I recently read an interview with Dr. Carol S. Dweck about her new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The interview focuses on different “mindsets” that essentially describe the way you conceive of your own intelligence, abilities, and talents. Among other mindsets, Dr. Dweck outlines what she calls a “growth mindset” that describes individuals who believe that talent and intelligence are mere “starting points” and that “talents and abilities can be cultivated through dedication, effort, and education.” In the end, Dr. Dweck explains how most successful leaders have a more prevalent growth mindset: they think creatively, feel energized when they can use the collective intelligence of a group, and see issues as a chance to learn and progress individually and as an organization.
I mention this interview and book as a poignant reminder about the role of HR within the strategic management process. Effective HR executives should be growth mindset catalysts and multiply such thinking wherever they are involved. In many ways, HR Executives can “set the perfect stage” for the organization to realize the most meaningful change. They are the ones who work behind the scenes to ensure that the organization has the right environment, discussions, and people all engaging in the right way. Done right, their conscious structuring of the perfect environment can lead an organization to greater overall success.
One of the best ways HR Executives can “set the perfect stage” for an organization is to get the right players involved through good leadership selection and coaching. Again citing Dr. Dweck, you need leaders that not only have the right qualifications but also have a “growth mentality.” How do they deal with and perceive problems? Are they making decisions thinking of the long term potential or quick fixes? By selecting leaders that welcome challenges and even failures as chances to learn and improve, HR Executives will help the organization weather difficult storms and even thrive when the going gets tough.
Another way to create a perfect environment is to foster the right kinds of discussions. HR Executives can drive this effort by asking good, probing questions, challenging the assumptions of the group, and getting members of the team to think outside of their comfortable norms and instigate growth.
In order to improve the quality of questions, HR Executives can gain greater context by becoming good business people who understand their companies: how they work, make money, the strategy, financials, and all other dimensions of the business. They can also develop a greater marketplace focus and understand the broader environment in which their company is operating. By understanding the ins and outs of the business and market, HR Executives become thought partners and trusted advisors for helping leaders orchestrate strategy and organization alignment efforts.
Perhaps one of the most significant ways to create a perfect environment is to first do a little housekeeping within HR. If your HR department is not delivering on basic expectations, has a credibility gap, lacks talent, has limited systems capabilities, or doesn’t foster a growth mentality internally, it will be difficult to advocate and ultimately encourage those changes in other areas of the business. You want to ensure that your own function can deliver and will bring discipline and credibility before expecting to have an influence in other areas of the organization.
As HR Executives seek to improve their organization’s alignment, it is often helpful to get outside help. I often hear HR groups say that their culture is too strong and that they don’t want to dilute it with outside thinking. While this may be partly true, it can be taken too far. I have seen companies cut off customer requests and the best thinking in their industry all in the name of cultural maintenance. HR Executives must find a balance of injecting new ideas and preserving unique cultural elements.
Finally, one of the best ways HR Executives can improve their organization’s environment and strategic management process is by managing their proximity to leadership. Optimally, an HR Executive should be seen as a close advisor to leadership but still independent with a focus on overall business outcomes. Organization members need to see that HR cares first and foremost about the right thing for the business rather than their own or other leader’s agendas. If you are perceived as too close to the CEO for example, you can lose the ability to influence the broader organization. HR Executives must maintain the ability to influence and partner with others to do what is strategically best for the business.
Effective HR Executives can and should be the backstage heroes of the strategic management process. Their overall strategic effectiveness comes from a unaltered focus on business outcomes and the ability to create an environment that fosters decision making, learning, and true “growth mentality.” When HR Executives come to the table with this focus, they become true thought partners who think strategically and literally foster the organizational conditions for effective strategic management.