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Best Resolutions for HR

Best Resolutions for HR

Here’s the first understatement of the year:  2012 is shaping up to be a doozy – especially for HR.  Is there anything that touches the headlines that won’t directly impact the way you do your work? As I write this, Congress is wrestling with payroll tax negotiations – kicking the can two more months down the road.  Our returning vets need to rebuild their lives --  preferably employed in the civilian sector. Immigration. Healthcare. Unemployment, of course.  The fact that the country has never been so divided in an election year since, perhaps, the Civil War.  This year, it won’t be brother against brother. It will be coworker against coworker. And the one question that influences so many of the decisions we’ll make: Will the economy expand or contract even more in 2012?

Want to make a quick buck next year? Here’s what you do: Print up a bunch of T-shirts that read, “I survived the storm of 2012.”   Only this time the storm is 2012.

As much as HR will probably be the corporate function most affected by the goings on of 2012, HR is probably the profession most equipped to take it on.  HR is used to operating in an atmosphere of constant uncertainty.  You have to pack a philosophical approach to the people side of your operation to help your enterprise achieve its business objectives. And you’ve been pivoting on a dime for, what, how long now? While everyone else will be in a panic because the plans designed on last quarter’s projections aren’t panning out, you’re rolling up your sleeves to take another whack at finding a wiser approach to the changed scenario. That’s what you do.

You save jobs. You save businesses. You save families. You save communities. You help make dreams come true.  And now, you could use a little extra support as we all walk into 2012.  So in the spirit of providing HR with some comfort and joy for the upcoming months, I spoke with some of nation’s best HR leaders to discover what they would recommend to be the best resolutions for HR in 2012:

I will approach my HR responsibilities next year with a fresh perspective, willingness to leave behind outmoded ways of doing things and openness to risk and new ideas. (Arte Nathan, former VP/HR, Irvine Company, now Brooklyn and Laguna Beach-based consultant)  While HR has been transforming rapidly in recent years, trends watchers agree that the changes that 2012 will bring may transform the world so fundamentally that true leaders will have to be willing to jettison almost everything they thought they knew – and approach this new year with courage and an open mind.

I will invest more time and attention to learning about the heart of my organization’s business. (Brian McComak, Deputy Director of HR for the Americas, Christie’s) In HR you are actually driving two career paths: your HR specific niche but also your business, and the entire world of enterprise that it occupies. Commit yourself to truly understanding how your company prospers in its marketplace and you will grow your own value – to both the company you work for and your own lifelong career path. The more knowledge you have, the more choices you have to move your career where the opportunities are greatest.

I will approach everything I do from the reference point of yes. (Mark Torres, SVP, People and Culture, Rubicon Project) Your yeses don’t have to be commitments to deliver on unrealistic, unwise, or inappropriate ideas. Your yeses keep you in the game as a partner in building your organization’s future.  You are saying yes to the collaborative spirit of working with your colleagues to invent the best scenarios and solutions as a team.  And when a necessary no must emerge from your group exploration, it will be a team no.  In the meantime, your door still says yes on it.

I will take the time to be a mentor, and encourage my colleagues to honor the mentoring process as well. (Terry McCormick,VPHR,Easter Seals, Southern California) No one will argue the value of mentoring. In fact, its value is so obvious, it’s easy to take mentoring for granted – something on the “it’ll get done one of these days” list.  But it never gets done.  Something more urgent takes its place.  Every time. 2012 will get away from you, if you let it. You and your team will be so busy chasing fires and emergencies that you will forget to take the time to freely exchange wisdom, perspective, approaches, and techniques that will keep the body of HR knowledge alive. This is especially vital to remember as HR professionals begin to retire at an accelerating rate.  Commit to creating and sustaining a culture that mentors – up, down, and sideways. Everyone, no matter how young they are, have essential knowledge to share.

I will ensure that the people we have hired are developed to the point that they can add more value to the organization.  (Adrienne Gary, SPV Organizational Strategy and Administration, Miramax LLC) So many aspects of doing business will be changing in 2012 that it’s not a stretch to say that we must all be entrepreneurial this year. We’re start-ups because we’ll be starting afresh in many ways.  As with every start-up, we have to make the absolute most of the talent we have. We’re operating lean and we have to hang on to our trusted resources. At the same time we have to keep our people inspired and motivated to continue contributing their best in the upcoming months.

