I first became aware of Les Hayman in July 2012 when I read his excellent guest post for Gurprriet Siingh – “Transforming HR – How a CEO did it.” Les was uniquely qualified to write this post. Having served as Chairman and CEO of SAP EMEA (Europe, ME, and Africa) and President and CEO for SAP Asia-Pacific, and a member of the SAP Global Board, Les was asked to delay his retirement for two years to take on the role of Global Head of HR, responsible for all of SAP’s Human Resources activities worldwide.
I was quite impressed with his astute observations and the lessons he shared, and I immediately subscribed to Les Hayman’s Blog. As a regular reader, I have great appreciation for his philosophy and ability to translate his 40+ years of real-life experience into relevant practices. His blog is a gift to us.
Recently I invited Les to write a guest post from the other side of the equation – rather than what HR can learn from a business perspective – what business leaders can learn from an HR perspective. I am delighted and honored that he accepted my offer and that I am able to share his wisdom with you here. You’ll find much practical advice, whether you are a CEO or desire to be a better leader at any level.
What I Wish I Knew as a CEO – Les Hayman
In 2001, when I had actually decided to retire from “corporate life”, my company asked me to consider a change in direction, rather than a departure, by taking the role of Global Head of HR. I felt at the time that this was an unusual request as, after having spent the first 12 years of my working life as a “techie” (Programmer to Analyst to IT Manager), I had spent the next 25 years in sales and business management, my last such role as the President and CEO of a 15,000 person, €5 Billion EMEA based business unit across 25 countries.
To me, being asked to run HR was somewhat akin to someone asking Atilla the Hun to look after the Vestal Virgins.
The logic of the board which was put to me at the time was that, of all the board members, I was the one who was most concerned about people, having been one the first executives in the company’s history to introduce elements of traditional HR programmes such as management development, High Potential programmes, succession planning, performance reviews and structured recruitment. I had not done these because I felt that they were HR programmes specifically, but because I felt that these were needed in any business, and that they were issues that a CEO should be concerned with as a critical part of his normal responsibilities.
It was not an easy job, but in the three years that I filled the role I learned a lot about management and people, and specifically about HR and why internal HR organisations can struggle to be heard and to be included as strategic partners in the business, what I call a “player.” (See “HR … Polite to Police to Partner to Player”).
Here are some of the key lessons that I learned while running the HR Organisation that would have helped me when I had been a CEO.
1. Spend more time on making recruitment a core competency in the entire organisation. Throughout my time, when recruiting, I had focussed mainly on stealing from a competitor someone already in a role similar to the one we needed to fill, based on the fact that this would give me proven skills and hurt my competitor at the same time. It probably did in the short term, but it meant that we were often hiring for the present rather than the future. I learned two important lessons about recruitment during my time in HR. Firstly that a proven internal candidate who may only be a 60% fit is generally a better bet than an external candidate who looks like an 80% fit, and secondly that in most cases hiring for attitude is more important than hiring mainly for skills.
2. A large number of people who move into management are not comfortable when they get there and should be given the opportunity to move back out without being penalised, or better still, can stay in a professional role rather than being pushed into management. I was surprised at the number of reluctant managers I came across. People who, because of a lack of dual career path options, had moved into a management role just to be able to get more influence, more status, greater compensation or have more say in how they spent their time, rather than actually wanting to lead a team. It is critical not only that you spend time, energy and resources in preparing people for management roles, but you must ensure that there are valid vocational career paths for professionals so that those who do move into a management role do so because they see it as a “calling” rather than because there are no other options.
3. There are no such things as HR problems, only business problems that HR needs to help resolve. When I first took over the HR role I was amazed at the number of projects that were underway in the HR organisation, and the fact that many of these, even if highly successful, would actually achieve little in solving a critical business need. If HR is to be seen as a serious business partner, and player, and if HR is to stand any chance of “getting a seat at the table”, it must focus on helping to solve critical business pain points. I have seen too many instances of HR people wanting to focus on the “human capital problem de jour”, driven mainly by the HR consulting companies, and HR publications, in their own quest for revenues and business success.
