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Swing for the Stars—Preparing Leadership, Your Organization and Yourself for Your HR Home Run

Posted by Elaine Varelas  October 1, 2012 09:00 AM

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HR professionals have made huge strides in changing the perception of the role of human resources in business. Through our efforts, savvy leadership teams are beginning to understand the impact of people on the organization. Our job isn’t just to fill empty positions; we can also give our organizations an edge. Rather than being solely task-oriented—working on benefits, employee complaints, and vacation schedules—HR Professionals are increasingly being asked to help craft the goals and direction of the company.

This shift has moved HR people to leadership roles. Yet with this responsibility comes risk. Throughout history, the most effective leaders have always been risk-takers. HR professionals have the opportunity, and frankly the obligation, to undertake “reach” initiatives in their organizations—endeavors that will most likely drastically alter the way business is done within the company. By embarking on these lofty assignments, we can earn our place on the leadership team by actively providing value and focus to the organization.

You may have your reach initiative in mind, but how do you go about introducing and following through with it? How can you ensure that it will be successful? That you will be taken seriously? And that you can eliminate the roadblocks that stand in your way?

It is natural for your organization, and even your leadership, to be change-averse. People get nervous about disrupting the status quo. After all, why fix what isn’t broken? Why invest in an unproven theory? People like to throw darts at those who suggest change. Knowing that you will be up against skeptics and doubters, what can you do?

It is a massive undertaking, so train for it. Marathon runners know that you shouldn’t just wake up one day and run 26.2 miles. You must train, build up your mileage, tweak your diet and sleep schedule and get great running shoes. In other words, you need to prepare. The same can be done for your reach assignment. Preparation is key. You can’t just blurt out your idea at a staff meeting without having done some research and without anticipating questions and possible objections. If you do, your idea will be shot down before you have a chance to grow it.

Before you announce your initiative, consider instituting a “reach initiative incubator.” At this beginning stage, you should take an honest look at your idea, your organization, and your leadership. Here are some things to consider:

Identify your opposition and sell your position—What will be the biggest obstacles in launching your initiative? Anticipate what the doubters will say. Be prepared to provide data and statistics as to why your program is necessary. Give examples of success stories at other organizations. Document all of the benefits you foresee (especially financial), as well as the possible downsides. With any change, there are bumps. What will those be? How will you mitigate them? How can you show the value despite these issues?

Understand how change works—Research the model of change to understand what you can expect from the process and when. Why are people reluctant? How long will it take to win people over? If you aren’t sure about the intricacies of organizational transition, check out William Bridges, an author and change management consultant. You can see more about his work at:

Develop an education plan—Don’t just say “trust me.” Give leadership a reason to buy into your initiative. Show them how you will make it work, create a reasonable timeline, and short and long-term goals.

Build support—Bring your idea to key people in the organization to garner support before presenting it to leadership. Your biggest allies will be in finance, accounting and operations. You need to assert that your reach project will positively impact the bottom line. Leadership will also be more willing to undertake a project that already has buy-in from a cross-section of people in the organization.

Share accountability—Once the project is launched, it is important to spread the wealth! Make a clear timetable of deadlines and tasks with names and departments assigned to each one. You should also identify all points of failure (not just critical ones) and the repercussions of not meeting them. If assignments and time frames are clear, anyone on the team can call another to task if the deadlines are not met—not for blame, but for prevention.

Over-communicate—When in doubt, over-communicate! Communication should be a continuous process from beginning to end. Typically, if leadership feels overburdened with the amount of communication, it will feel like just the right amount for employees.

There is risk involved with embarking on a reach assignment. But, as with any risk, there can be great reward. You can establish yourself as a leader in your organization, help to impact your company’s bottom line, and give your career a boost by successfully implementing a reach project. By fully preparing yourself, your leadership team and the organization for your initiative, you can help mitigate the risk and set the organization on track to realize the benefits of your “reach.” Swing for the stars!

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.