It’s a rare organization that can use the old mechanisms to motivate and engage.  Mechanisms like money, for instance.  Look for ways to help your people develop and grow their skills and careers. Then, ideally, they’ll grow as your organization grows. You’ll not only keep your talent excited about giving their best to your enterprise, you’ll keep your talent. Period.

I will better prepare our managers to ‘feed’ our talent. (Lynne Oldham, Chief Human Resource Officer, North America, at BNP Paribas)  Managers remain your key to keeping your valuable talent engaged, especially when you can’t compete with salary increases. Help them understand and implement the many ways they work with your people keeps your team of talent intact and thriving.

I resolve to be a force for positive change. (Bill Eggert, VP/HR, The Florida Aquarium)  Change is upon us.  And it’s only accelerating.  The question is how will you represent it to your organization? As the HR leader it’s up to you to somehow encompass the mission-driven passions and business-driven objectives of all your stakeholders. And then communicate your organization’s next best steps to your disparate constituents so that they all endorse your initiatives. It’s up to you to set the tone for this new environment of managing rapid change.  You can be the driver (using the power of your position), or the leader (using the positive power of your influence).  Guess which approach is more effective.  And more inspiring.

I will focus on retaining our fantastically wonderful people.  (Mary Cheddie, SVP/HR, Interval International)   According to a Right Management survey, 84% of the employees in the United States say that they will start looking for a new job next year.  HR leaders are already anticipating it as a “resume tsunami.”  We typically think of tsunamis as the massive, incoming wave.  But the first part of the tsunami is that devastating, sudden outgoing tide where astounded fish flop on dry sand as far out as the eye can see. Are you expecting an outflow of resumes to devastate your own beachhead and dry out your talent pool?  If not, you might want to check your assumptions.

This is the time for you to collaborate with your communications department and leadership to remind your people of the unique ROI of their own career investment in your company. Look for ways to reignite their passion for your organization without extending promises you won’t be able to keep. Find ways to explain the difficult business actions that you had to take in previous years that might have left them feeling undercompensated or underappreciated. Look for new opportunities to re-invite their passions and commitments to your business, even if community, belonging and development are the best rewards you can offer right now.

I will remain focused on the longer term objectives.  (D. Hunt Hawkins,  EVP, Stein Mart, Inc.)  Are you going to be an expert in the emergency minutiae that will come zinging at you from all directions in 2012?  Or are you going to take the role of the steady hand and head that will see your company through the storms, successfully arriving at 2013 with objectives met and talent cadre intact?

Your role is to be the calming influence in your organization, reminding all your people of the company’s big picture objectives and direction, regardless of the interfering emergencies that threaten its destination along the way. It will be your influence that will keep all your people focused on the big picture strategy and what matters most.

I will continue to look for opportunities to create value so that our people’s emotional and rational commitment to the organization continues to be strong.  (Meredith Shepherd, SVP, Global HR, Weight Watchers, International)  Even among companies where the mission-driven culture is strong and clear, forward-thinking HR leaders recognize that 2012 might bring a trend of valuable talent exploring new job opportunities outside your company. This is the time to renew your bond with your employees’ hearts, as well as their minds and career interests.

I will dedicate my energies to understanding the business I’m in. (Jay Kuhns, VP/HR, All Children’s Hospital/Johns Hopkins Medicine) That steady hand and focus on the big picture strategy can best be communicated when you step out from behind the HR role and assume your full role as a leader of your business.  When you talk about the business strategy, talk about the business strategy, not just the HR part that will implement it.

If you’re going to use jargon, make it jargon unique to your industry, not to the HR function.  Know the broader issues and contexts of your business and be able to speak fluently about it to your business partners.  This will be the way you will be able to communicate your value to the people whose support you need most to keep the people side of your enterprise a healthy one.

I will keep my attention laser-focused on the critical few.  (Matt Henson,  VP/People, OSI Restaurant Partners)   Know the difference between what is essential and what is merely fascinating.  The fascinating distractions can come in a variety of forms – emergencies, for instance, as we’ve already discussed.  They can also come in the form of someone else’s problems or urgent solutions to problems you won’t think you have.  Or they will be “nice to do’s” which will take your focus away from the “must do’s.”