4. Spend more time on underperformers. During my time as a senior manager I had allowed my own managers to be quite ruthless in their disposal of underperformers. When running HR I came to realise that if you have a skilled and truly capable approach to recruitment, if you hire people for their strengths you have no right to fire them for their weaknesses, without first making strenuous efforts to try to help them overcome these. It was during my time in HR that I developed my “ladder” as a way of making managers spend more time on identifying underperformers and helping them become more successful. (See “Move them up or move them out.”).
5. Put less value on formal performance reviews and more on managing behaviour as a moment by moment way of business life. The challenge is to manage behaviour rather than manage people, and the best way to do this is to use every interaction with a staff member to reinforce positive behaviour patterns needed, and nip in the bud any unwanted behaviour. The formal review process may be needed for grading, goal setting, record keeping and salary changes, but too often can spring surprises for both reviewer and reviewed. It makes no sense to wait for an annual review to tell people how you view their performance, nor to get feedback on how they feel about what they are doing, their boss and the company as a whole. (See “The fourth rule of management”).
My three years in HR were a challenging, often frustrating, interesting time of learning and growth as a manager, but it was a bit unfortunate that I had to wait till the end of my career to learn these lessons. I have realised that having potential C-level aspirants spend some time in the HR organisation, or at least being asked to drive the implementation of an important HR project would add significantly to their understanding of what is needed to manage an organisation.
About Les Hayman. Now semi-retired, Les sits on several corporate boards (US, UK and Switzerland), is an advisor to governments and corporations, coaches senior executives, and is a sought after keynote speaker.
When not traveling, Les and his wife reside in the French Bordeaux countryside. You can find more of his wisdom in Les Hayman’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @LesHayman.
I spent the first decade of my career in a variety of HR leadership roles and then moved into field leadership assignments. I agree with everything on this list. Too many companies view HR as a speciality field… grooming only from within. More movement from HR to Field and vice versa would go a long way in developing executive leadership.
Karin, it’s great to see someone move from HR to a business line management role. I think that a move in this direction is even rarer than the reverse. I have a belief that whilst single silo vocational management experience is readily available, what is missing is broad general management experience across multiple business areas, including HR. Les
Always enjoy what you share. I was wondering if we could re-post in our quarterly E-newsletter to HR professionals? We could link how ever you would like.
Thanks for your interest and support, Don. Will reply via email. Best, Jesse
An extremely interesting and thought-provoking post. I doubt I’ll ever be a CEO, but even as a mid-level manager, I found this very helpful. You make many good points that I want to consider further. Thank you!
John, I never meant for these lessons learned to be specifically for CEOs, but for managers at all levels. Learning is a journey not a destination and we all learn as we go. Like tools, some lessons work for some managers, but not necessarily for all. The skill is to pick the tools that work best for you. I am still looking for new ones as well as trying to hone old ones. Les
Les, great insights, thank you. I trust that HR leaders will also read your piece and take note. The over-riding point you make is that HR has a strategic role in the organization. Many HR leaders still can’t quite shake off their administrative roots and find it hard to share executive responsibility for growing the organization.
Alan, you are 100% right which is why I am a proponent of setting up an HR admin factory in a Shared Service Centre. This way HR people can’t fall back on admin load as a way out of focussing on how to add value to the business. If you can handle the admin like clockwork, you can then focus HR on what really matters. Les
I enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed the one at Gurprriet Singh’s blog.
A CEO’s primary job is to get things done (execute) but what matters the most os ‘how’ they execute. One thing that CEO’s (and managers) really need to learn is how to remain graceful and objective even under pressure. It is only when things really go wrong that true leadership manifests itself.
In that context, every manager is an HR Manager and specifically for CEO’s – if they have background in driving strategic HR initiatives, it goes a long way in building a people-oriented culture.
Tanmay, it is critical that all managers understand that it is all about people, and that what some say are HR issues are in reality line . management issues. Just for 2 key examples,recruitment and people development are management responsibilities with help/guidance from HR. HR must make it a priority to help management understand their role properly. Les
So glad you reached out to Les – what a gem of an article. Should be required reading for all CEO’s and HR professionals. My most successful clients are leaders who share Les’ view of the value of HR.
I also agree wholeheartedly with Les’ point #2 – not everybody wants to or is good at management. But, one may not know this until trying, so I really appreciate is “bow out with grace” suggestion.
Thanks Jennifer! I agree it is a great article that should be read by everyone in a management role or in HR. It’s packed full of excellent advice.
