to see people face to face. Do you know what I don’t need to do? I don’t need to do it on a Friday from 9:00 to 5:00.” That’s where it’s changed. The other conversation is let’s say you’re going to have a flex workforce. How do you make that most impactful and meaningful? You have to get strategic about team meetings and why you’re bringing them in and what you’re working on. If you start bringing people in 1 or 2 days a week and they could have done exactly what they did in that office, at home without the hour commute, the gas and whatever they’re doing then you’re going to lose them. Make it meaningful. Do something important with that time that you’re together. Don’t just look at each other over a cube, put your headphones on and get on Zoom calls. That’s a waste of everything. You’re going to throw yourself five steps backward doing that.

I have the luxury now. We’re in the office. I remember getting Zoom fatigue. I was like, “I want to see another human being. I want to have another bad cup of coffee from the office drip machine.” Here’s the real hard question. I was on a consulting engagement and the guy does want to be flexible. Here’s the hard part. I imagine this has got to be an absolute mind-bender for everybody. I just want your take. We’re not saying here that this is the right way or the wrong way.

People coming back to the office in non-medical or non-teaching, let’s say non-first responders or whatever, some of those people that will come back are vaccinated and some want to come back that are not vaccinated. Vaccinated people are like, “If you’re inviting the non-vaxxed people into the office, I don’t want to come back in the office.” Now you have a whole other thing. He was asking me, “How do you handle that?” One of the companies is in Manhattan, New York and they said, “They’re coming back to the office when they get vaccinated if they want their job.” I was like, “Probably not the right approach.” He said, “That’s the end of discussion.” I’m like, “So much for this consulting engagement.” Are you tackling that one too?

Absolutely. Here’s the reality of it. All of this resonates with me. I am vaccinated but that was a tough choice for me. I don’t get the flu shot. I don’t take a lot medicine. I don’t like anything in my body that’s not natural. It’s that one hippie part of my life. I understand both sides. This is a US comment but it’s perfectly legal for an employer to mandate vaccinations. We know that. Let’s look at vaccination rates. Like many other topics that we talk about, we’re at 50%. We have 50% that jumped for it and 50% that says, “I’m not doing that.” Do you want to lose 50% of your workforce by mandating vaccines?

Let’s be honest, it’s the age-old, “People do not want to be told what to do with their bodies. I got vaccinated but I don’t want you to tell me I have to get vaccinated. This was my choice to do so. The problem with that is you’re right. You’ve got people that want to come in but they don’t want to be exposed and you’ve got these differing views. We’re dealing with that now. The Delta variant and the things that are going on are making this more complex.

What we did was as we’re re-looking at workplace designations and we are planning on bringing people back into the office. We’ve got some pilot groups going on in different offices where it’s safest around the globe. As we’re going through this, we’re saying everyone’s flex through the end of 2021 point-blank. What that means is we’re going to allow you to make your decision at least through the end of 2021 for this reason. If you want go and take that approach, get ready to fill the other 50% of your workforce vaccinated people.

TWP 6 | Bring People Back
Bring People Back: The issue is when things start to normalize, leaders go back to their default. The issue with that is that’s not necessarily going to align with the expectations of the workforce going forward.

I don’t know anybody who wants to do that cost and loss of productivity and ramp but if that’s what the choice is, go right ahead and do that. I’m not sure that’s a good business decision to do. That’s what I was saying. People have different thoughts about where we are. We’re not through this. It’s getting better. No one can say it’s not getting better in own average but we’ve got some time and we’ve got some work. What you’ll learn is create the environment, make it safe to come back and have flex in place.

If people are adamant that they don’t want to be exposed, we’re going to give them some time. We’re going to see how this plays out and ensure that we do have a safe environment. There’s no other answer. You and I think alike about a lot of things. I may change my answer because I’m learning my way through it but this is where I would say, “If you don’t err on the side for at least the next six months and you want to have a fully vaccinated workforce, start recruiting now because you’re going to lose your people.”

You can’t ask a candidate, “Are you up-to-date on vaccinations?” It’s crazy. I don’t argue about whether somebody should or shouldn’t. It scares me when the same people who gave us the 1040-EZ tax form saying it was easy and mandated a vaccine. If you’re an HR, you have to be a skeptic, to be quite honest with you.

