Terese Kemble, Chief Human Resources Officer at Juniper Networks, discussed lessons learned in the process of HR becoming an effective business leader.
In the last keynote presentation of the day at the 2017 CHRO Leadership Forum: Redefining HR as the Business Partner, held on November 30 in San Francisco, Kemble announced she’d be talking about what’s primary for her to think about when she leads organizations and partners. “It starts with learning and understanding the business. Time is money, and we need to be sensitive about how we use the business’s time. We also need to understand the universe and context of the business. This is especially true when we have acquisitions and are trying to merge cultures that are very different. We need to ask curious questions, especially about the business, so we can assist in running it. It’s our business, so we need to run it like one. I think of everybody in the business as a customer. When I understand their pain points, I can start understanding how I have to prioritize what we do in HR,” she said.
Kemble suggested that HR “be the SME. Learn about your company so you can understand which levers in HR to pull. Proactively manage your budget. We need to be able to explain the value of what we do.”
“Be the SME. Learn about your company so you can understand which levers in HR to pull. Proactively manage your budget. We need to be able to explain the value of what we do.”
Kemble pointed out that data isn’t the goal. The goal is to turn data into information and information into insight. “We need to measure results, not just activities. We need to show how activities impact P&L. There’s a big difference between having an opinion or advocating something versus having a data-based conclusion. I ask my team to give me a minimum of three recommendations, tell me the pros and cons of each, and then tell me what they think I should do. This creates a learning process.”
“I ask my team to give me a minimum of three recommendations, tell me the pros and cons of each, and then tell me what they think I should do. This creates a learning process.”
A big role for HR is speaking truth to power, said Kemble. This comes under the category of “tough stuff.” “Employees rely on us to speak the truth, even when we’re not sure how it’s going to be received and what the impact will be. Be clear about what’s data, what are opinions, and when each is appropriate to express,” she said.
“When you think about two or three different structures that can work for your business strategy, it’s really important to list the pros and cons for each of those structures. This is important for the process part of this. Structure sets up the vertical—who reports to who—and you get control through that. Process uses the cons in the pros-and-cons assessment and drives the horizontal framework so you’re shoring up those weaknesses. You shouldn’t have lots of processes. You should have the exact right few,” she pointed out.
“Then you get to people. If you have processes enabling the right integration in the structure, you’ll have a larger population of people who can be successful. You don’t need superstars. By setting up the right structure and processes, you can have 3% rather than 1% who are successful inside your company. Then I always ask myself, ‘Is this a process that’s going to create unnecessary friction or the right kind of engagement horizontally to make things happen?’”
The last key Kemble mentioned is being the first to serve better. “Be a servant leader and a lifelong learner. Also, if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t growing. Making mistakes is part of the process, and what’s necessary is that people behave appropriately when this happens.”
Kemble related the quote, ‘I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.’ “When people can go direct and understand for themselves, without me having to explain, that has so much more power. Everything is moving quickly, so the faster that people understand, the better.”
“When people can go direct and understand for themselves, without me having to explain, that has so much more power. Everything is moving quickly, so the faster that people understand, the better.”
An audience member asked for direction on how to let people know it’s OK to make mistakes. “In school and in the culture, we associate making mistakes with a worse grade or something bad happening to us,” noted Kemble. “Here’s what we insist upon: Taking the learning from the mistake and making sure others learn from it. This makes the whole organization smarter.”