Your point that not everyone should have to go into management is well-taken. Unfortunately, in most organizations at some point if you don’t go into management, you hit a dead-end. One of the things I admire about SAP is they offer an “expert track” where one can advance to a senior level without having to take on an official management role. However even if one does not become a manager, it is necessary to have some basic leadership skills such as clarity on vision and goals, influencing others, and communicating clearly in order to work effectively with others on complex projects.
Jennifer, thank you for the kind words .. I always thought of myself as a “rough diamond” rather than a “gem”. 🙂
You are right that people who move into management do not always belong there and should be allowed to step out without recrimination. The problem is that for many it can mean failure and subsequent departure.
Jesse is spot on that we sometimes mistake good leadership skills being enough for management, but it will not work if not also coupled with the real desire, a true calling, to be a manager. Les
Such an important point, Les. When people are pushed to become managers, rather than being called, it’s not a good fit with their skills or desire.
Unfortunately, it happens all too often. Not only in business but in other fields as well. For example, in education in the United States, the upward career path for a teacher is to become an administrator. Good teachers are not always good administrators, which is a loss for not only the teacher but also for the students. And in higher ed, professors are expected to take on administration responsibilities that are often considered more important by the university than the quality of their teaching.
You made my day pointing out that managers should put less value on formal performance reviews and more on managing behavior as a moment by moment way of business life. In our research on managers who were exceptional at development, we learned that those managers who were very good at development view managing performance and development as one seamless act. In our work, we refer to this as “making everyday a development day.”
Jeannie, like you I am surprised that so many companies still put the emphasis on formal performance reviews.
This is a piece on managing behaviour that I wrote just a few months ago.
and another that I wrote about 3 years ago on positive reinforcement
I do like your “make every day a development day”
Great post Les, it really resonated with me. I like where you started as recruitment is the Achilles for many in selecting the right team to begin with while employee engagement tends to be the survey conducted rather than actually dealing with people everyday and encouraging good behaviour while nipping bad behaviour in the bud as you mentioned. There really should be no surprises at the formal review, and it should ,eerily be the formality.
We are not taught enough to manage people as we “grow up in management roles” as the focus tends to be on managing tasks. Tasks get done through people.
Like you I believe that it all starts with putting the right people in the right roles, and that this is a serious weakness in many companies.
Here are some of my views on recruitment which I aired about 18 months ago.
Very well said sir
Thank you for the positive reinforcement Deepak. Les
I’m sure many people who witnessed the transition were wondering (silently … of course) “I wonder how this is going to go?” and were pleasantly surprised. I appreciate Mr. Hayman’s willingness to “shout it from the rooftops” because at the end of the day the responsibility of the CEO is the health of the company, yet must remember that the company is based on relationships, which is comprised of the complex web of human resources and people capital that makes it so.
Christina, I have to admit that I wondered about it myself. The reality is that I had a good team of HR professionals who were keen to make the transition, which made it significantly easier for me. I would like to believe that I made a difference in the way HR was viewed but also in the way that HR saw itself and the role it could play in the business. It was an interesting way for me to finish my 40 years in Corporates, and it taught me new things about people and about myself. Les
As usual, an outstanding piece by Les. I think the important underlying message is that there are a number of business problems and HR can support solving these problems. Creating a sound foundation for the workforce and then developing it to reach the objectives of the enterprise should be a high priority for every CEO and should be executed through their management teams throughout the business.
Luke, always great to have your input. I believe that the critical element is to align HR and business need in every part of company endeavour, and that this should be a common management objective. Les
Thanks for your response and links to your other posts. The one that digs into managing behavior is great and a reminder to people in HR to do less engineering of formal processes and give more help managers to do a better job of selecting and supporting managers who develop rapport and talk with people as you say, “moment-to-moment.”
Appreciate that the first of the five practices we researched, “Make Every Day a Development Day” resonated with you. If you would like to learn a bit more, here is a link to a very short article over viewing this practice and the others.
Thanks for the link Jeannie … I will check it out. Les
nice article with great points. I am not sure how many out there understand point number 4.
Thank you 😀
Gurmeet, I hope that they do, as it is critically important and why I feel that my “ladder” works to help build teams with continuous improvement. By definition, half of any team is below average, even if all are individually meeting their goals. This means that managers can get more success by focussing on “driving up” those on the bottom rungs than just working with those on the top rungs. Les