Isn’t that why we bonded over our careers?

Skeptic is our show word for crusty and non-trusting HR people.

Our bond is built on skepticism.

I wouldn’t do anything that was to jeopardize and we won’t get into war stories about crazy execs. You have a colleague that’s named Emily who we know is the world’s most perfectly postured L&D person on the face of the planet. You can tell her to read this and that I’m openly mocking her. She’s terrific and she’s wonderful. She may have been too busy but having to lead remotely, that’s a new set of skills we’re having to teach leaders how to manage, connect and build relationships remotely.

If you lose half your workforce, the roadmap won't happen, the sales won't happen. Click To Tweet

Even if you’re going to be flex, what are you talking to managers about? Let me rephrase this a different way. For everybody that’s reading, there’s nobody I want whispering or yelling in my ear more than Karen. To make sure that A) I’m not in jail, B) I’m not sued and C) I get great results. Those aren’t necessarily in order. You’re the voice on a lot of people’s ears and a lot of people have got to be challenged trying to lead people. How are you helping executives? How are you helping managers? What advice are you giving to lead through this craziness?

If someone’s working remotely especially if they’re trying to sort out their lives, it’s new to them as well. “My kids are sitting here with a laptop trying to get connected to school and that’s not working.” Thank goodness, my kids are older because I would not survive 2020. I had to do this myself. Does it need to be 9:00 to 5:00? Let’s talk about that. What’s going on in your life? Can you get the job done in a 24-hour period? I don’t really care what the hours are. This doesn’t work for everyone. There are definitely roles that it matters. You’re on call, you’re tech support or what have you and you have to be on certain hours and that’s that.

Other than that, if you’re talking about supporting employees, figure out how to get the job done in the environment and that’s COVID or anything else that you’re dealing with. Outside of that, I want you to take an empathetic approach. I want you to be a leader. I want you to help people solve the problem and each problem may be different. Put that aside. You’ve done that. Manage performance. It’s nothing different. This is the problem.

It’s about performance and results.

If somebody is not performing, I don’t care if they’re in a corporate office or at their home or at their sister’s office in Oklahoma. I don’t care where you are. Are you doing your job? Are you meeting your objectives? If so, grand. If not, you got to go. It’s that simple. I don’t mean to be cold about it but it’s no different than if someone comes forward and says, “I need an accommodation.” “Great. You need accommodation that’s going to help you perform in your role. If we give you the accommodation and you perform, that’s grand. If we do and you don’t perform then it doesn’t work. You have to be able to perform the essential duties of the role in any circumstance to stay in the role.”

There’s the soft side that says, “Help them figure out how to do that,” and then I’m going to be firm and say, “If they’re not doing it, we have a process for that.” The biggest struggle that we have is that leaders do not manage performance in a timely way. They are not proactive and then all of a sudden, I get a call, “I want to fire this guy.” Great. What have you done thus far? The answer is nothing. If you have leaders who manage performance poorly and they don’t make that a part of their everyday life, that’s a whole different episode probably as well.We had this list of topics but things kept popping up. This was a great one. You have to give me four answers. Give me the top two reasons why you stay, thrive, kick-ass and take names in HR and two reasons that we both at times in HR have been borderline problem drinkers. What are the top two reasons that you say? What are the top two things in HR that drive you crazy?

There’s no doubt that I am biased. Why do I stay in HR? You can choose to have a role that’s impactful in one function or one region or you can choose to be great like us. We don’t get the credit. We’ve gained confidence in who we are and what we do because we do impact the business on a day-to-day basis. I’ve had a wonderful career and I’ve been given opportunities not to just grow in HR. HR is a component of my role. I am a business partner. I am a problem solver and I’ve had such a luxurious career where I’ve been able to touch everything.

I’ve been in government contracting, commercial organizations and product and services solutions. Now I am around the globe. If you are like me, bored easily and constantly need to be entertained, this is the role for you. The flip side of that, which I’ll get into, is what makes us drink. I am one that admires people and have expectations of leaders that they’re always open to changing their views or thoughts. Someone who is stuck in their views without validation or justification is not trying to constantly improve themselves as a leader and is openly not emotionally intelligent enough to work with me. That drives me to drink.

Those are some of the dead bodies we referred to.