Know specifically and clearly what you will want to have accomplished by year’s end, no matter what else will be thrown your way as the months unfold.  Make sure you and your entire team understand how those “critical few” objectives will continue to foster customer and community loyalty – differentiating you from your competitors.

By focusing on those “critical few,” you will be the master of your year, rather than finding yourself at the service of all things that 2012 will bring.  And by December 31, everyone will still know who you are, what your business is, and what you stand for.

I will reclaim the power inherent in the work I do, and leverage all the ways HR can benefit not only the business but also our people’s experience within the business.  (Judy Jackson, SVP, HR, Digitas) This volatile time is an invitation to seize a new attitude toward your own leadership and awareness of the positive impacts you can make in the workplace.


I will focus my attention on making sure that the day-to-day processes that affect operations are performed with excellence, speed and a caring hand. (Marjan Panah, EVP, Global HR and Talent, Publicis Healthcare Communications Group) Don’t overlook the basic, block and tackle, value that your operation offers your people – serving their financial and career needs smoothly so they can focus on your business without stress and distraction.

I will make sure that I never lose sight of the strategic-level aspects of the work we do here in HR, even during those times when our time and focus are claimed by the demands of day-to-day emergencies and other unexpected issues that arise. (Kathryn Zukof, Senior Director, Talent, Learning and Organizational Development, New York University)  Crises will be coming at you rapid fire over the next 12 months. You may be forced to become an expert at managing emergencies, but remember the strategic value of every response you make to every urgent demand for your attention.

I will help my organization rediscover what’s wonderful about itself. (Laurey Long, director of HR, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles)

You’ve probably heard the expression: That which you feed the most grows the most. What are you feeding your attention to the most? All the challenges, problems, emergencies and anxieties?  Or do you feed the awareness among your people that your enterprise has an inspiring mission that will make the world a better place in some way.

Don’t let your people become so distracted by the challenges that 2012 will fling at them throughout the year that they forget why they’re doing the work they do.  What makes your organization wonderful?  What is the vision of your enterprise that will restore the hope and positivity of not only your employees but all your stakeholders?  As the HR leader it is your job to keep your employees’ focus on all those things that are good about what your organization offers your community.

I will keep my passion for the HR professional fresh. (Wendy Harkness, CPO and Chief Legal Officer, National Restaurant Development Inc.) And now we arrive at the most important resolution of them all – staying passionate about your HR career and the wonderful gifts it brings to you and everyone you serve.  Do we get a little sentimental here?  What the heck, why not? It’s New Year’s, after all.

This year, give yourself the gift of passion and preserve positivity as your core approach to facing 2012 head on.  There will be plenty to tempt you toward negativity. So you may have to look a little harder than usual for those reassuring, uplifting reminders that the people side of business is where the heart of your operation resides.  You are the keeper of that flame. The shepherd of your company’s culture.  You’re the one in charge of doing right by both the people and your organization.

This year, give yourself the gift of passion and preserve positivity as your core approach to facing 2012 head on.  There will be plenty to tempt you toward negativity. So you may have to look a little harder than usual for those reassuring, uplifting reminders that the people side of business is where the heart of your operation resides.  You are the keeper of that flame. The shepherd of your company’s culture.  You’re the one in charge of doing right by both the people and the successful enterprise you’re all working together to create.

No matter how long you’ve been in the profession, there’s just no getting around this simple fact: There’s simply no better corporate function than the people part.

Keep that thought in your heart and head as you march bravely into 2012.

Happy New Year. You deserve it.

2012 The HR Year Book: 25 HR Stars on What Is Essential and Inspiring Right Now

Welcome to 2012! An HR year guaranteed to test nerves of steel and demand a clear vision for the future. You're going to need a resource of comfort, companionship, inspiration and perspective. Author and employee engagement expert Martha Finney is finishing up her newest e-book: 2012 The HR Year Book: 25 HR Stars on What Is Essential and Inspiring Right Now. Free to HR C-Suite members. Be among the first to receive your copy. Pre-order your copy now!
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Martha I. Finney is the author of The Truth About Getting the Best From People, and a consultant specializing in employee engagement. For a free consultation on how you can build a vacation-friendly workplace culture, email Martha at

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