When Jennifer McClure was graduating from university, her advisor told her she needed to pick a major for her final year. McClure ended up choosing Human Resources. Why? Because she wanted to have a position in the organization where she could have the most influence and impact over the most people.
“To me,” McClure explained, “I felt like that was HR. Because everything that human resources does has an impact on every employee in the organization.”
Decades later, McClure is confident in her decision to pursue this particular career path - perhaps even more so, now, given the disruptions and changes of the past few years. In fact, according to global studies on the top challenges facing business leaders in 2022, a large proportion of them - developing future leaders, for example, and attracting and recruiting the right talent - will only be solved by the work of those in human resources. McClure’s faith in the HR function is clear:
“You are the key to success in your organization and the organization's future. I believe that as HR professionals, people leaders, even if you're not in HR and you're a manager of people, you have the most opportunity, influence and impact in your organization. You're uniquely situated because the organization moves forward and remains competitive based off of the people in the organization and how well prepared they are to do their jobs and to meet the organization's objectives. So remember, when you go back to work, you are the most important employee in your organization,” she said.
Six areas of focus for HR
McClure highlighted six key areas of focus for HR leaders, whether they be CHROs or an individual contributor who just started their job last week:
1. Know the Business
HR has access to more data than any other function. While it’s important to understand and know how the business makes money, it’s also critical to understand the data that enables proactive decision making about the future.
Next, learn to tell stories with data. “What you need to do then in order to get your leadership to take action on your recommendations is to be able to tell a story, what is the problem? Why is it happening? What is your projected solution and what will be the results of your solution?”
2. Think Strategically - Solve Business Problems. Not HR Problems.
For years, McClure has met with HR professionals who have told her they want to be considered strategic in their role. Unfortunately, many of those HR leaders are singularly focused on the issues in HR. Thinking strategically means understanding the business and solving business problems. “I want HR leaders - and leaders in general - to know that if you are not focused on solving the most important challenges in your organization, doing good work is not enough,” McClure explained. Ask leaders for five minutes of their time. Ask them what are the top challenges of the business.
“I guarantee you some version of what they tell you will be I don't have enough people. I don't have the right people. My people aren't trained to do the job I need them to do. My people don't have the technology that they need. It's going to roll back to a people issue. So again, you're uniquely situated to be able to make a real difference and have impact in your organization.”
3. Develop Your Influence - Invest in Relationships. Build Trust. Share Your Ideas.
Influence is a function of relationships, trust, and you sharing your ideas, McClure explained, with people too often attempting to exert influence because of where they sit on the organization chart or their title. Instead, HR professionals should focus on making their inputs so valuable that people seek them out. In this instance, courage is key. Speaking of her time as an executive search consultant, McClure said the number one characteristic leaders were looking for in their new CHRO, VP of HR or HR director was “to have courage to make decisions to share their inputs.”
4. Be Accessible. Visibility + Approachability = Accessibility
It's also important as a leader that you're accessible, which arguably has become harder with the rise of hybrid and remote work. However, McClure pointed out that employee engagement actually went up in 2020 at the height of the pandemic when communication was paramount and leaders were regularly checking in. “We need to think about the lessons we learned from what happened at the beginning of the pandemic, when the world of work changed forever. We were reaching out to people, we showed them we cared, we asked them what they needed. Are you still doing those same things in your organization?” McClure asked.
5. See People - Show Appreciation. Give Recognition. Value Difference.
According to a yearly global study by Willis Towers Watson, the single biggest factor in employee engagement is whether or not their individual manager is genuinely interested in their well being. What does this mean, exactly, and how can managers display authentic interest? “You see them for who they are, especially if you work with remote teams,” said McClure. “You have to know your people. You have to be able to show empathy and show a little bit of yourself so that they can connect with you and relate and truly feel like you care.”
6. Grow Yourself - Own Your Personal Development.
Finally, as leaders, we must always look for opportunities to evolve. “Don't wait for your manager, your leader to tell you what you need to do to improve yourself or to offer you training to go to. Again, another benefit of what we've been through over the last two and a half years is that learning is practically ubiquitous,” McClure explained. “Make sure that you're setting goals for yourself so that you have areas where you want to challenge yourself to grow.” It’s through this self-motivated drive towards learning that we will be able to keep up with the rate of change in our organisations.
In ending her presentation, McClure implored attendees at the conference to never forget the importance of the work they do. “You are the most important employee in your organization. The true challenges that our leaders and our organizations face in the future are people related issues. You're the expert on that. Go make a difference.”
Did you miss Jennifer McClure at TechHR India? We have more great speakers lined up at TechHR Singapore, right around the corner on 25th August, Marina Bay Sands Singapore. Can't make it physically? There's still time to register virtually! Visit https://singapore.techhrconference.com/ to find out more.