My coaching is to lead with grace. I can’t you tell you that you’re stupid and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean the thought doesn’t cross my mind at times. If you’re not striving to be where I am, prove yourself to the organization and do what’s right, that’s what drives me to drink. Other than that, I can deal with every changing dynamic, industry, acquisition or whatever environment. I can stabilize and be a part of it. If you’ve been an HR as long as I’ve been in and you’ve been successful, you’re on the top of the resilience ladder. That is outside of being principled. Integrity is huge to me. Integrity is an issue. You don’t get my time if I question your integrity but outside of that, you need to be better. If you’re close-minded, you’ll know that because I’ll tell you.

This is a long way around the barn to my next question. We post it on the show and I’ve said it on other podcasts that I was invited to. One of the things that we talked about in the book is what if you had Bruce Arians? He coached Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they beat my Chiefs, which is killing me or Andy Reid, who coached the Kansas City Chiefs and they said, “We’re going to focus on the offense and we’re going to focus on the defense and to hell with special teams.” Who would ever think that a coach would think that and then expect to get to the Super Bowl?

There are tons of executives who look at HR, talent acquisition, total awards and leadership development as the special teams. They’re like, “I’m not too worried about that. If I have my offense and my defense, I’m good.” You know what we wrote in the book and you’re in the book about HR being strategic. You’ve given us lead with data and lead with the why. What would you be telling executives out there, not just C-suite but the business executives of how to improve outside of hiring A-players like you onto the team that’s a game-changer? Other than that, what advice would you be giving to executives after two decades of being in the function?

How do you influence leaders? Bring the data for it. You can't argue with data. Click To Tweet

I would add psychologists and therapists to your job description. Everybody goes either to a barber or hairdresser. They know more about your personal stuff than anybody else does and I’m like, “If you have good HR and good TA, they’re the people that do your hair. They know more about your teams than anything else.” This is why I wanted to ask you if you were going to advise executives and say, “Here’s what you need to do to be getting the best out of your HR team and getting the best advice.” Anything that you want to tell executives, what would you say?

Leaders have to understand what it is to work with good HR professionals and what can come of that. What I’ve learned over my career and my approach may be different but there’s a credibility component that you have to build in any partnership. You went to the hairdresser and they did your hair right. You look great and you’re like, “I’m always going back there.” You get that same experience with the right HR person. What I’ve learned is, when you have leaders that you’re working with that have had prior relationships with strong HR, they know what they want and they’re doing these things then great. When you don’t, that falls on the HR person, unfortunately, to build that credibility. Once you do, usually it’s not a problem. You and I know what I’m getting to the table unless you got a leader who doesn’t want you there for a reason, which is a red flag and we have some of those.

Tom and I have come to identify that person by a code name on an earlier episode.

I don’t want to oversimplify this but I have leaders I work with that call me to chat and bounce things off of me. I’ve built these relationships like, “I was thinking,” and they’re not afraid to be transparent, tell me what’s going on, “How much trouble will I get into if I do blank?” We’ve got this relationship because they’re telling you they’re getting ready to do something stupid. I love those calls because that means I’ve got a partnership and I have some great partnerships like that. Unfortunately, if a leader has never worked with a strong HR partner, we’ve got to get in there and show them what that looks like.

Come to the table and understand the business. How do we do that? Understand your business. Get in there. Understand their constraints, their opportunities, where they’re struggling whether it be financial, market, product, maturity or whatever that is. Figure out the struggle and then figure out how you’re going to help them and where you can influence. The fastest way to build some credibility in a partnership is to knock down the roadblock for them. All of a sudden, “That’s my best friend and I want her on every call that I have.” Maybe a little bit of my personality as well but she’s going to go nuts.” I don’t know if that will ever change. It’s an unfortunate part of being part of HR but if you know what you’re doing, it’s an easy thing to overcome.

We talked about that in TA. I came in a little bit brash. I remember talking to this one manager and he’s like, “I want you to do A, B, C, D, E, F, G.” I said, “When you roll out the next line of code, can I review it?” He says, “You don’t know a thing about engineering.” I said, “You don’t know a thing about talent acquisition but it doesn’t keep you from telling me how to do my job. What I want you to do is tell me what you want. I’m going to ask you why, dig into it then I want you to go away. Show up in an interview and give me thumbs up or thumbs down. The rest of the stuff, stay out of the way.” He was like, “I’ve never seen it work that way.” I’m like, “Why don’t we give it a try and see how that works out?” By all means, do not negotiate compensation. Please, if you’re a manager, stay out of that. Let talented people work on your behalf for that.

