The HR Specialist

Show how HR helps forward the big boss's goals

Issue: Learn the top brass's priorities, and then match them up with your HR projects.

Benefit: By showing how your work helps the big bosses meet their goals, you become a strategic partner and boost your overall value.

Action: Meet regularly with the boss, and measure what's important to him or her.

Do you ever dive into a major HR project without ever really knowing whether the boss favors, or even cares, about it? It's wise to match your HR projects to the boss's priorities, but many big bosses don't define their goals or communicate them well. Or perhaps they could care less about aligning goals with HR.

Adding to the problem, you may lack the know-how to build strategic relationships with top executives. You're not alone. Only 26 percent of HR professionals feel very proficient about making a strategic contribution, according to a recent Society for Human Resource Management survey.

Advice: To increase your influence, find out the top dog's business goals and the problems that worry him or her the most. "HR needs to convince executives that they have solutions to those problems and aren't just a source of administrative overhead," says Brian Becker, chairman of the HR department at the University of Buffalo School of Management.

Take the following four steps to align yourself with top management's goals:

1. Ask to meet regularly with the boss to review his or her business goals and how HR can contribute to them. The meetings should take place not less than once or twice a year, suggests Mark Huselid, associate professor of HR strategy at Rutgers University. You also need access to key executive strategy meetings. In those meetings, "Don't talk about HR stuff," says Huselid. "Talk about what type of work force capabilities produce what kind of results for the organization and back it up with numbers."

But what if your CEO lacks the time or inclination for one-on-one meetings? And what if you aren't invited to executive strategy meetings? Find an influential division president, general manager or mid-level manager who will meet with you. Find out that person's pressing strategic problems, and help solve them. Eventually, ask that person to help you reach the CEO and to access key meetings.

2. Measure what's important to your CEO, and make suggestions to improve results. Examples: If key-employee retention is a top issue, measure the real cost of turnover, and put forth suggestions on how to keep top performers. If benefit costs and salaries are a big concern, benchmark competitors' benefits and pay, then present realistic options for your organi-zation to be competitive.

3. Form a working relationship with the chief financial officer. You want to learn which numbers the CEO views as key measurements of the organization's performance, and what those numbers mean. That will help you choose the correct metrics and present valuable numbers at strategy sessions.

4. Seek assignments that involve working with different departments to learn about the complete organization. Such experiences help you bring crucial credibility and knowledge to meetings with the CEO.

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