Magazine article Training & Development

Beneficial Differences: HR Leaders and Their Business Partners

Magazine article Training & Development

Beneficial Differences: HR Leaders and Their Business Partners

Article excerpt

Human resource managers and operational vice-presidents are often very different - yet they need each other to function effectively. Here are a few ways HR managers can overcome some inherent personality differences for the greater good of the individual and the company.

Right now, somewhere in Corporate America, an HR manager is leaning across a desk helping a manager resolve an employee issue. Is the manager learning or even listening to the HR person? How effective are HR managers at convincing their business partners to follow their advice?

I've seen HR managers struggle with the challenge of advising executives who have only a minute to absorb an hour's worth of advice. In the typical corporate setting, you have an HR manager let's call her Sue - who is a consultant to a business unit leader (named Tom for this story). Sue has business savvy, intelligence, and experience. But Tom has power. Sue can advise - Tom doesn't have to listen. Sue knows HR. Tom knows his product. Sue knows how to manage people. Tom is the manager.

Do the differences between HR managers and their executives run deeper than title and authority? Are their personalities inherently different? Let's face it, certain types of people are attracted to HR - they are often caring and compassionate. Others are drawn to the challenges of line management. But are HR managers intrinsically different from their business partners? Or do their jobs just make them appear to be different? I decided to find out.

From 1993 to 1994, I collected 360-degree assessments and personality data from 40 HR directors and vice-presidents and 200 operational vice-presidents at several high-tech companies. The data was part of the assessment, coaching, and team development my company conducted for them. We used a tool called the 16 Personality Factors, which is used sometimes by psychologists to evaluate personality traits.

The results of the assessment supported my original premise that indeed HR professionals and their business partners do have inherently different personality traits. Following are the traits we examined and the main differences between the two groups.

Dominance. The results of the test concluded that HR directors and vice-presidents have significantly less dominant personalities than vice-presidents. Vice-presidents are usually more forceful, opinionated, stubborn, argumentative, and authoritarian than HR managers. HR managers risk the possibility of slipping into a deferential role and failing to challenge the thinking and direction of the executives they support. The good news is that HR managers are more inclined than vice-presidents to be facilitative and participative in their leadership approach.

Independence. HR directors and vice-presidents are significantly less independent than other vice-presidents. This means that operational vice-presidents take more initiative and act with little direction and input. Unfortunately, the good ideas of HR managers may be impeded by their need for too much support. The upside is that HR managers tend to involve customers in decisions that affect them, and build more of a partnership with the people they support.

Experimentation. HR directors and vice-presidents are significantly less experimental than operational vice-presidents. The latter are more comfortable with change and more inclined to rock the boat. HR leaders may be excessively conservative and too tied to the past. However, HR managers are more inclined to be attentive to employees' needs for frequent communication, closure, and stability.

Imagination. According to the study, HR directors and vice-presidents are significantly less imaginative than operational vice-presidents. Business VPs are more inclined to think of innovative approaches to problem solving, compared to the more practical, down-to-earth approaches that may first occur to HR leaders. The risk is that HR people may be unwilling to push the envelope and experiment with unusual approaches to solving problems. …

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