We do have some interesting topics coming up and there’s going to be one that we talked about. We’re doing a series on it, which we are going to get you and there are 2 or 3 other people. I’ll give you their names. I don’t want to reveal them yet until we lock them down. You’ll know who they are. We’re going to talk about a topic coming up that’s going to be near and dear to your heart, which is female executives and the power to ask for what you want. Not what you deserve and not what you need but what you want. I can’t wait to get your take on that. Our goal is to talk about things that are real HR and solving the problems and there’s nobody better. I can’t thank you enough for coming on and having a few laughs.

I hope to be invited again.

Absolutely. Hopefully, you’re here doing it live soon. Anything you want to convey, reference, HR, good, bad, ugly and different? You’re going to get the final word.

You talked about it a lot in your book and we talked about it here. If you are a business leader and you don’t utilize a strong HR partner, shame on you. You are impacting your business. If you are an HR leader who hasn’t earned credibility, I may have to question what you’re doing in your role and do you really care about it. The partnerships change the game if you have the right partnership. The only advice that I would leave as a parting shot is don’t waste that opportunity because I’ve seen it change the bottom line.

Not just stroke our own egos but us building the relationship we did, it absolutely changed the bottom line. We were like it in the 30s or 40s of attrition and then between the two of us, we figured out how to tackle it in short order. I can’t thank you enough. This has been awesome. You’re coming back. The only thing you have to do to come back is you get to pick the controversial topic or maybe we’ll flip. We’re going to flip seats, you’re going to take the main mic and you get to ask questions. We’ll do it that way.

I’m looking forward to it and I’m so glad. Thank you for making the time. For all the talent warriors out there, thank you for reading. You can find this wherever you find shows. I can’t thank you enough for reading. If you want to get better at business, talent and HR, there is no other group you need to be following and we thank you kindly. Please leave a review and let us know how things are going. With that, we are out.

About the author

George Randle
Managing Partner & Co-Director of Talent Advisory | View Bio | More From the Author

George Randle is an experienced talent executive, veteran, coach, mentor, and leader known for selecting, building, and reorganizing teams to reach their full business potential. George has 20+ years of Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 global Human Resources and Talent Acquisition experience building elite teams. George began his professional life by enlisting in the US Army Reserves.  While serving in the USAR, he received his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and was commissioned an officer. His career assignments included Berlin, US CENTCOM, and III Corps with deployments to Africa (Somalia and Kenya), Central America, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Following his successful military career, George transitioned to the corporate world, experiencing many of the same challenges the Military and Veterans face today. These challenges along with the recognition that building elite teams are his true passion, George ultimately transitioned to the Human Resources and Talent Acquisition function. He later went on to create one of the largest and most successful Veteran Hiring Programs for a Global Fortune 50 firm. Collectively, the teams George has built have hired over 85,000 professionals, including over 2000 executives. He is also a Hogan (HPI, HDS, and MVPI) Leadership Assessment Certified coach.

George currently resides in Austin, Texas, and is the co-author of the best-selling book, “The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent” and the Host of "The Talent War" Podcast.

Tom Lokar
Partner & Co-Director of Talent Advisory | More From the Author

Founder and Principal of OnCoaching LLC, Thomas Lokar, has over 25 years in the field of Leadership and Organization Effectiveness. After graduating with his Ph.D. in I/O Psychology from Kansas State University, he started his career in management consulting with the HayGroup, ascending to Regional Practice Leader. He has had a distinguished career in Human Resources functions, with increasingly larger roles as an expert leading Talent, Learning and Staffing functions, and then on to large-scale HR Business Partner roles in global organizations, like Hewlett-Packard. Most recently he served as the EVP, CHRO at Mitel. Tom resides outside of Dallas, TX with his wife of 20+ years, Kathryn, and their 5 kids (and a few labs). He is an accomplished and avid endurance athlete, having had a very successful amateur Triathlon, Running, and Cycling career for over 30 years.

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